Diving on the Wreck of a WW2 Submarine – U-352

9 May 1942. US Coast Guard Cutter Icarus cruises at 14 knots along the coast of North Carolina en route to Key West. The sea is calm, but the world around them is not. Only five months have passed since the bombing of Pearl Harbor thrust the US into war, and tensions are high among the crew. While American soil is safe, American waters are not. There are hunters in the deep that could send any ship to a watery grave.

The time is now 1620. 1,900 yards off the port bow, the cutter’s sonar detects a “mushy” sound. Something isn’t right. Minutes later, a torpedo explodes 200 yards off her port quarter. There could only be one culprit. A German U-boat.

Immediately, the captain of the Icarus reverses her course. They would have to stand and fight. They motor to the scene of the torpedo explosion and drop five depths charges in a diamond pattern. Then, they circle around and drop three more depth charges in a V pattern. Large air bubbles flood to the surface, so they drop two more depth charges.

Minutes later, the U-boat emerges from the boiling sea at a 45 degree angle. Her bow is at the surface, and her stern is somewhere in the depths below. Little did the Coast Guard men know that this U-boat was U-352.

Fearing return fire from U-352, Icarus turns around and speeds up to ram the enemy submarine and attacks with her 3 inch gun. She fires 14 shots. Seven miss, one ricochets, and six are direct hits.

U-352 starts to sink, and the sub’s crew abandon ship. 33 men, including the captain Hellmut Rathke, splash into the water and swim away from their tin can tomb. 15 go down with the sub. U-352 is nowhere in sight. She is now an undersea grave.

Because there are no standing orders to rescue survivors, her captain requests instructions on how to proceed. The powers that be give her the green light to pick up the survivors, so at 1750, Icarus collects all 33 of the submarine’s surviving crew as prisoners of war.

A watercolor of U-352 painted by Kapitänleutnant Hellmut Rathke as a POW.

In the present day, U-352 lies in 35 meters (115 feet) of water on a sandy bottom. Her outer hull rusted away a long time ago, but her pressure hull and conning tower have remained intact. Due to her historic nature, she is (understandably) a major draw for advanced scuba divers, myself included.

In the past few years, I’ve attempted to dive U-352 a few times, but many dives were canceled due to foul weather or heavy seas. It sucks, but the waters off North Carolina are called the Graveyard of the Atlantic for a reason.

However, on my first dive, I was quite lucky because the water was calm and as clear as the Caribbean. Despite some camera issues, I was able to capture some decent footage of the wreck. You can see that fish absolutely love this artificial reef. For them, it is an oasis in an underwater desert.

The huge schools of fish you see here are called tomtate grunt (Haemulon aurolineatum). Most of them are juveniles, identified by their smaller size and the black spot on their tails, but there are a few adults in the mix. This species is very common on North Carolina shipwrecks.

The wreck itself is pretty small, and you can see everything in just a few minutes. That’s a good thing because you’re limited to only a few minutes of bottom time at that depth. If you look at my footage here, you can see the pressure hull, conning tower, hatches, and even torpedo tubes. It’s hard to believe that such significant pieces of nautical history can still be explored despite the passage of many decades.

Around a year later, I got another chance to dive U-352. The water was incredibly clear at the surface, and my camera was more cooperative that day. But, once we reached 50 feet, the water turned into a murky green slop. In the one good photo I captured on this day, the sub was barely visible. On the bottom, you can begin to see the sub’s structure. Here’s a closer look at the sub’s conning tower.

U-352’s conning tower is barely visible in the murky water.

When diving in such unpredictable seas, nothing is guaranteed, but I am always thankful for any chance I get to explore the undersea world and learn something new. Hopefully, I’ll get a chance to capture more footage of incredible wrecks like this one! Until then, if you liked this video, please give it a like, leave a comment down below, and subscribe to Tidewater Teddy. Thanks, and have a great day!

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