DEEP SOUTH DIVERS Explores the Betsy Ross
In the mid-1970’s, South Carolina Department of Natural Resources obtained a massive ship from the US Navy “boneyard” in Norfolk, Virginia. She was more than 441 feet long, and saw service in World War II as a supply ship. Shortly after the War she was decommissioned and sent to Norfolk, where she had been sitting for over 30 years.
SCDNR sank her about 15 miles from the entrance to the Port Royal Sound – right here in Beaufort, SC – to begin the creation of an artificial reef where SC residents and visitors could fish and dive the clear waters bordering the Gulf Stream. For nearly 30 years she had the enviable title of the “largest boat ever sunk as an artificial reef” – until the 510-foot Spiegel Grove was sunk in 2002 off of Key Largo.
The Betsy Ross makes for a positively awesome dive site – after all, she’s been down there nearly 40 years, and that has attracted a ton of corals, sponges, and marine life…. In some cases, generations of marine life. She is teeming with spadefish, sheepshead, black sea bass, amber jack, jack crevalle, redfish, red snapper, flounder, sharks, stingrays, nudibranchs, and more. Diving on the Betsy Ross is truly a diver’s dream… And a surprisingly unusual treat: Divers are so rare here that the marine life is still unafraid of them. The resident Loggerhead sea turtle (we call him or her “Herman”) often swims by to socialize with divers. We have taken a good bit of video on the deck of the boat, which rests at a mere 68 feet of depth (max depth to sand is 112 feet). Some of this video can be seen here:
…But what really makes the ‘Ross special is her history. For years not much was known about her, other than the fact that she was a WWII supply vessel in the South Pacific. When this website was begun in 2001, we created a special page for her where we could post pictures and videos taken from her submerged decks. Because there was no historical information about her available online at the time, we publicly asked about her history and invited people to write us and share with us what they knew about the Betsy Ross. Years went by and… We got a fascinating email one day.
The author’s name was Lee Bergfeld, and he was one of a few surviving souls that had served on the Betsy Ross during World War II. He explained that the ship had once shot down a Japanese bomber and had taken fire in more than one battle with enemy Japanese in the Pacific theater during the War. He explained to us her importance during the Battle of Bougainville, her role in the Solomon Islands, and how one of his shipmates had lost a hand during a docking exercise. Lee explained that not many people who had served on the ‘Ross (he called her Coca-Cola because of her “CC” designation as the Cor Caroli during wartime) were still alive, and sent us a copy of the ship’s log… As well as other fascinating historical documents that tell her story. He asked us to share her history. He asked us to not forget. He asked us to know what she was and what she meant to people as we hovered through her passageways on the bottom of the North Atlantic.
In an effort to recreate the significance and drama of life on the 'Ross during WWII, we wrote this article (Microsoft Word document) for a local Beaufort, SC news publication related to the Beaufort Sportfish and Dive Club. Lee wasn't happy with it, though, when we forwarded a copy to him. His issue with the article was that it wrongly overdramatized his position and credited him with the actual kill of the enemy plane. In reality, all crew as a whole were credited... Not only because of the fact that there were many guns firing (no telling who actually had the "kill shot"), but because every crew member played an important role in the ship's survival. No one person, therefore, could be rightly credited with any one accomplishment. In fact, Lee couldn't even remember whether or not he was manning a gun at the time of the plane downing. After all, it had been more than 50 years since the event. Nonetheless, Lee was the only character we knew aboard the vessel, and so he was singled out for the story - in all fairness, inappropriately. Our apologies to Lee for the inaccuracies, but the story brings forth the drama of the event as best as we can duplicate. Consider the story similar to the hit TV show Baa Baa Black Sheep from the 1970's... A short drama based on real life events, and historically accurate as a whole, even if overdramatized on an individual basis for the sake of reader interest. We all know that Pappy Boyington didn't really look like this and that the show Baa Baa Black Sheep was really an overdramatized and fictional account of real events based on true stories. This account of events aboard the Betsy Ross in this article, therefore, should be regarded similarly. The reader is cautioned to consider this article as one historically overdramatized, based on true events... Not a historically factual account of events.
Over the next few weeks we will incorporate some of Lee's actual documentation into this website. For now, the best references we can point to are the ‘Ross’ Wikipedia entry and the NavSource Online entry, which have recently become available and give a lot of facts about the massive ship… As well as photographs of what she looked like before she was sunk.
Meanwhile, we have found a photograph taken by the SCDNR during her sinking in 1978. Notice the 30-foot vessel beside her: