Tap here
for menu

New Jersey Scuba Diving

Bananas!

New Jersey Scuba Diving

SS Mohawk

Manasquan Chart

Shipwreck SS Mohawk
Not to be confused with the R.C. Mohawk or the other S.S. Mohawk.

Type:
shipwreck, liner, USA, Clyde-Mallory Lines ( sailing under Ward Lines )
Name:
A tribe of Iroquoian Indians of the eastern New York area.
Three identical sisters were named Cherokee, Seminole, and Algonquin
Built:
1926, Newport News VA USA ( Newport News Shipbuilding & Drydock Co. )
Specs:
( 387 x 54 ft ) 5897 gross tons, 163 passengers & crew
Sunk:
Thursday January 25, 1935
collision with Norwegian freighter Talisman - 45 casualties
Depth:
80 ft max

The Mohawk was given its name after a previous ship of the same name belonging to the same company burned and sank in Delaware Bay in 1925. Another Mohawk is sunk outside the mouth of New York harbor. Thus there are plenty of Mohawk wrecks in our area. This does not seem to be a lucky name.

Neither was the parent shipping company, Atlantic, Gulf & West Indies Steamship Lines, very lucky; the previous year, in an incident that is far more well-known than the sinking of the Mohawk, the Morro Castle caught fire and grounded in the surf off Asbury Park, a total loss. ( the hulk was eventually towed to a Baltimore wrecker's yard. ) then, just weeks before the Mohawk was lost, the company's Havana grounded on a reef, and the Mohawk was transferred to fill in for the damaged vessel on the New York - Havana - Vera Cruz (Mexico) run. Coincidentally, the Clyde Line also owned the Delaware, sunk nearby some 37 years earlier.

Shipwreck SS Mohawk
Making speed at sea - Mohawk cruised at 16 knots

Shipwreck SS Mohawk
The unlucky ship aground near Sea Bright, May 19-21, 1928. She was deliberately beached after a collision with the SS Jefferson in dense fog. The damage was extensive, but on the starboard side, not visible here.

Shipwreck SS Mohawk
A different view shows the large gash just forward of the bridge

Luck had little to do with the sinking of the Mohawk. The country was in the teeth of the Great Depression, and to squeeze some extra revenue out of the vessel, it was modified to carry bulk cargoes like lumber. These modifications involved opening up her watertight bulkheads for easier cargo handling. Because of this, she quickly filled with water and sank after what would otherwise probably not have been a fatal collision. The fatal blow was on the port side this time.

The blame for the collision is variously given as mechanical malfunction or human error, but the Mohawk veered directly across the path of the other vessel and was entirely at fault. None of the bridge officers survived the accident; Captain Joseph Wood chose to go down with his ship. After verifying that all other persons were safely away, he went back to his cabin and shut the door. In the end, the responsibility for a vessel rests solely with its captain, and the press and the courts would have crucified him.

Clyde-Mallory Lines timetable - winter 1932-33
Clyde-Mallory Lines timetable - winter 1932-33. The Mohawk
was chartered out to sister company Ward Lines for the
New York-Havana route when she was lost in 1935.

Shipwreck SS Mohawk postcard
An old postcard. The four sisters were extraordinary vessels for the coastwise trade.

Shipwreck SS Mohawk headline

Just a few miles out of Manasquan Inlet (New Jersey), the remains of the Mohawk lie beneath 80 feet of water. The steel-hulled passenger ship, launched in October of 1925 by the Newport News Shipbuilding& Dry Dock Company, was 387' long, 54' in breadth, and listed at 5897 gross tons.

The Mohawk was the third in a string of disasters suffered by the Ward Line. First was the infamous Morro Castle fire at Asbury Park, then the Havana ran aground on a reef off Florida. The Mohawk was leased from the Clyde Line to take over the duties of the Morro Castle, but only a few months after the fire which claimed 124 lives, this ship also met with a tragic end. The Mohawk left New York on the afternoon of January 24, 1935.

