BAREG: The Wreck Diving Group You’ll Want to Join

By the Battle of the Atlantic Research and Expedition Group

Like shipwrecks? Interested in maritime history? If so, you should check out the Battle of the Atlantic Research and Expedition Group (BAREG). 

Based in Washington DC, BAREG is an IRS 501(c)(3) nonprofit. Operating globally, its mission is to explore and document shipwrecks. It focuses primarily on World War II’s Battle of the Atlantic.

The Battle of the Atlantic was the war’s longest campaign. It began September 3, 1939, the day Britain declared war on Nazi Germany. It ended with Germany’s surrender in May 1945. In this titanic struggle, German U-boats attempted to isolate Britain from her North American allies. The goal was to starve the island nation into submission.

In 1942, the U-boats’ primary hunting ground was the East Coast. There are nearly 100 World War II wrecks off North Carolina’s Outer Banks alone. 

BAREG’s origin 

According to BAREG’s founder, SDI-TDI Instructor Bill Chadwell, “I’d been diving the three German U-boats off North Carolina’s coast for some time. I had the idea of packaging the SDI Wreck and Deep Diver courses with an overview of the Battle of the Atlantic. After open water training in a Northern Virginia quarry, my students and I would dive one of the U-boat wrecks.” 

The concept succeeded wildly. It put Chadwell in contact with large numbers of like-minded divers. These divers were not only eager to get their fins wet but interested in history as well.

After running the “U-boat Diving” course for several years, Chadwell thought it time to take the next step. This involved forming a scuba club. “My original idea was much smaller than what resulted. I envisioned a bunch of divers sitting around a table, talking about wrecks. Not what BAREG is today.”

Working with NOAA 

Divers best know BAREG for its annual archaeology surveys. BAREG conducts these in collaboration with NOAA’s Monitor National Marine Sanctuary. According to Chadwell, NOAA archaeologist Joe Hoyt, put BAREG on the road to maritime archaeology.

Joe came to the Group’s first meeting before it was even BAREG. He asked, “You guys want to do underwater archaeology on these wrecks you’re talking about?” Everyone thought it sounded like fun.

Within about eight months, BAREG was off the Outer Banks, surveying the Soviet tanker Ashkhabad. The German U-402 sank Ashkhabad in 1942. As with all subsequent projects, the Group submitted survey data and scale drawings to NOAA, which then produces maps of entire wreck sites. 

The U-552 Campaign 

BAREG conducted the Ashkhabad survey in May 2013. It’s now an annual project. Since then,  BAREG successfully surveyed the 1942 wrecks of:

  • SS Caribsea
  • SS Dixie Arrow
  • SS F.W. Abrams
  • MT British Splendour

The Group is now undertaking the U-552 Campaign. The goal is surveying five of the seven Allied merchant vessels sunk by U-552. They went down on a single U-552 patrol in 1942.

The MT British Splendour, surveyed in 2018, was the first. The plan calls for the Group to survey one progressively deeper wreck per year. The last will be the SS Tamaulipas in 2022. She lies at a depth of 49 m/160 ft.

More than just surveys 

BAREG’s activities do not confine themselves to archaeology surveys alone. The Group sponsors an annual Battle of the Atlantic Symposium. Here members and guest speakers share the results of their research into a wide variety of issues.

Additionally, the Group puts together trips several times each year. Led by the Group’s Deputy, Fred Engle, these visit historical or otherwise noteworthy wrecks. Two of these are:

  • U-853, which lies at 40 m/130 ft off Rhode Island
  • The Essex-class aircraft carrier USS Oriskany

Sunk as an artificial reef in May of 2006, the Oriskany can be an advanced technical dive with depths as great as 72 m/229 ft. 

International Travels 

Since 2015 BAREG has conducted one international expedition a year.

  • The 2015 expedition went to Scapa Flow, in Scotland’s Orkney Islands. The Germans scuttled the Imperial High Seas Fleet here in 1919. BAREG divers spent a week exploring these wrecks. They report only by diving on sunken battleships can one comprehend this pinnacle of industrial revolution-era nautical architecture. 
  • The first Battle of the Atlantic in World War I was a hard-fought campaign. U-boats made occasional attacks off the US East Coast. In 2015, BAREG divers collected measurements and video of an unknown wreck off North Carolina’s Diamond Shoals. Using the data and archival research, BAREG determined the long-unidentified wreck was the steamship SS Merak. The U-140 sank it in the summer of 1918.
  • Since the 2015 expedition, the Group has been to Bell Island, Newfoundland. Here they dove in the cold waters of Conception Bay.
  • The next expedition went to the Normandy coast of France, where they explored wrecks associated with the Allied invasion of France on D-Day.

Two upcoming international expeditions will return to sites previously visited.

  • This year, the Group will return to the English Channel off the coast of France. Here they will continue their exploration of D-Day wrecks.
  • In 2020, BAREG will return to Bell Island for more dives on the wrecks of Conception Bay. Those certified at the TDI Full Cave level or equivalent will also explore the iron ore mines on Bell Island during the 2020 trip. 

Not just a group 

One thing sets BAREG apart from most archaeology groups and nonprofits. This is, BAREG is an SDI-TDI Training Facility and offers members advanced scuba training. These courses include SDI specialties pertinent to archaeology mission, such as:

  • Deep Diver
  • Wreck Diver
  • Drysuit Diver
  • Underwater Archaeology

BAREG  also offers a full range of TDI open-circuit technical courses. These range from Nitrox Diver through normoxic Trimix Diver. To avoid competition with local dive shops, BAREG courses are available only to members. Although BAREG certification numbers are small, the training they offer is specifically tailored for the diving the Group conducts.

BAREG’s Training Facility status exemplifies the fact International Training recognizes one size doesn’t fit all. It openly accepts smaller organizations as members of the ITI family. 

For additional information about BAREG, follow them on Facebook or visit the BAREG website.  You can also contact them at oc@bareg.org.

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