Special Report

25 of the Most Famous Shipwrecks Ever Found

Source: Bcarlsness / Getty Images

Frank W. Wheeler
> Found: Lake Superior
> Sunk: 1885

On September 29, 1885, strong winds battered the Frank W. Wheeler, a new schooner-barge, as it was being towed near Grand Island. Its captain and crew escaped into lifeboats 15 minutes before the ship sank. In 2021, a team of researchers for the Great Lakes Shipwreck Historical Society found the Frank W. Wheeler, along with two other downed vessels, using a Remotely Operated Vehicle (ROV) and marine sonic technology. The Wheeler’s hull and cabins, along with many artifacts, lie 600 feet under water and have been remotely explored and documented.

> Found: Red Sea
> Sunk: 1941

Launched in 1940, the Thistlegorm – Scottish for blue thistle – was used to transport weapons and supplies to British forces during WWII, until it was sunk by German bombers in the Red Sea near Egypt. The wreckage was first filmed by the explorer Jacques Cousteau in 1955. Thistlegorm’s massive propeller, anti-aircraft guns, and cache of spilled tanks and munitions make it a popular scuba diving hot-spot.

Source: Spencer Platt / Getty Images News via Getty Images

SS Central America
> Found: South Carolina coast
> Sunk: 1857

The SS Central America, loaded with 477 passengers and almost 10 tons of gold discovered in California during the Gold Rush, was heading to New York City from Panama when it was struck by a hurricane off the coast of South Carolina. It took the ship nearly two days to sink, during which time a passing ship was able to rescue around 50 of its passengers. The shipwreck was discovered in 1988 along with $150 million worth of gold.

Source: Fotosearch / Archive Photos via Getty Images

USS Monitor
> Found: North Carolina coast
> Sunk: 1862

The USS Monitor, an ironclad warship famous for its Civil War standoff with the CSS Merrimack (USS Virginia), sank in a storm while being towed off the coast of North Carolina in the winter of 1862. In 2002, after six weeks of work, divers were able to recover the ship. Various pieces of the Monitor are on display at the Mariners’ Museum in Newport News, Virginia.

Source: Public Domain / Wikimedia Commons

SMS Cöln
> Found: Orkney Islands
> Sunk: 1919

The SMS Cöln is one of 52 German warships sunk off the Orkney Islands off the northeastern coast of Scotland in the aftermath of WWI to prevent the British from seizing them, as dictated under the terms of the 1918 armistice. In the 1920s a British scrap metal dealer began salvaging the ships and by 1931 he’d removed over 30 of them, but the Cöln remained underwater and is now a popular scuba diving attraction.

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