Discovery of the U-215
I left in the early morning, a steady rain giving my trip an ominous start. The windshield wipers swept back and forth as I drove thru New Jersey, New York and Connecticut, heading to the ferry terminal in Portland, Maine. The downpour was incessant and I feared this weather would blow out my trip. I still had hundreds of miles to go, so I shook the negative thoughts and focused instead on how I wound up on this journey. I recalled how this trip to Nova Scotia had begun years earlier, in a waterfront bar with an old friend.
U-215: The Plan
Flush with success from identifying U-869 in 1997, I was ready for another challenge. The idea was simple and the plan straightforward: we would charter a fast sport fishing boat, head out to the historical location, then locate and dive U-215. Before the first beer was quaffed, the stumbling blocks became apparent: the location we had was fifty years old and rather vague, taken by dead reckoning in the heat of battle. The site was 150 miles from Gloucester on the Georges Banks, an area that had been never dived. We both knew fishermen who had been there on commercial boats. They reported that currents and conditions had been so bad it proved impossible to dive there. Impossible they said. We finished our beers, and each of us promised to do his part to make this trip happen. I would dig deeper into archival sources for more detail about the sinking, and talk to more commercial fishermen who had worked the area, begging them for hang numbers. My friend was to find us a boat that could safely deliver us there.
Using contacts in Washington DC and England, I acquired every file and report available concerning the sinking of U-215, and her one and only victim, the Liberty Ship Alexander Macomb. The search area was on the Canadian side of the Hague line, an important economic fishing zone exclusive to Canadians. I located American commercial fishermen who had worked the area before The Hague Convention had gone into effect. I had no access to Canadian fishermen, but still my database grew fat with historical locations and hang numbers. My pal didn’t fare so well. No one felt comfortable taking sport divers 150 miles offshore to dive the Banks. It was crazy. The weather was unpredictable and the currents too strong. I was told that if you didn’t like the weather on the Banks, stick around fifteen minutes and it was sure to change. It was impossible they said. Our plan fizzled and my file grew dusty.
In 1999, I led an American team of divers to England to dive U-boats in the English Channel. It was there that I learned to do drift decompression in high current situations, an unpracticed skill in the Northeast dive community. I had found a way to do the impossible. I tried once again to raise interest in an expedition to the Georges Banks and even located a 100-foot boat willing to take me out there. It was a commercial vessel out of Gloucester, and for $25,000 we could charter it for five days on the Banks. I couldn’t gather enough people to make the charter happen. For that kind of money, people demand guarantees I couldn’t give. Such is the nature of these expeditions. Without guarantees that they would be diving something, interest waned and again I shelved the file.
It was early in 2004 when I finally got my break. I bumped into Peter Hess, an old friend, who asked me about any pet projects I might have on the burner. As a maritime and admiralty attorney, Peter had many contacts in the international wreck diving community. I told him about my frustrations organizing a U-215 expedition and that I need an affordable boat to get me out to the Banks. Peter had a friend in Nova Scotia, a commercial diver named Mike Fletcher, who might be able to help me.