About 9:00 that evening, several miles south of Sea Girt Light and about six miles offshore, the steering gear went awry and the crew switched to a manual steering system instead. Shortly afterward, confusion between orders from the bridge and their execution in the steering engine room caused the Mohawk to execute a hard turn to port, at full speed, directly into the path of the Norwegian freighter Talisman. Although both ships tried to avoid the collision, it was too late. Talisman struck the Mohawk, and the latter began to take on water. Bitter cold, ice, and snow hampered the evacuation of the 160 passengers; all told 45 lives were lost, including Captain Joseph Wood and all but one of the ship's officers.

tiles from the MohawkThe Mohawk sank within an hour. Nearby ships came to the rescue, and Coast Guard boats and planes searched through the night and the next day, first for survivors, then for bodies. The wreck was later blasted to a maximum depth of 50' so as not to pose a navigational hazard in the heavily traveled shipping lane.

The Mohawk is one of the most dived wrecks in this area, although it resembles a ship less than an underwater junkyard. It's easy to get lost in the vast jumble of hull plates and twisted metal, so careful navigation is essential. Despite its popularity, this wreck still yields plenty of artifacts and lobster, and offers many interesting sights for the observant diver.

Original NJScuba website by Tracey Baker Wagner 1994-1996

final disposition of the wreck of the Mohawk
The final disposition of the wreck of the Mohawk

A Survivor's Story

My parents, Sarah Jackson Smith and Samuel Smith, were among the lucky survivors [of the Mohawk.] My aunt Jennie Jackson wrote a kind of informal book of memoirs. I am enclosing my mother's account. My son - then 12 and now 44 - when he took diving lessons - he always talked of retrieving "Grandma's luggage." ( Yeah, sure! )

Sincerely yours,
Marilyn J Goldstein


The Brooklyn Bridge was one sheet of ice and as we crept along, inch by inch, wondered whether we would make it across the bridge, and if we did, would the Mohawk still be there waiting for us? Unfortunately, yes. As I was always seasick, I went down to our stateroom shortly after we boarded ship and went to bed. In the short time that I was upstairs, I had remarked to Sam that all the lifeboats seemed to be buried in snow on the decks.

Four hours later, there was a terrible jolt followed by the complete standstill of our ship. Sam came running in and said we were rammed by a Norwegian freighter. He assured me that everything was under control. I put my coat over my pajamas and adjusted the life belt. We started through the passage to go to the deck. A seaman came running toward us. He had no life belt. I went back with him and gave him a second one which I had seen under my berth. On our second attempt to get to on deck, I met a woman whom I had spoken to briefly before I had left for my stateroom. She was returning for her jewels, which she had left in her stateroom. Unhappily, she was one of the forty-nine lost. Her body was later found floating, with jewels intact.

The lifeboats were dug out of the snow by us, as in those days they were not lifted by machinery. By this time, we were aware that a great gash had been made in our side and the ship was beginning to list. We finally raised one lifeboat, got it down the side of the ship and started to move away from the side of the ship. The lifeboat was filled to capacity with passengers and a few crew.

To our shock, we discovered that we were still tied to the Mohawk. A crewmember started to shout for a knife to cut us away. Sam called to him to tear his coat open and pull out a gold penknife he had in his pocket, given to him by the Brooklyn Optometrical Society when he was president. As it was two degrees below zero, Sam's fingers were already frozen. The seaman found his knife, ran and cut us loose from the Mohawk.

We rowed away as quickly as possible, and had hardly gotten at a safe distance when we watched with horror - the Mohawk sinking with 49 people aboard, many of them young. Had we not gotten away when we did, we would have been sucked in with the Mohawk as she sank. We were picked up by the Algonquin several hours later and taken ashore, where we were met by a barrage of cameramen with endless questions.

We were happy to break away finally and go home. Betty and Jennie had met us at the pier with valises of warm clothes. We had sent a telegram earlier saying "saved Sarah Sam" the rest of the story is told by Jen her narrative of what happened in our home when the news was first broadcast.

