Dive Team: Dave Miller, Matt Miller
Dive Date: April 19, 2006
HISTORICAL SIGNIFICANCE: This was our first dive on this World War II wreck off the coast Key Largo. Many of you may not know this but eastern American shipping lanes were threatened by Nazi U-Boats including southern Florida coastal waters. On the night of April 9, 1942, rumors of German U-Boats in the area forced the two ships to travel completely blacked out. The captain of the Norwegian merchant freighter Benwood kept the Florida coastal lights three miles abeam while the captain of the American steam tanker Robert C. Tuttle kept the Florida coastal lights 1 ½ miles abeam. The Benwood was built in 1910 and carried a crew of 38. The Tuttle was built in 1940 and carried a crew of 47.
THE INCIDENT: At around 12:45am, both ships saw black objects ahead in the water. Both took evasive actions but unknowingly steered toward each other. Just past 12:52am the bow of the Benwood punched into the Tuttle just aft of the port side bow above the waterline. This caused the bow of the Benwood to collapse upon itself and take on water at a brisk rate. The captain turned hard for shore attempting to save the ship by grounding but around 1:30am was forced to abandon ship. The Benwood sunk in 40 to 55 feet of water north of French Reef. (While the Tuttle survived the collision and was repaired, it sunk two months later from a mine laid by German U-Boat 701 off the coast of Virginia).
DIVE FINDINGS: The day was clear, temperature was 80 degrees, underwater visibility good at 35 to 40 feet for our 35 minute dive. As Matt and I descended, we saw that over time most of the decks of the Benwood have pancaked down on each other & are covered with corals, aquatic plants and fish. The compartments were too tight to enter. It appears the cargo of phosphate rock was salvaged long ago. There was no sign of the original armament which included a four inch gun, six depth charges, rifles and 36 bombs. Parts of the hull plates litter the sand around the perimeter of the decks. The main body of decks were 285 feet long & 51 feet wide teeming with abundant aquatic life. As our photos show, we saw crabs, barracudas, snappers, grunts, butterfly fish, parrotfish, angelfish and much more. Off the port side of the wreck Matt spotted a sea turtle and a nurse shark. Matt did great on his first wreck dive.