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Diving the James Eagan Layne (Liberty Ship) wreck

James Eagan Layne Dive MapMost people will remember well the first time they have dived the James Eagan Layne. It is a massive wreck with many things to see.


The skipper is likely to drop you off on the bow of the James Eagan Layne, as there is a buoy attached to it. You can easily descend down the line and will hit the top of the bow between 6m and 8m depth.


The interesting dive is along the starboard side of the ship. Follow the bow down to bottom and follow the ships hull along the starboard side. We tend to swim along her outside until you reach Hold 5 (or what is left of it), trying to stay deep at the beginning of the dive. You can see what is left of the prop shaft and the deck house in hold 5. If you want to see the boat derrick and gun mounts you will need to swim of the deckhouse (following the line of the deck house) for short distance.


However, most divers will swim up the stern onto the deck itself, the deck plates have disappeared and give you good visible access into the hold. You can drop into any of the holds from the top if you wish to have a quick look around – things to find are pickaxe handles, wheels for tractors and winch gear. 


Slowly make yourself back to the bow of the ship, where the encrusted bow gives you a perfect place to make a safety stop before needed to ascend back to the surface.


The wreck is massive and you can easily spend several dives on her. If you can, split the dives into a bow dive (until engine room) and make the second dive a stern dive.

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.

Key numbers

Dive type: Wreck

Length: 134m

Depth:  24m

Visibility: 10m to 15m

Location: 50 19.61N, 04 14.72W 

Difficulty: 3 Stars

Dive: 5 Stars


James Eagan Layne
Dive Log

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James Eagan Layne

Posted on 4/22/2012 by SDA Editor

James Eagan Layne, Wreck near Plymouth, UK. She is with the Kyarra one of the UK most popular wreck dive sites.

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