north carolina highway historical marker program
North Carolina Highway Historical Marker Program
 

 
 
 

ID:

Marker Text:

Essay:
     On the afternoon of August 16, 1918, the Mirlo, a British tanker hauling gasoline to Norfolk steamed off of the coast of North Carolina near Hatteras Island. At that time, in the midst of World War I, German submarines, known as U-boats, also were lurking in the vicinity. That afternoon, at 3:30, the U-boat U-117 fired a torpedo at the Mirlo. The torpedo hit the tanker midship resulting in a giant explosion. In order to save the lives of the fifty-one crewmembers onboard, Captain William R. Williams ordered the ship beached. However, when two more explosions followed, breaking the tanker in two, Captain Williams gave the crew orders to abandon the doomed ship immediately. The crew boarded three lifeboats and began heading away from the burning ship. Two of the lifeboats made it a safe distance from the ship, but the third capsized throwing its crew into the water. As the remaining crew started back to help their mates, another blast surrounded the men in the water with burning gasoline. With the high winds, rough waves, burning water, and smoky air, there was nothing that the crew safe in the lifeboats could do for their comrades.

     Meanwhile onshore, Leroy Midgett of the Chicamacomico Lifesaving Station sounded the alarm to Surfboat Crew 1046 and they set out to rescue the distressed crew of the Mirlo. It took four attempts for the rescue team to make it past the breakers of the stormy waters, but Captain John Midgett, Leroy Midgett, Zion Midgett, Arthur Midgett, Clarence Midgett, and Prochorus L. O’Neal reached the site. As the rescue team approached, a wall of fire blocked their way to the victims and explosions continued to send flames 100 feet into the air. Captain Midgett managed to find an opening in the wall of fire and led his men through. By the time they reached the struggling seamen, nine already had died. The rescuers brought the remaining six men to safety.

     The men of the Chicamacomico Lifesaving Station saved forty-two of the fifty-one men who had been aboard the Mirlo. England and the United States rewarded the men their highest awards for bravery, Gold Lifesaving Medals of Honor and Grand Crosses of the American Cross of Honor.


References:
David Stick, Graveyard of the Atlantic: Shipwrecks of the North Carolina Coast (1952)
Joe A. Mobley, Ship Ashore! (1994)
(Raleigh) News and Observer, July 15, 1994
Location: County:

Original Date Cast:

 

HOME Home

 

north carolina highway historical marker program


© 2008 North Carolina Office of Archives & History — Department of Cultural Resources