War was on the doorstep of the Outer Banks in 1942. German Uboats operated with seeming impunity just off the shore, sinking Allied shipping at an alarming rate.
The first half of the year was particularly bad, but by the end of June armed convoys and air patrols were starting to have their effect.
U576 was at the end of a fairly successful patrol in July of 1942. She had already sunk three ships and was preparing to head home for repairs to a badly damaged ballast tank when she came upon a convoy heading south just off Cape Hatteras. The submarine fired four torpedoes, damaging two ships and sinking the Bluefields, a Panamanian registered freighter.
In the midst of the confusion of the attack, U576 suddenly surfaced; it is possible the damaged ballast tank malfunctioned or the sub accidentally surfaced. It is possible the ship’s skipper, Captain-Leutenant Heinicke surfaced intentionally, although experts cannot explain why he would have made that decision.
Regardless, the American warships and aircraft were waiting and they pounced.
There is some mystery still associated with its sinking. The ship was located two years ago resting on the seabed under 721’ of water about 30 miles east of Cape Hatteras.
When U576 surfaced, allied gunners and aircraft did damage the ship and it appeared to submerge hoping to escape. The examination of the wreck suggests that once it submerged, it was unable to resurface.
Interestingly the submarine rests just 240 yards from the Bluefields. All the crew members of the freighter were able to abandon ship. Click here and check out some of our wonderful villa rentals in Outer Banks!