One for Rhode Islanders - The Battle of Point Judith:
On May 5, 1945, President (Reichspräsident) of Nazi Germany Karl Dönitz ordered all U-boats to cease offensive operations and return to their bases. U-853 was lying in wait off Point Judith, Rhode Island at the time. According to the US Coast Guard, U-853 did not receive that order, or less likely, ignored it. Soon after, her torpedo blew off the stern of SS Black Point, a 368-foot collier underway from New York to Boston. Within 15 minutes Black Point had sunk in 100 feet of water less than 4 miles south of Point Judith. She was the last US-flagged merchant ship lost in World War II. Twelve men died, while 34 crew members were rescued. One of the rescuing ships, Yugoslav freighter SS Kamen, sent a report of the torpedoing to authorities. The US Navy organized a “hunter-killer” group that included four American warships: Ericsson, Amick, Atherton, and Moberly.
The group discovered U-853 bottomed in 18 fathoms, and dropped depth charges and hedgehogs during a 16 hour attack. At first the U-boat attempted to flee, and then tried to hide by lying still. Both times it was found by sonar. The morning of May 6, 1945 two K-Class blimps from Lakehurst, New Jersey, K-16 and K-58, joined the attack, locating oil slicks and marking suspected locations with smoke and dye markers. K-16 also attacked with 7.2-inch rocket bombs. Numerous depth charge and hedgehog attacks from Atherton and Moberly resulted in planking, life rafts, a chart tabletop, clothing, and an officer’s cap floating to the surface. With the loss of all 55 officers and men, U-853 was the second to last U-boat sunk during World War II. Atherton and Moberly received credit for the kill.
U-853 lies seven miles east of Block Island in 130 feet of water. The US Coast Guard pinpoints the location of the wreck at 41.13 N 71.27 W. U-853 sits upright with her periscope rising to a depth of 100 feet. Most of the 55 crew member bodies remain within the hull, which is a war grave. It is one of the more popular dive sites in Southern New England. The hull has depth charge blast holes: one forward of the conning tower at the radio room and another in the starboard side of the engine room. Entering the wreck is dangerous due to debris, sharp metal edges, and confined spaces.
On May 6 and 7, 1945, Navy divers attempted to enter the wreck to recover the captain’s safe and the papers within, but failed. Recreational divers first visited the site in 1953. In 1960 a recreational diver brought up a body from the wreck. This provoked former navy admirals and clergy to petition the US government for restrictions on disturbing the dead. The German crewman was buried with full military honors in Newport, Rhode Island. At least two recreational divers have died from exploring the wreckage. Renowned deep sea diver Stephen Hardick perished in 2005 while filming the U-boat. He surfaced unconscious and could not be revived. Hardick, age 60, died as the result of saltwater drowning associated with poor health according to the Rhode Island Medical Examiner’s office.
Pictured: Moberly launches a hedgehog attack against U-853.