October 19, 2017
Rodanthe Shipwreck ID’d as WWII Transport
Outer Banks Voice
A team of East Carolina University graduate students
led by Nathan Richards, head of the University of North Carolina
Coastal Studies Institute’s Maritime Heritage Program, has identified
the Pappy’s Lane shipwreck in the Pamlico Sound near Rodanthe as a type
of World War II troop transport.
The shipwreck was determined eligible in 2016 for the National Register
of Historic Places for its information potential through consultations
between the North Carolina Department of Transportation’s Archaeology
Group and the State Historic Preservation Office.
Directly in the path of the planned Bonner Bridge extension project,
the shipwreck, nicknamed after a small road in Rodanthe, remained a
mystery for years, with local oral history suggesting it was a gravel
barge that ran aground in the 1960s. Because the vessel is eligible for
inclusion in the National Register of Historic Places, the National
Historic Preservation Act of 1966 requires an archaeological
investigation before the planned construction project proceeds.
Also, researchers believe that the site has separate historical,
archaeological, interpretative and educational significance, including
the opportunity for ECU graduate students to train in archaeological
techniques and historical research.
While evidence supports a connection between its
loss and the construction of roads on the Outer Banks in the 1960s,
archaeological details suggest a very different original function.
With the support of the North Carolina Department of Transportation,
Richards, an associate professor with the Program in Maritime Studies
at ECU, worked with nine graduate students in a month-long field school
at the Wanchese-based institute to assess the site’s historical
significance prior to construction of the bridge.
“We began the field school armed with a significant amount of
historical information about late nineteenth and early twentieth
century ship types,” said Richards, who has been investigating the
shipwreck since 2010.
“We soon realized that the ship had a welded steel hull, and what we
thought were rivets was some other diagnostic trait,” said Richards.
“Towards the end of the third week of field work, the evidence that the
Pappy’s Lane Wreck was actually a military vessel became increasingly
Due to the lack of historical leads, archaeological recording was the
driving force of discovery on the project. Richards and the graduate
students spent nearly every day in September, weather permitting, on
the site of the shipwreck recording the wreck and producing a map far
more detailed than any before it.
The North Carolina Department of Natural and Cultural Resources
Underwater Archaeology Branch, which issued one of the permits for the
project, recommended limited archaeological excavation of the stern and
three cross-sections, allowing the team to determine the shape of the
hull and other details about the vessel’s construction.
It was the first project that Richards had dredged in 10 years.
Dredging reveals more of the wreck, but also exposes it to oxygen and
other conditions that can result in degradation. That’s why dredging is
used only on a limited basis.
After mapping the site and dredging targeted areas, Richards and his
students were able to match the stern and other details to two related
classes of World War II gunboats, Landing Craft Infantry, or LCI, and
Landing Craft Support, or LCS, vessels.
These watercraft, each built to the same blueprints but with some
modifications, were introduced late into the Pacific Theater of World
War II. Designed for amphibious warfare, they were used to land and
support troops on enemy beaches. With crews of 71 men, LCIs and LCSs
supported landings in the Philippines, Borneo, Iwo Jima and Okinawa.
These ships’ stories did not end when the war did. While most LCIs and
LCSs were either scrapped or stayed in the Pacific for minesweeping and
other duties, many were transferred to foreign fleets, such as France,
Vietnam and Japan, to rebuild allied militaries destroyed in the war.
They served less than two years for the United States during World War
II but some spent more than two decades in the South Vietnamese Navy,
serving as its first real warships.
By the 1980s, most were sold, scrapped or converted to commercial
fishing boats, leaving a single surviving LCS in the Thai navy, which
ultimately returned to the United States as a floating museum in 2007.
Further research is needed to identity the specific type, name and
individual story of the Pappy’s Lane shipwreck. The time between its
possible tenure in the Pacific Ocean and its life as an unassuming
shipwreck in the Pamlico Sound spans decades, leaving much to uncover.
“We did not expect to find an American amphibious assault vessel lying
in Pamlico Sound, so our research is continuing,” said Richards.
“We certainly appreciate the assistance of North Carolina’s Department
of Transportation and Department of Natural and Cultural Resources to
fully explore the historical and archaeological significance of the
wreck, and hope to shed more light on the vessel by the end of the
year,” Richards said.