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February 13, 2024

Wreck of WWII-era Cargo Ship Found in the Great Lakes

(Photo: Great Lakes Shipwreck Historical Society)

(Photo: Great Lakes Shipwreck Historical Society)

The wreck of a World War II-era freighter has been discovered in over 600 feet of water around 35 miles north of Michigan’s Keweenaw Peninsula.

Over the last 7 years, shipwreck researcher Dan Fountain has been studying remote sensing data in the search for shipwrecks in Lake Superior. After coming across a particularly deep anomaly, he reached out to the Great Lakes Shipwreck Historical Society (GLSHS) for help in identifying the potential wreck. In 2023 GLSHS Director of Marine Operations, Darryl Ertel, Fountain and crew of the R/V David Boyd, towed a Marine Sonic Technology side-scan sonar over the anomaly and soon realized and it was in-fact a shipwreck. Later ROV dives positively identified the submerged hulk the 244-foot bulk carrier Arlington.

On April 30, 1940, the Arlington left Port Arthur, Ontario fully loaded with wheat en route Owen Sound, Ontario. She was under command of Captain Fredrick “Tatey Bug” Burke, a seasoned veteran of the lakes. Dense fog greeted the Arlington and a larger freighter, the Collingwood, as they made their way across Lake Superior. As the day turned to night the fog turned into a storm and battered both ships. The Arlington started to take on water. The Arlington’s first mate, Junis Macksey, ordered a course to hug the Canadian North Shore, which would have provided some cover from wind and waves, but Captain Burke countermanded the order...and ordered his ship back on its course across the open lake. On May 1 at around 4:30am Chief Engineer, Fred Gilbert, sounded the alarm, as the Arlington started to sink. Out of fear for their lives, and without orders from Captain Burke, the crew began to abandon ship on their own. Luckily, everyone safely got off the Arlington and made it to the safety of the Collingwood…everyone but Captain “Tatey Bug” Burke.

Arlington (Photo: Great Lakes Shipwreck Historical Society)

An investigation, and much speculation followed the sinking of the Arlington and the odd behavior of its master. Why did he go down with his ship…when he easily could have been saved like the rest of his crew? The fact is no one will ever know the answer. Reports indicate that he was near the pilothouse of his ship and waved at the Collingwood minutes before his ship went to the deep, 650-feet to the bottom of Lake Superior.

Teamwork was critical to the discovery. "One of the most important aspects of everything we do as an organization involves the concept of teamwork. This goes for our operations at Whitefish Point, as well as on the water aboard the David Boyd. We are lucky to have so many dedicated shipwreck historians and researchers as friends of GLSHS.” Said GLSHS Executive Director, Bruce Lynn.” And this was absolutely demonstrated when Marquette resident Dan Fountain approached us with a potential target near the Copper Harbor area of Lake Superior. These targets don't always amount to anything...but this time it absolutely was a shipwreck. A wreck with an interesting, and perhaps mysterious story. Had Dan not reached out to us, we might never have located the Arlington...and we certainly wouldn't know as much about her story as we do today."

"It’s exciting to solve just one more of Lake Superior’s many mysteries.” Said shipwreck researcher, Dan Fountain. “Finding Arlington so far out in the lake, I hope this final chapter in her story can provide some measure of closure to the family of Captain Burke."

The February 2024 edition of Marine Technology Reporter is focused on Oceanographic topics and technologies.
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