Sam and I became active members of the Morro Castle safety at sea organization, founded by the survivors of the Morro Castle, which had burned off the coast of New Jersey with great loss of life. We later testified on numerous occasions before congressional committees in Washington about the terrible conditions which existed on board most of the American ships, the great fire hazards on many of the coastwise vessels, and the need for drastic changes which would make our ships safe for passengers and crew.

In 1936, the National Maritime Union called a strike in New York and all other United States ports to protest filthy and dangerous conditions on American ships and make demands for better wages, working conditions, hours and modern safety equipment on all American vessels.

A citizens committee was formed, which I chaired. It was a rough strike, with freezing weather and much police brutality. We had a soup kitchen, obtained warm clothing for the strikers, found places for them to sleep and ran meetings to raise money. This strike failed, but out of it came the 1937 strike which was a great victory for the seamen, resulting in increased wages, shorter hours, better working and living conditions and new safety measures and equipment.

Sarah Jackson Smith's account
as told to Jennie Jackson, who put it in her memoirs

Shipwreck SS MohawkSurvivors were rescued from the freezing waters by the Mohawk's sistership Algonquin ( see Fort Victoria. ) the ship sank originally on her starboard side, but was later righted by storms. After removing fuel oil, over 8 tons of dynamite was used to demolish the wreck. The first blast alone used almost a ton, blowing out the center of the damaged port side of the hull and collapsing the superstructure onto the main deck. Wire drags ensured that the wreck had the required 50 ft depth clearance. One anchor was salvaged, the other was buried beneath the bow. There is no mention of what became of the propeller, but it too was almost certainly salvaged. During WWII a US Navy blimp mistook the wreck for a German U-boat and attacked it with depth-charges, reducing it further. Today, very little remains that resembles a ship.

Instead, the Mohawk is a spectacular vast jumble of twisted metal wreckage interspersed with sandy areas. It seems to cover several acres, although in fact it is still somewhat ship-shaped. Some of the wreckage is quite tall, while many huge hull plates lie scattered in the sand. In the bow area at the north end of the wreck are a number of easily penetrated spaces that are fun to explore. The Mohawk's last cargo included a number of trucks or automobiles, and large rubber tires, axles, and other parts are tangled up with the rest of the wreckage.

Sometimes you will come across a recognizable doorway or window, and the huge boiler is still recognizable, but not much else. The steam turbine engine seems to be missing, but is probably still there, buried under the wreckage, as must be the prop shaft. The engine would be a barrel-shaped object, centered behind the boiler and rather smaller. A large reduction gear exposed near the boiler probably marks the spot.

All this structure provides an ideal home for sea life. On the high parts, the mussels are as good as anywhere. There are entire walls of red anemones, and all types of fishes. The distribution is uneven however, so try to stay on the bigger parts for spearfishing. Of course, there are also nice lobsters in the nooks and crannies, although in this enormous junk pile they enjoy a special advantage, and the good ones can be very difficult to get out. Overall, I don't rate the Mohawk as a very good hunting wreck, but you can get lucky.

Navigation on this site can be tricky, as all the wreckage quickly starts to look the same, and you may be dismayed to find that you cannot backtrack like you thought you could, even under good conditions. For this reason a wreck reel and strobe light are highly recommended. Barring that, try to find an edge to follow - out with the sand on your left, back with the sand on your right, etc, although parts of the wreck are such a mess that this won't always work either. It's not a bad idea to take an initial compass bearing, and take a moment to note the direction of the current - a useful clue in finding your way back to the anchor.

TAlisman
The Talisman ? This vessel appears to be flying a Norwegian flag



An Underwater "Tour" of the Mohawk:

Shipwreck SS Mohawk side-scan
Side-scan sonar image. The stern is at the left. The bow lies roughly to the north. Each vertical line indicates 20 meters.

