SHIP NOTES: (Sources: Jordan, Gentile)
Name: DIXIE ARROW Type: Tanker
Built: 1921 by New York Shipbuilding Corp.
in Camden, NJ
Owner: Socony-Vacuumm Oil Co. (Mobil)
Home Port: New York, NY
Size (ft.): 485-3 x 62-9 x 28-1 Gross Tonnage: 8,046 tons
Propulsion: Single screw reciprocating steam engine/speed 10.5 knts
Date Sunk: 3/26/42 Cause: Torpedoed by U-71
Location Cape Hatteras, NC GPS: N34° 54.011'/W75° 44.972'

SHIP HISTORY: (Sources: Moore, Wynn, Gentile, Jordan, Hoyt, 25, 1)
The Dixie Arrow was one of a series of "Arrow" ships built for and owned by the Socony-Vacuumm Oil Co., aka "Mobil", There were the Broad Arrow, China Arrow, India Arrow, Japan Arrow, Java Arrow, Royal Arrow, Standard Arrow, Sylvan Arrow, and Yankee Arrow. They were all tankers, nearly identical in size, roughly 485 x 62 x 28, and many were built by the New York Shipbuilding Corporation in Camden, NJ. All were built in the 1916 to 1921 period. The Acme, Ario and Atlas were also "Mobil" tankers, and like the Dixie Arrow, were lost off the North Carolina coast during World War II. The other Arrow tankers suffered much the same fate:
• Broad Arrow was sunk by the U-124 off Guyana/Suriname (U-124 also sunk the Acme, Kassandra-Louloudis, E.M. Clark, Papoose, W.E. Hutton, Naeco and damaged the Esso Nashville and Atlantic Sun off the NC coast);
China Arrow was sunk by the U-103 due east of Norfolk, VA;
India Arrow was sunk by the U-103 southeast of NY, NY;
Sylvan Arrow was sunk by the U-155 southwest of Grenada;
NY Shipbuilding Corporation as it appeared in 1921 when the Dixie Arrow was built (29)

On March 26, 1942, the Dixie Arrow was traveling unarmed and alone, approaching Cape Hatteras, enroute from Texas City, TX to Paulsboro, NJ with 96,000 barrels of crude oil. The U-71 had spent the night waiting near the Diamond Shoals Light Buoy hoping to intercept targets. With the breaking dawn, the u-boat captain, KK Walter Flascheenberg, was about the order his boat to the bottom when he spotted the masts of the approaching tanker on the horizon. He manuevered his boat against the zig-zag course of the Dixie Arrow trying to get the tanker between the U-71 and shore.
At 0858 EWT, 3 torpedoes slammed into the starboard side of the Dixie Arrow and in less than 1 minute the tanker was mortally wounded and engulfed in flames. The first torpedo hit at the midship deckhouse, destroying it and killing most of the deck officers. 60 seconds later the 2nd and 3rd torpedoes hit just aft of the deckhouse and cracked the tanker in two.

Dixie Arrow in dry-dock — U.S. Coast Guard photo from the collection of Mike McKay
Dixie Arrow-ATTACK by U-71
U-71's first torpedo struck the Dixie Arrow at the pilot house

Chaos reigned as oil poured from the ruptured bunkers turning the ship and the surrounding waters into a hellstorm of thick smoke and flames. Assisted by the wind, the flames raced from the bridge to the forecastle/bow, where a group of men were trapped with no alternatives but to be burned alive on the ship or jump from the moving ship and into the flaming sea. Fortunately able-bodied seaman, Oscar G. Chappell was severely injured but still alive and at his station in the wheelhouse. Chappell turned the ship hard to starboard and held the tanker into the wind driving the waterborne flames away from the trapped men on the bow, allowing them to jump clear of the sea of burning oil. The flames however came directly back on Chappell and the wheelhouse where he was soon engulfed in flames. His quick actions and sacrifice saved his shipmates. Chappell was posthumously awarded the Merchant Marine Distinguished Service Medal for his actions and a liberty ship, the SS Oscar G. Chappell, was later named in his honor. Today, the Navy League annually awards the THE ABLE SEAMAN OSCAR CHAPPELL AWARD FOR OUTSTANDING MARITIME STEWARDSHIP to recognize "selfless dedication to shipmates".
Photo of Dixie Arrow
Dixie Arrow (2/11/1942) — U.S. Coast Guard photo from the collection of Mike McKay

The President of the United States takes Pleasure in Presenting the Merchant Marine Distinguished Service Medal to

Oscar Chappell*
Able Seaman on SS Dixie Arrow 3/26/42

For heroism beyond the line of duty.

