The James Eagan Layne was one of the 2,700 liberty ships build during World War II. The Liberty Ships were welded mainly by women and were designed to carry cargo for the war effort in Europe.
The James Eagan Layne was named in honour of the 2nd Engineer who was killed when the Esso Baton Rouge was sunk in 1942. Marjorie Layne, the widowed wife, launched and christened Liberty Ship 157, the James Eagan Layne 2nd December 1944. She was completed 16 days later and was ready to go to see on 18th December 1944.
She had a 2,500 horse power triple expansion engine, armed with bow and stern guns, in addition to her 5 anti-aircraft guns. She could carry 4,500 tons of supplies and cruise at a speed of 11 knots. On her last voyage, she was loaded with mixed cargo of US Army engineers’ equipment, plus motorboats and lumber (deck cargo) and steamed across the Atlantic. She met up with other convoy ships in Barry (Wales) for her last stretch to Ghent in Belgium. On 21st March around 4 p.m., she was sighted by the U-1195 (a Type VII submarine) commandeered by Ernst Cordes. She was just coming out of the fog close to South Devon’s West Rutts and being the lead ship in the second convey, become the prime target. A single torpedo struck just off the engine room, where she lost power immediately. She was taking on water fast. Two Admiralty tugs arrived, evacuating the 42 crew and 27 gunners and taking her in tow.
The initial strategy was to beach her, but the increasing water levels in the boat, meant they had to cut her loose. She sank to the sandy bottom at around 10:30 p.m. Any easy reachable equipment, such as the guns, army equipment was salvaged immediately and a number of other salvage company stripped bits of her down over the years.
Initially, the she was easily found, as the mast stuck above water. However, in 1967, the mast and bridge were removed and dumped on the seabed.