News & Opinion | July 21, 2018 5:00 am

Merchant Ship Sunk by Nazi U-Boat Reveals WWII Secret

A few divers changed 80 years worth of history.


On January 9, 1942, a steamship left the port in Galveston, Texas and headed towards Saint John in New Brunswick, Canada. World War II was raging on, and the Octavian was a Norwegian freighter transporting sulfur and wood resin. But it never made it. For almost 100 years, Norwegian historians considered the fate of the ship an unsolvable mystery. One popular theory was that a German U-boat torpedoed and sunk an unidentified ship near Newfoundland, Nova Scotia, eight days after the Octavian set sail. But then, on the Fourth of July, a few divers changed 80 years worth of history.

About 70 miles to the south, in a resort shore town along the Atlantic coast, four divers with the local expedition team RV Explorer dove 227 feet to meet a previously marked wreck about 70 miles from Cape May. They found a steamship, and one diver spotted large pieces of yellowed sulfur sprinkled along the hull of the boat. Another pulled off the bronzed boilerplate and brought it up to the surface. Though they were not the first people there, it seems they were the first to find this plate, and the boiler number matches the Octavian.

The Philadelphia Inquirer writes that the boat was probably sunk by a German U-boat, but not the one historians thought. The divers are planning to go to Norway and gift the plaque to a museum in Norway and meet some of the relatives of the 18 crew members who went down with the ship.