by, Peter L. Reagan
Tuesday, February 12, 1952, the 1944 vintage 10,448 ton welded steel T-2 tanker Pendleton
departed Baton Rouge, Louisiana on a five day voyage to Boston with a cargo of number 2
fuel oil. This National Bulk Carriers, Inc. vessel was 504.0' long, with a beam of 68.2'
and a 39.2' depth. She was built by Kaiser Company, Inc. in Portland, OR and made
Wilmington, DL her home port. On this trip, she was under the command of Captain John J.
Fitzgerald. Within a week, her back would be fatally broken and she would never ply the
By the next weekend, a fierce winter storm began to ravage the Northeast. Monstrous waves pounded the Eastern seaboard. Soon, two tankers off Cape Cod would face a grim fate. About forty miles apart and East of Cape Cod, they would be ripped in half within a few hours of each other.
At 11 am Monday morning, February 18, 1952, Coast Guard Stations in Chatham and Orleans heard a radio message from the Trinidad Corporation's Fort Mercer. Captain Paetzel reported the Fort Mercer was badly leaking in the number five hold. Battering 68' waves and full-gale force winds sprung her starboard plates. The 520' single screw T-2 tanker was of metal weld construction was built in 1945 at Chester, PA by the Sun Shipbuilding & Drydock Company. She was carrying 120,000 barrels of number 2 fuel oil from New Orleans to Portland, ME. At 12:03 pm, she transmitted a terse SOS "hull splitting" and gave her position as 32 miles East of Chatham. Seven minutes later, she broke in two.
The Coast Guard dispatched five cutters as well as motor lifeboats to help the Fort Mercer. Pilot of a Coast Guard plane, Lieutenant George A. Wagner gave a radio report of the disaster scene. Continuing to fly low over a wide expanse of Atlantic Ocean, he searched in vain for the Fort Mercer's lifeboats. While headed back toward the coast, he saw half a ship rolling in the surf off Chatham. Flying lower still, he made out the name.... PENDLETON!
The Pendleton encountered a severe storm off Cape Hatteras, North Carolina that stayed with her. She continued up the coast at half speed. By Monday morning, February 18, 1952, she was about five miles East of Chatham. Suddenly, six hours before the Fort Mercer broke, disaster struck! She split in two, just forward of the number eight tank. There was no time to send an SOS.
The human toll from these two tanker wrecks as of the end of the day, Monday, was as follows. Two men from the Pendleton were known to be lost. Seven more were missing and presumed to be lost from that broken tanker's bow. Thirty two of the Pendleton's forty one man crew had been saved. Forty three men remained in peril on the Fort Mercer's floating ship sections. Eventually, all but nine men from the Pendleton and five men from the Fort Mercer would be rescued.
Of the original four parts of the split tankers, only the Pendleton's stern section remains as a site of interest to contemporary New England sport divers. It is located 1.1 nm East of Monomoy Island off Chatham, MA at Latitude 41-35 North and Longitude 069-57 West.
The broken part of the stern is at the Southeasterly end of the wreckage. There, one can see the remains of what appears to be a large generator and other machinery. Moving Northwesterly toward the aft end of the ship, you soon reach the high point of the wreckage some 25' below the surface. Quickly, you realize this is a ship that is tipped over and blown up. Glistening condenser tubes rise out of the jumbled wreckage at an odd angle. Elsewhere, bent and ripped hull plates give testament to the fury that nature and man-made explosives wrought on this once fine merchant vessel. There are no major areas for penetration, but there are a couple of pretty swim-throughs for the adventurous diver.
Artifact hunters can still find large brass valves near the remains of the engine room. But, you'll probably have more luck hunting for a few lobsters than metallic mementos of the T-2 tanker era. Just bring a "tickler" and a light (along with your license) to help catch some tasty crustaceans for dinner. The Pendleton is on the Massachusetts Board of Underwater Archaeological Resources (BUAR) List Of Exempted Shipwrecks, which means that no permits are needed for the casual collection of artifacts by sport divers. However, any major disruption of this site is prohibited. The BUAR encourages the recreational diving community to protect "exempted" sites for the enjoyment of all.
Photographers will be pleased with ample ambient light and scenic backdrops for interesting pictures. Marine life is abundant on the Pendleton, since it is about the only refuge on an otherwise level white sand sea floor. Fish such as striped bass, cunners, and tautog abound. A variety of algae, hydroids and anemones can also be found here.
See also Exempt Site listing for the tanker.
Nearby are other fun shipwreck dives... check out the Alva, Aransas, and Horatio Hall
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This Page was Last Updated 07/04/02