The Liberty 70 Project: - The Liberty ship James Eagan Layne
A four year research project leading up to the 70th anniversary of her sinking in 2015.
March 2015 is the 70th anniversary of the sinking of the US Liberty ship James Eagan Layne. The ship was beached in Whitsand Bay near Plymouth in March 1945 after being torpedoed by a U-boat off the Eddystone reef. To celebrate the anniversary, the Liberty 70 Project aims over the next 4 years to document all aspects of the life of this vessel - wartime transport, shipwreck, commercial salvage job, the classic UK wreck dive and artificial reef. The Liberty 70 Project will record the history of the ship from the time the keel was laid in the shipyard in New Orleans to the present day. The story includes the part she played in the Battle of the Atlantic, her sinking by a U-boat, beaching in Whitsand Bay and early attempts at salvage. The results of this history project will be published in a book and a web site about the James Eagan Layne, with other events planned for the anniversary itself. The work is being done by a mixed team of amateurs and professionals so we need volunteers with a range of skills to help pull this together in time for the 70th anniversary in 2015. The project is designed to be inclusive to all so offers of help are welcome. We are looking for volunteers who are interested in researching maritime history, co-ordinating research, writing, diving and survey or simply just interested in helping out and are able to devote some free time.
The Liberty ship James Eagan Layne was launched from Way #6 at the Delta Shipbuilding Company's yard in New Orleans on 2nd December 1944. By the beginning of March 1945 she had crossed the Atlantic, eventually joining the eastbound convoy BTC-103 on heading up the English Channel from Milford Haven in Wales to Southend on the east coast of England. The final destination for the James Eagan Layne was Ghent in Belgium where she would deliver 4,500 tons of US Army Engineers equipment for Patton's third army. At 1:30pm on 21st March the convoy was sighted sailing 12 miles off Plymouth by Commander Heinz Buhse in the type VIIC U-boat U-399. A torpedo fired from the U-boat hit the starboard side of the ship just aft of the bulkhead between #4 and #5 holds. After fifteen minutes the crew abandoned ship and most were picked up by the British steamship Monkstone, while the remainder were taken aboard the Favourite class rescue tug HMS Flaunt. The James Eagan Layne was the only vessel lost in convoy BTC-103 and there were no casualties amongst her crew of 69; she joins the list of over 200 Liberty ships lost during the war and 50 lost on their maiden voyage.
There are a wide range of aspects of the life and sinking of the James Eagan Layne to be researched, documented and written up. They range from small, fairly limited topics to much wider ones, perhaps best tackled by a small group. We have more than enough research work to satisfy all tastes and degrees of commitment. Much of the research is UK based but other parts could involve research in the U.S. and Canada. The SWMHS has very kindly agreed in principle to support the project and we are aware that SWMHS members have skills which are very relevant to the project. For example, one of the first research topics is to ascertain which vessels were escorting convoy BTC 103 and to trace their logbooks and reports from that period. These reports will give us more detailed information about the events surrounding the torpedoing of the James Eagan Layne and the actions of the convoy and escorts shortly after. We are also seeking a volunteer to assist in co-coordinating the research efforts. If any SWMHS members feel they may be able to help, be it in a small way or more extensively, we would welcome your involvement.
For more information about the Liberty 70 Project please visit the project's web site at: www.promare.co.uk/liberty70 (Opens in a new window).
The Liberty 70 Project is a joint project organised by Promare UK and the Nautical Archaeology Society.
Contact: Peter Holt
Telephone: (UK) 07813 018588
Address: 6 Honcray, Oreston, Plymouth, PL9 7RP, UK
Nautical Archaeology Society web: www.nauticalarchaeologysociety.org (Opens in a new window).