USS PE-42 Eagle Boat

  • Type: Eagle Class Patrol Boat
  • LOA: 200′ x 33′
  • Construction: Steel
  • Date of Loss: May 15, 1931
  • Reason: Scuttled
  • Depth of Water: 240′

History

While it has never been confirmed whether or not the Eagle Boat is really the 42, the shipwreck is nonetheless representative of an interesting era in US Naval and American history.  Eagle boats were named after a reference in a Washington Post editorial that called for, “an eagle to scour the seas and pounce upon and destroy every German submarine.”  They were introduced in 1918 by the Wilson administration in response to the US Navy’s request for small vessels with offshore range that could be used in near-coastal anti-submarine patrols.  They also requested that the Eagle boat design be simple since many of the nation’s shipbuilding yards were dedicated to constructing large warships such as destroyers – in other words, Eagle boats were intended to be production vessels that could be churned out in large numbers quickly and inexpensively.

Since the US Navy shipbuilding yards were largely unavailable for construction of Eagle boats, the Wilson administration turned to the Ford Motor Company to manufacture these vessels.  Henry Ford, quite experienced with mass production but not ship construction, joined the US Shipping Board in early 1918.  Though he had little role in designing the actual Eagle boats, he made two significant changes to the design, insisting on using flat steel hull plates and steam turbine engines – both features that would promote rapid and simple production as requested.  Henry Ford was contracted to construct over 100 of these vessels in his own plant located in Detroit, Michigan, though barely 60 were actually finished.

Indeed, the construction of Eagle boats was cut short by the end of 1918 as Ford fell behind in production and an armistice was signed, effectively ending World War I before any of the Eagle boats were even commissioned.   In the following years, the Eagle boats that eventually had been commissioned served in a variety of ways, such as reconnaissance vessels, aircraft tenders and coastal patrol boats, as few actually served in their original intended function.  Their performance at sea was somewhat hindered by the design, as the flat steel plates, though convenient for production, were not particularly ideal for stability and functionality on the sea.  By the 1930s and early 1940s many Eagle boats like the Eagle Boat 42 had been sold.

The Eagle Boat 42 was scuttled on May 15, 1931 after being sold for scrap to a yard in Roxbury, MA.  Like much of the wartime surplus, these ships were of little use commercially and after anything valuable was removed, they were disposed of in deep water.  This bow section of the wreck sits upright and intact, though some of the upper structure is missing.  The stern section is broken off and is located some distance away from the bow section in about 220 feet of water.  The bow section is the highest point on the wreck, reaching up to about 215 feet.  Like many of the shipwrecks in the dumping grounds, this one is heavily fished and lies in a busy shipping channel.  There is some reason to believe that since this wreck was not completely stripped before its sinking, as one would expect, it is possible this wreck could instead be the Eagle Boat No. 38, another Eagle boat sold around the same time and believed to have been sunk off Boston.   In any case, it is surely another mystery in Massachusetts Bay that makes for an interesting and challenging deep dive.