THE LIBERTY 70 PROJECT: THE LIBERTY SHIP JAMES EAGAN LAYNE
Whitsand Bay, Plymouth, England
March 2015 is the 70th anniversary of the sinking of the US Liberty ship James Eagan Layne. The ship was beached near Plymouth, England, in March 1945 after being torpedoed by a U-boat. To celebrate the anniversary the Liberty 70 Project aims 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 to the present day. The story includes the part she played in the Battle of the Atlantic, her sinking, beaching 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 as a community archaeology and history project so offers of help are welcome.
The Liberty ship James Eagan Layne was launched 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 convoy BTC-103 on heading up the English Channel. The final destination for the James Eagan Layne was Ghent in Belgium where she would deliver 4,500 tons of equipment for General Patton’s third army. On 21st March the convoy was sighted off Plymouth by the U-boat U-399, which then fired a torpedo into the ship on her starboard side. The ship stayed afloat and was towed toward Plymouth and finally beached in Whitsand Bay where she was abandoned and remains to this day.
The James Eagan Layne was first visited by recreational divers in the early 1950’s when the sport of SCUBA diving started in the UK. The Eagan Layne soon became ‘the’ iconic UK wreck dive as it was largely intact and easily accessible, introducing thousands of divers to wreck diving and is now an intrinsic part of the history of the sport. Over time the wreck has become a noted artificial reef in an otherwise featureless seabed and provides a valuable habitat for marine life.
The Liberty 70 Project is organised by ProMare UK and the Nautical Archaeology Society.