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St Simons Real Estate History: The Attack of U-123

St Simons Real Estate History: The Attack of U-123

Historical & Interesting Fact about St. Simons Real Estate 

Some of the more fascinating stories in the Golden Isles stem from the area’s shipping history — and during World War II, a visit from one of the most notorious submarines ever to haunt American coastal waters.

U-123 had left German-occupied France a month earlier for its ninth active wartime patrol — and it’s fifth under the command of Reinhard Hardegen, already a formidable boat captain with nearly a dozen Allied vessels sunk under his authority.

In the pre-dawn hours of April 8, 1942, U-123 found itself off the St. Simons Island sea buoy, stalking two American steam tankers in shallow water: the 7,989-ton Esso Baton Rouge, headed to New York loaded with heating and lubricating oil, and the 9,264-ton Oklahoma, bound for Providence and carrying 100,000 barrels of refined petroleum.

Hardegen and U-123 spotted the two ships — unarmed and without escorts — in bright moonlight; at 7:52 a.m. the Oklahoma was struck by a single torpedo near the engine room. The ship settled to the bottom in 40 feet of water, with the bow still visible. U-123 turned its sights to the Esso Baton Rouge, striking it less than an hour later with a second torpedo; as that ship began to sink, U-123 returned to the Oklahoma, surfaced and fired on the floundering tanker with the submarine’s 105mm deck gun, finishing it off.

Survivors from both ships headed for the Georgia shoreline; they were picked up by the Coast Guard and brought to the historic Coast Guard Station on St. Simons Island. That building today is operated by the Coastal Georgia Historical Society, and houses the Maritime Center Museum, adjacent to the Lighthouse Museum in the Village area of St. Simons Island. The two tankers would eventually be raised, towed to Brunswick for repairs, and returned to wartime service.

U-123 would go on to become the most celebrated — and feared — German submarine in the war. Hardegen himself, retiring with 22 ships sunk under his command, would be twice decorated by Adolf Hitler and go on to become chief of U-boat training in the torpedo school at Muerwik.

And, in September of 2012, Hardegen would be recognized again — this time at age 99 — by the modern German Navy for his bravery and service.

St Simons Real Estate Agents - DeLoach Sothebys International RealtySt. Simons Real Estate Company

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