2012-08-02 / Front Page

Local man helps locates sunken WWII submarine

German U-boat 550 located last month off coast of Massachusetts
BY JENNIFER AMATO
Staff Writer


The World War II German submarine U-550 was discovered last month by an exploration team, including a local man, off the coast of Massachusetts. A torpedo was launched into the stern of the American tanker Pan Pennsylvania (top). At right is a picture from underwater. 
PHOTOS COURTESY OF JOE MAZRAANI The World War II German submarine U-550 was discovered last month by an exploration team, including a local man, off the coast of Massachusetts. A torpedo was launched into the stern of the American tanker Pan Pennsylvania (top). At right is a picture from underwater. PHOTOS COURTESY OF JOE MAZRAANI A South River resident was part of a discovery team that recently located a sunken German submarine.

The final resting place of the World War II German submarine U-550 was discovered on July 23 in deep waters off the coast of Nantucket Island, Mass.

The sub was one of the last undiscovered German U-boats sunk off the American coast in 1944.

It was finally located using photographic and sonar imaging by an expedition team of Steve Gatto, Garry Kozak, Joe Mazraani, Tom Packer, Brad Sheard, Eric Takakjian and Anthony Tedeschi.

“We were screaming, happy, high-fiv ing each other, giggling like schoolgirls,” Mazraani, of South River, said.

According to information provided by Mazraani, on April 16, 1944, the U-550, a type of IXC/40 long-range U-boat under the command of Kaptitanleutnant Klaus Hanert, put a single torpedo into the stern of the 10,017-ton American tanker Pan Pennsylvania. The Allied tanker was in convoy and bound for England loaded with 140,000 barrels of gasoline at the time. Following the torpedo explosion, the ship took on an immediate list to port, and when a fire broke out in the engine room, the tanker was abandoned in short order.

The convoy escorts picked up 56 survivors, leaving 25 men missing out of a crew of 81. After picking up the survivors from the Pan Pennsylvania, the U.S. Navy destroyer escorts USS Joyce, Peterson and Gandy combined their efforts to bring swift and fatal retribution to the attacking submarine.

Picking up a solid contact with its sonar gear, the Joyce closed in on the target and made a depth-charge attack that quickly brought the U-550 to the surface. Gunfire from all three escorts converged on the surfaced submarine as German sailors poured out of its hatches, briefly returning fire with their own weapons.

Meanwhile, the Gandy rammed the submarine aft, and the Germans abandoned ship.

A muffled explosion aboard the submarine indicated the crew had set off scuttling charges, and the U-550 sank stern-first.

Twelve survivors from the submarine were picked up by the destroyer escorts, while 44 men were lost. Patrol boats picked up the bodies of three German sailors outfitted with escape gear during the next several weeks; they had apparently escaped the sunken submarine only to die adrift at sea.

The tanker Pan Pennsylvania capsized and drifted for two days, its cargo of gasoline on fire, before finally being sunk with gunfire.

The mission to look for this particular sub began more than four years ago. Mazraani met his fellow team members on local dive boats off the coast of New Jersey. He has always had an interest in history combined with exploration, and a fascination with submarines. He said he read about this specific battle about 13 years ago and always thought about looking for it.

An attorney in North Brunswick, he also has his own charter business, AWS Expeditions, which does diving for shipwrecks. His 45-foot boat Tenacious was used in the search for the submarine.

The research and trip planning took years, but the first surveying trip was in July 2011, followed by this past trip. Mazraani said that July has the calmest weather, but only a few days are calm enough to take the boat out for the 75-mile trip.

“The location of the sub is so far away that you can only go when the weather patterns are best,” Mazraani said.

So, last month the men spent four days surveying at very slow speeds. They used a site-scan sonar device that is attached to a cable and transmits information to a computer, which reads the sound waves that bounce back when they hit an object. The size of the object can then be compared to the size of the known submarine.

Mazraani said that there were two false alarms last year and this year, since there are a lot of rocks, shipwrecks and debris on the ocean floor.

This time, however, they found what they had been searching for, and dove down to the submarine. It was found lying mostly intact on the ocean floor with an approximately 45-degree list to starboard.

However, because it is a war grave and people are entombed in it, the structure cannot be touched.

“It’s exciting to see a plan unfold, and unfold so successfully,” Mazraani said of the mission’s completion. “This will provide closure to the families — the German families, the American families, the families of the people on the tanker that sank.”

The men did take photographs, videos and measurements, and the information will now be shared in books, in newspapers, on the Internet and on U-boat websites.

Contact Jennifer Amato at jamato@gmnews.com.

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