Getting Around on the Mohawk:
The port or east side of the wreck forms a wall in the bow and stern that can be followed relatively easily. Amidships, everything was destroyed by demolitions, but the remaining boiler makes a good landmark. If lost, swim west with your compass, and you should find the wall of the hull. Dive boats will typically anchor either in the bow (north) or the stern (south) of the wreck, and will announce which, so once you find the wall, you should be able to find your way home. The east or starboard side of the wreck is low scattered hull plates, disorganized and much more difficult to navigate.

Shipwreck SS Mohawk
The port side of the hull near the bow. The lower part still stands, while the upper part has collapsed.

Shipwreck SS Mohawk
Fallen hull ribs near the bow.

Shipwreck SS Mohawk
A large winch and machinery, perhaps for the anchors.

Shipwreck SS Mohawk
Empty rivet holes on hull plates now lying scattered across the bottom. The curved opening at lower-left looks like it might once have held a porthole.

Shipwreck SS Mohawk
Rear axle, differential, leaf spring, rubber tire and wheel from a truck, near the bow. The cast iron differential casing has rotted away, but the steel spline gears remain.

Shipwreck SS Mohawk
An old flathead-six truck engine, with one of the front wheels just behind. You can make out the intake runner, minus carburetor.

Shipwreck SS Mohawk
Shipwreck SS Mohawk
Amidships, the front (north) side of the half-buried boiler. There is a second boiler in front of this one, collapsed.

Shipwreck SS Mohawk
The back (south) side of the remaining boiler, showing caps for fire tubes. The front side of the boiler is solid. Note the large crack in the corner.

Shipwreck SS Mohawk
Looking forward at the main reduction gears, just behind the boiler.

These huge gears converted the high-speed of the steam turbines to the much lower speed of the propellers. From the geometry of the exposed portion, I estimate that they are approximately twelve feet in diameter, with about two feet exposed. That places the prop shaft about four feet below the sand, and the bottom of the hull more than 10 feet down. These gears would be connected to the propeller shaft, and surrounded by a casing and smaller drive gears. See marine engines for details of such an installation.

Shipwreck SS Mohawk
Close-up, with some of the marine growth wiped away to show the diagonal teeth.

Shipwreck SS Mohawk
Moving aft (south) from the boiler along a crumpled framework. This reminds me of an overhead monorail, and is easily big enough to swim under.

Shipwreck SS Mohawk
More car parts, near the stern.

Shipwreck SS Mohawk
The aft port side of the wreck is collapsed inward. This is plainly evident in the side-scan image above.

Shipwreck SS Mohawk
Some kind of heavy machinery.

Shipwreck SS Mohawk
The Mohawk is mostly just an incomprehensible jumble.

It takes a lot of diving to learn your way around this mess. I've been diving it and studying it about once a week all season (04), and it's starting to make sense. For the casual diver without such experience, a wreck reel is strongly advised. If nothing else, you can use it as an upline once you realize that not using it from the start was a mistake.

Shipwreck SS Mohawk
A scene at the extreme stern end of the wreck. For scale, the "pipe" in the scene is actually a deck support, and is over a foot in diameter.


Trinkets from the Mohawk

Shipwreck SS MohawkThe Mohawk was carrying some 1300 tons of general cargo when she sank, and even today still produces the occasional porthole, and many other artifacts. If you bring some serious digging tools ( and I don't mean a scooter ) you can dig down into the lower holds of the ship, buried well below the sand, where entire crates of stores and cargo lie undisturbed, waiting to be recovered. Or, if you bring some serious luck, you can find something on the surface, like this gold pocket watch, which came up in 2002.

Shipwreck SS Mohawk

Shipwreck SS Mohawk
Divers with part of over 1000 dishes recovered from the Mohawk in 1996

Shipwreck SS Mohawk
2004 - there are still plenty more to be found

Shipwreck SS Mohawk
A stack of 9" dishes from the Mohawk, some of many recovered in 2004. The inset shows the manufacturer's stamp on the back. "Vitrified" refers to the shiny non-porous glaze. The Grindley company is still in business, since 1889.