His ship, carrying a full cargo of crude oil, was torpedoed three times within one minute. The first torpedo struck directly below the forward deckhouse, and the other two slightly abaft this point causing the ship to buckle amidship. The explosions immediately ignited the combustible cargo; all amidship and astern sections of the ship were enveloped in flames, and the fire rapidly spread over the ocean surrounding the ship. Injured by the explosions, with blood covering his head and shoulders, Chappell stuck to his post at the helm though the wheelhouse was in flames. He saw seven of his shipmates trapped on the forecastle head. Driven by the wind, the fire was sweeping toward them over the deck, and all escape was cut off by water-borne flames surrounding the bow. Fully aware of his own desperate situation, Chappell put the helm hard right and held the ship into the wind deflecting the flames upon himself, but enabling his shipmates to jump overboard clear of the blazing sea of oil. Placing his own safety beyond all consideration, his last thought and act was to assure the survival of his imperiled shipmates.

His magnificent courage and selfless disregard of his own life constitute a degree of heroism which will be an enduring inspiration to seamen of the United States Merchant Marine everywhere.

For the President
Admiral Emory Scott Land
Merchant Marine distinguished Service Medal and citation for Oscar Chappell (1)

Dixie Arrow (3/27/1942) — U.S. Coast Guard photo from the collection of Mike McKay

Meanwhile, the rest of the crew were trying their best to escape the burning ship. The #1 and #2 lifeboats were destroyed during the explosions and boat #3 was lost during the launch as the tanker was still underway. The fourth boat was cut away and successfully launched carrying 8 men to safety. This boat was unable to safely return to the ship to rescue the remaining shipmates who eventually escaped on a liferaft. In all 22 men were rescued and 11 were killed. No distress signal had been sent — the radioman was killed by the first torpedo, but the burning ship was soon spotted by the destroyer USS Tarbell (DD-142) which came to investigate. The Tarbell dropped lifeboats for the men in the water and proceeded to circle the tanker in search of the U-71. After a few unproductive depth charge attacks which did more harm to the Arrow crew in the water than the u-boat, the Tarbell came back to pick up the 22 survivors. They were taken to Morehead City, NC.
The U-71 escaped and was one of the few u-boats to survive until the end of the war. It was scuttled at Wihelmshaven on May 2, 1945.
The Dixie Arrow continued to burn and drift thru the next day. It was found inshore, near the Cape Hatteras minefields, with only its 3 masts sticking up from the ocean bottom. The buoy tender Orchid (WAGL-240) was sent out to the wreck and she placed a red buoy at the site as an aid to navigation. For the next year, the masts and wreck site were used for target practice by planes from the Cherry Point, NC Marine Air Station. The masts were gone by 1943 and the rest of the wreck was wire-dragged and demolished to a least depth of 43 feet in 1944.
Dixie Arrow-on-bottom-from-surface
After drifting for several days, the Dixie Arrow was found with only her masts showing thru the surface. She was marked as a navigation hazard and later used for bombing practice.
The Dixie Arrow as she appeared on the bottom soon after sinking.
USS Tarbell (DD-142) picked up the survivors of the Dixie Arrow (6)
Dixie Arrow burning (Hoyt) U-71 being strafed on the surface a couple of months after sinking Dixie Arrow (Hoyt)

Diving Depths: 70-90 ft.
Current: Slight to undiveable. The prevailing current direction seems to be across and down the wreck from the starboard/stern direction.
Visibility: Usually good to outstanding; 40 ft to 100+ ft.
Summer Temperature: mid to high 70s
Points of Interest: Boilers, large engine, rudder, propeller; intact bow and foward tank sections
Fish/Animal Life: Huge southern stingrays and cobia are common as are loggerhead turtles; barracuda, amberjack, spadefish; there also seems to be several large sandtigers cruising the higher profile sections and outside ends of the wreck
Description: The Dixie Arrow is large wreck which lies on it keel. The wreck is contiguous from bow to stern. The stern/engine area is the most interesting, full huge, distinct features, while the bow and forwa rd tank area offers the most relief. The midsection is relatively flat and featureless. At times, the current can be quite stiff, making the trip up or back to the stern quite a swim. In bad viz, the wide, flat, section between the bow and the stern can be confusing if you wander away from the edges. As with most wrecks, the high points on the wreck seem to focus the marine life. The engine and boilers are a great place to ride the current coming across the wreck and wait for marine life to cruise by — it almost never fails. I have seen turtles, sharks, and sting rays swim by at the same time. The Dixie Arrow is one of those fall back wrecks out of Hatteras — if you can't get out to the shoals or the wrecks farther south, you can almost always get to the Arrow. Because of its generally good conditions, abundance of marine life and size, it can hold up to numerous visits and divers.

Diver in the forward tank area of bow
The remains of the tank walls provide the highest relief on the wreck
Stern machinery - post Hurricane Isabel
Stern machinery circa 2002
Sandtiger shark passes just aft of the engine
Connecting rods at base of engine
Engine towers over bottom
Diver kneels at the stern — most of this was under sand prior to Hurrican Isabel
Diver rounds the bow
Rudder post at stern
"Box" on the starboard side of stern

Unless specifically noted, all photos, text and content Copyright © 2005 by Paul M. Hudy

Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995 by Paul M. Hudy

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