Wreck of a legendary military ship found in the Atlantic, ending a “decades-long mystery”

The wreck of a historic military ship that served in two world wars, patrolled the waters off Alaska for decades, and was at one point commanded by the first black man to command a ship government has been found, the Coast Guard said Thursday.

A wreck believed to be the US Revenue Cutter Bear, which sank in 1963 about 260 miles east of Boston while being towed to Philadelphia, where it was to be converted into a floating restaurant, was located in 2019.

But it wasn’t until August that a team of experts reviewing the evidence came to the conclusion that it was “reasonably certain” the wreck was indeed the Bear, Coast Guard officials said. and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration at a waterfront press conference. conference in Boston.

“At the time of the Bear’s loss, she was already recognized as a historic vessel,” said Joe Hoyt, of the Office of National Marine Sanctuaries.

NOAA said the wreckage was found about 90 miles south of Cape Sable, Nova Scotia, ending a “decades-long mystery.”

The legend of the bear is so ingrained in coastguard tradition that sports teams at the US Coast Guard Academy in Connecticut are named after bears, in part in honor of the ship.

Side-scan sonar image of a wreckage that NOAA and Coast Guard researchers later determined to be the USRC Bear.


Built in 1874, the Steam and Sail Bear was purchased by the United States in 1884 to assist in the search for the ill-fated Arctic Expedition led by Lieutenant Adolphus Greely, a member of the United States Army Signal Corps.

The 190-foot bear then spent more than four decades patrolling the Arctic, conducting search and rescue operations, law enforcement operations, conducting human and vessel counts, recording geological and astronomical information, recording tides and escorting whalers.

The US Revenue Cutter Service merged with the US Life-Saving Service in 1915 to form the Coast Guard.

“In Bear’s 40-year career in Alaska, the cutter has performed some of the most daring and successful Arctic rescues in history,” said William Thiesen, official Coast Guard Atlantic Area historian. “And when the malnourished Native Americans needed food, Bear brought it. When the stranded whalers needed rescue, Bear saved them. One hundred years ago, when thousands of Alaskans contracted the flu Spain during the pandemic, Bear brought doctors and medicine. “

Historical boat discovered
In this July 1908 photograph provided by the Office of the Historian of the United States Coast Guard, the US Revenue Cutter Bear sits at anchor while patrolling the Bering Sea off Alaska.

/ PA

Thursday’s announcement coincided with the arrival in Boston of US Coast Guard Healy, named after the Bear’s captain from 1886 to 1895, Michael “Hell Roaring Mike” Healy.

The Healy, an icebreaker commissioned in 1999, recently completed a passage through the Arctic Northwest Passage.

Healy, born in 1839, was the son of a Georgia plantation owner and slave. Healy’s father sent him to Massachusetts to escape slavery, Thiesen said.

He compared the Healy – commissioned by Abraham Lincoln a month before the president’s assassination – to a sheriff in the Old West, whose jurisdiction was an area the size of the lower 48 states.

“Although he never, during his lifetime, self-identified as African American, perhaps to avoid the prejudices he would likely have encountered in his personal life and career, he was actually the first person of African-American origin to command a US government ship, ”a NOAA statement said.

Even after his time in the Arctic ended, Bear’s career continued.

The ship served in both World Wars, patrolling Greenland waters during World War II and helping to capture a German spy ship.

Between the wars, the Bear was converted into a maritime museum by the city of Oakland, California; used as a movie set; and purchased by Adm. Richard Byrd for use in his Antarctic expeditions.

The ship was decommissioned in 1944 and remained in Nova Scotia until her voyage to Philadelphia ended prematurely in 1963 about 90 miles south of Cape Sable, Nova Scotia, according to NOAA.

“The end came for the bear as it was towed to Philadelphia,” the Coast Guard said. “Apparently his old wood was no longer strong enough to withstand the heavy blows of the North Atlantic.”

Thiesen, the Coast Guard historian, said: “Bear held various positions for almost 90 years, a remarkable record for a ship built of wood.”

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