Sonar images show possible submarine sitting upright on the ocean floor. Photo: Atlantic Wreck Salvage.

Salvage Co. Believes It’s Found Submarine Wreckage Off Ocean City

A shipwreck salvage company believes it has discovered an American submarine from the 1930s off the coast of Ocean City, Maryland.

If the discovery is verified, it would be one of the few missing American submarines left in accessible East Coast waters.

Atlantic Wreck Salvage announced Thursday that a team on board D/V Tenacious located via side scan sonar an object they “firmly believe” to be the wreckage of the R-8, a submarine dispatched by experimental aerial bomb testing in 1936.

R-8 was one of 27 R-class submarines commissioned by the navy during World War I, but wasn’t completed until after the Armistice. Build in Massachusetts in 1918, the sub was used for training in the Pacific until 1930. While part of the Inactive Naval Reserve Fleet at Philadelphia, it sank in the Navy Yard. Once raised, R-8 was used as a target in aerial bombing tests off the Delmarva Peninsula.

R-8, built in 1918, was used mostly for training in the Pacific in the 1920s. Historic photo courtesy of Atlantic Wreck Salvage.

The company says they are confident that what they found is R-8 because of its location, the historical record, and information gathered by sonar.

“The sonar data leaves little doubt that the R-8 has been located,” says Garry Kozak of GK Consulting, who analyzed sonar data with Atlantic Wreck Salvage. “The submarine in the image is the correct length, width, and height. One set of prominent features of the R-class subs visible in the scan image is the spray rail configuration on the conning tower.”

It’s been a long road for the crew of D/V Tenacious to find make such a plausible discovery. The vessel’s captain Joe Mazraani and wreck hunter Captain Eric Takakjian have been searching for R-8 for many years, but just got side scan sonar capabilities this year. They moved the boat from its home port of Point Pleasant, New Jersey to Ocean City, Maryland

“It appears from the sonar images that the site will reveal a very well-preserved example of an R-class submarine in existence anywhere. We are looking forward to conducting additional research and to diving the wreck in 2021,” says Capt. Takakjian.

The team is staying tight-lipped about the specific location of the wreck until it can be properly confirmed by an up-close look. They do report that the sonar images indicate the submarine is upright on the ocean floor and still intact.

The last submarine discovery by D/V Tenacious was even more significant: in 2012, the team found the remains of U-550, the last U-boat thought to remain in diveable North Atlantic waters.

-Meg Walburn Viviano