SS Keshena


July 19th, 1942

SS Keshena, photo courtesy of SSHSA coll'n, UofB Lib, via Moore. The tug is alongside a barge who's stern deckhouse appears to be part of Keshena.The ocean going tug Keshena was built for the Superior Transportation Company of Philadelphia, PA, in 1919 at Superior Wisconsin.  The tug had two steam boilers that provided power to drive the 142' long tug's single propeller.  The steel hull of the Keshena was designed in the style of an older tug, with a fair and high bow, a low waist and the typical low round stern of a tug.  A small pilot house was perched on the forward quarter of the deck house that covered the majority of her length with  a large single smokestack dominating her profile.  She was equipped with stout bits, winches and a large capstan on the foredeck.  The tug also carried spare salvage anchors on the foredeck, where they are still found today.

In July of 1942, The Keshena found herself being chartered to the U. S. Navy for coastal salvage work.  She had been called to the area off Hatteras Island to assist two tankers that had become damaged.  The two tankers, the M/V J. A. Mowinkel and the M/V Chilore, had both been part of a convey of nineteen ships when they were attacked by the U-576.   Though stuck by torpedoes, both vessels were able to continue under their own power toward more protected waters.  A third ship, the SS Bluefields, was not so fortunate and sunk within four minutes after being hit by the U-boat.  Unfortunately for the two surviving Tankers, in their efforts to seek safety they inadvertently entered the Hatteras minefield which had been set to provide relief from the attacking U-boats.  Both ships detonated mines and being further damaged, had to be left at anchor to await assistance.  The crew of M/V J. A. Mowinkel abandoned the ship thinking that the U-boat had returned and would finish them off shortly.  They were able to safely land at Ocrakoke along with the crew from the M/V Chilore.

Enter the salvage tug Keshena.  She was dispatched to assist the damaged tankers and arrived on the scene after several mine sweepers sent down from Little Creek, Virginia, had cleared the area around the damaged tankers of any further mines.   However, when the Keshena was maneuvering under the stern of the tanker  J. A. Mowinkel, an explosion occurred in the after part of the engine room.  It was very apparent that the mine sweeping operation was not fully successful.  

Port side boiler of the KeshenaJohn Hampton, the engine room oiler, was killed by the blast.  Another crewman, Fred Taylor, drowned while trying to abandon the sinking Tug.  The remaining 15 men of the crew were picked up by a small launch and taken to Ocrakoke Coast Guard Station, arriving there at 1700 hours on the 19th.

After the sinking, Keshena's mast and stack stood clear of the water marking her position.  Like the F. W. Abrams which lays nearby, this attracted the attention of pilots in training from nearby Cherry Point Station who used her as  practice bombing  target.  She was also depth charged and dragged for clearance.

Tugs, due to their intended use, are typically designed as solid vessels and the Keshena is no exception.  The small vessel has endured the ravages of exploding mines, practice bombing runs, depth charging and over 50 years under the sea.  That her bow section still stands almost 30' proud of the sand is testimony to both her design and her builder.  

Foredeck with the winch, anchors and capstan Divers will find the Keshena to be a delightful dive site and in spite of the violence of her death she is still fairly intact.  The entire wreck remains organized and contiguous bow to stern sitting on her keel and upright except for the stern which has a heavy starboard list.  The bow and stern sections are the most visually interesting as they are the most intact.  The bow is very much still together, even though large holes have rusted through the plating at the sand level.  This is due to the heavy framing which is clearly visible to divers at the first bulkhead aft of the stem.  This framing and the still intact hull sides of the bow hold up the entire foredeck with all of the fittings and machinery still in place, though much of it  is covered with an abandoned trawl net.  Varied sea life is always found at this site and often in great numbers and with a depth of only 80fsw, bottom times are reasonable.
Stern of the Keshena is very recognizable
This Jackknife fish was found near the Keshena's stern. Large Anemone inhabits the Stb Boiler tubes


DiveHatteras Home