Brittle Fracture: When Ships Split in Two

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Daniel J. Morrell
Great Lakes steamship Daniel J. Morrell. Photograph by Pesha Art Company, of Marine City, Michigan.

Last month, I began writing about the case of the Daniel J. Morrell, a Great Lakes bulk carrier built in 1906 that went down in a gale in November of 1966. I thought I would tell the story of how the ship split in two, and how all hands perished save 1 man.  I thought, “How very like the story of that film, The Finest Hours, that told the story of Bernie Webber and his crew of Coasties who saved 32 sailors from the wreck of the T2 tanker Pendleton. In both cases, the bow section split off and sank, as the stern section just sailed on.” The Michael Tougias & Casey Sherman book of the same name, by the way, served as the basis for the movie.

Then I thought about other ships that split. The T2 tanker Fort Mercer, that went down in the same storm as Pendleton. The Carl D. Bradley, another Laker. The T2 tanker Schenectady, just sitting at dock when it suddenly hogged and split.  Historians have documented 19 Liberty ships as having split in 2 without warning. There were just too many ships, too many lives lost! What was happening to these vessels?   Read more