These dishes were part of cargo, bound for Cuba or Mexico, and are quite ordinary and unremarkable. If they had actually belonged to the ship, they would most likely bear the Line's name and emblem - Clyde, Clyde-Mallory, or Ward ( the Mohawk changed hands several times. ) Apart from a few stains, they are perfectly usable, after 70 years buried in the shipwreck !

Shipwreck SS Mohawk
A fancy dish recovered from the Mohawk

Shipwreck SS Mohawk
Glass perfume stoppers, shot glasses, and bar dish The perfume bottles were equally ornate, but all smashed. It must have been cheap perfume anyway, since good perfume doesn't come in big bottles ! The glass dippers on the bottom of each stopper were also broken off.

Shipwreck SS Mohawk
Bakelite salt shakers
The color of the plastic was incidental, since all bore traces of chrome plating which fell off soon after drying.

Shipwreck SS Mohawk
Safety Razor
The brass box still contains spare blades, of the old double-edged type. The razor is Bakelite and brass: "Wardonia New Edge" - patent number 296,597, applied for 1927 by Thomas Ward and Sons of Sheffield England. It took me several frustrating weeks to find a head after finding a handle.

Shipwreck SS Mohawk
It once would have looked like this. Note the chrome.
Similar shaving kits have been found on the Titanic.

Shipwreck SS Mohawk
Cheap spoons

Shipwreck SS Mohawk
Cheap coffee cup

Shipwreck SS Mohawk
Another bottle from the Mohawk. This was more likely tossed in by a fisherman than actually sunk in the wreck, but still, you don't see these any more.

Shipwreck SS Mohawk
You may also run across this memorial stone.

Of the Mohawk's three sisters, Cherokee was torpedoed and sunk June 15, 1942 by U-87 in a gale off Cape Cod ( 42-47N, 66-18W ) with great loss of life. Seminole and Algonquin served as hospital ships during World War II, and were scrapped in 1952 and 1956 respectively.

SS Cherokee
Cherokee in wartime service as a troop transport

SS Algonquin
SS Algonquin
Twin sister Algonquin as WWII Army hospital ship - never returned to civilian service

Credits:

Clyde Lines Pennant


SS Mohawk

Shipwreck SS Mohawk
Not to be confused with the other S.S. Mohawk or the R.C. Mohawk.

Type:
liner, Clyde Line, USA
Name:
A tribe of Iroquoian Indians of the eastern New York area.
Built:
1908, Philadelphia PA USA
Specs:
( 367 x 48 ft ) 4623 tons, 290 passengers & crew
Sunk:
Thursday January 1, 1925
burned in a storm - no casualties
Depth:
25 ft

AGWI Lines PennantThis Mohawk caught fire and burned in Delaware Bay. The burned-out shell of the vessel was demolished after sinking. Today she lies in 25 ft of water some 17 miles from Lewes, a flattened mass of wreckage covering an area some 60 ft by 300 ft in a northwest- southeast direction.

This is a tough wreck to dive on. The current can be very strong when the tide is running, so it is best to dive at slack tide. Visibility is also dependent on the tide, better visibility just at the end of an incoming tide. The strewn metal gives good cover for a variety of fish, hence her popularity with the fishing boats. Many boaters have severely damaged their vessels due to the twisted wreckage.


Shipwreck SS Mohawk New York Times

Shipwreck SS Mohawk
S.S. Mohawk Clyde Line Steamer by Night. Jacksonville, FLA. 1918

This ship's replacement, also named Mohawk, is sunk off Manasquan NJ. The Clyde Line also owned the Delaware.


Search

Disclaimer:

I make no claim as to the accuracy, validity, or appropriateness of any information found in this website. I will not be responsible for the consequences of any action that is based upon information found here. Scuba diving is an adventure sport, and as always, you alone are responsible for your own safety and well being.

Copyright © 1996-2016 Rich Galiano
unless otherwise noted

477675
150372
2473

891

since 2016-09-11