Archaeological researchers at the UNC Coastal Studies Institute have identified a shipwreck in the Outer Banks as a World War II assault craft. Locals had previously rumored that the wreck was a gravel barge that ran aground in the 1960s, but a recent excavation suggests the vessel had a more remarkable past.
"Based on initial assessment, the story's often much deeper, and it's only through research that we get at that story, and in this case it was a surprise to me," said lead research Nathan Richards.
Richards directs the maritime heritage program at the UNC Coastal Studies Institute and is an assistant professor of maritime studies at ECU. He led a team of ECU graduate students who excavated the "Pappy's Lane" site in Pamlico Sound near Rodanthe this fall. The team found that the boat was likely used as a troop transport in the Pacific theater of the war.
Richards said the stern of the ship gave important clues. Its characteristics indicated it was designed to be a close range amphibious assault craft, with an anchor for landing troops in island attacks.
"They deployed the anchor as they were running the vessel ashore, on whatever island they're at in the Pacific, and then they would land men or they would provide fire support, and then they would winch themselves off of the beach with that anchor," Richards said.
The craft is consistent with two classes of World War II vessels, the landing craft infantry and landing craft support. Richards says many of these vessels were decommissioned and used for other purposes after the war, including being transferred to Allied navies or used for commercial fishing.
The wreck was investigated because it was in the direct path of the construction of the new Bonner Bridge and eligible for the National Register of Historic Places. Further research will help to identify the name and exact type of the ship.