WWII shipwreck killed 250 off NC coast
- On 06/01/2022
- In World War Wrecks
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From Mark Price - The Charlotte Observer
The Graveyard of the Atlantic holds many secrets, but few have a story as haunting as the sinking of the Lady Hawkins — a Canadian “luxury liner” that disappeared off the North Carolina coast with about 250 people.
It happened 80 years ago this month, and the mystery is not how the ship sank — but where.
The Lady Hawkins was torpedoed by a German U-boat submarine in 1942, and its location remains unknown, despite the availability of high-tech search and seafloor mapping equipment. It’s as if an entire cruise ship — and two lifeboats full of people — simply vanished.
Finding the wreck is a fantasy shared by war historians in both the United States and Canada, but maritime researchers say there is a good reason no one has ever gone looking for the Lady Hawkins.
And it has a lot to do with what happened that January morning in 1942, when one calamity after another befell the passengers and crew.
Only 71 of the 322 people aboard the Lady Hawkins survived the sinking, Uboat.net reports. Some counts put the death toll as high as 258. The ship was unescorted and highly vulnerable when it encountered a German U-boat 150 miles offshore, somewhere between Cape Hatteras and Bermuda, historians say.
At 7:43 a.m. on Jan. 19, 1942, the U-66 surfaced just over 100 yards away and fired the first torpedo, which damaged “three of her six lifeboats,” according to Civilians and Wars at Sea.
“The Lady Hawkins shuddered under the impact. ... Her forward mast crashed,” Time magazine reported. “Over on her side careened the 7,988-ton liner. Passengers and crew tumbled into the sea.
A second torpedo exploded in the Lady Hawkins’ engine room. “One lifeboat got away,” the outlet reported. “Somehow 76 people, some in night clothes, hair matted with oil, managed to scramble into it or were pulled up from the sea. It was built to carry only 63. Jammed in so tightly that they could not sit down.”
Two other lifeboats also managed to launch, but the boats and their occupants were never found, according to Civilians and Wars at Sea.