SHIP NOTES: (Sources: Jordan, Gentile)
previous names: Portola Plumas (1922)
Type: Tanker
Built: 1920 by Bethlehem Shipbuilding Corporation; Alameda, California Owner: Pure Oil Company
Home Port: Baltimore, MD
Size (ft.): 453-0 x 56-0 x 27-3 Gross Tonnage: 7,076 tons
Propulsion: Single screw reciprocating steam engine/speed 10.0 knts
Date Sunk: 3/18/42 Cause: Torpedoed by U-124
Location Cape Lookout, NC GPS: N34° 29.990'/W76° 53.879'

SHIP HISTORY: (Sources: Moore, Hickam, Gentile)
W.E. Hutton and ship painting (Courtesy of his great, great grandson, James Hutton)
W.E. Hutton (Moore)
The W.E. Hutton was traveling from Smith's Bluff, TX to Marcus Hook, PA with 65,000 barrels of #2 heating oil. Inspite of the u-boat threat, she was traveling unarmed and alone, but her master, Captain Carl Flaathen, had taken the precaution of running with lights out and black-out curtains engaged. But against a shrewd and experienced u-boat captain like KL Mohr of the U-124 this was not enough. At 2210, on 3/18/1942, a torpedo slammed into the bow, on the starboard side blowing out the forepeak. The Hutton started listing to the starboard side, but was staying afloat and making headway. The captain made the decision to try to make ashore where he could beach his wounded tanker. Eight minutes later, the U-124 launched another torpedo, this time with greater affect. It slammed into the port side at the #3 tank right below the miship house. The Hutton's midships quickly became a blazing inferno. Rafts and lifeboats were launched as the crew started abandoning the stricken tanker in order to escape the flames. At 2245, with its captain watching from a lifeboat, the W.E. Hutton sank bow first in the 70 feet of water. Although spread across two lifeboats and two life rafts, the 23 survivors had the good sense to stay together during the night. At dawn of the 19th, the all gathered into one lifeboat and started rowing their way to shore. They were picked up at 1035 by the MS Port Halifax and taken to the Savannah, GA sea buoy where they were transferred to a pilot boat and taken ashore. 13 crew were killed in the attack.
Port Halifax, 1937
The sinking of the W.E. Hutton continued to reap rewards for the German effort well after its initial sinking. One year later, another merchant vessel, the Suloide, slammed into the wreckage of the Hutton and sank to the bottom. The Navy quickly dispatched the US Coast Guard Cutter Vigilant (WPC-154) to the site with a team from the Naval Salvage Service. They started demolishing the remains of the Hutton and stayed on the job for over 6 months until they had knocked the hull and superstructure down to a level safe for navigation. The wreck was also wire-dragged in 1944.

Diving Depths: 65-75 ft.
Current: Slight
Visibility: Typical inshore viz of 20-40 ft
Summer Temperature: mid to high 70s
Points of Interest: Boilers, remains of engine, two bow anchors and LOTS of tangled metal
Fish/Animal Life: Generally small fish as the large groupers, etc. have either grown very smart over the years or have become dinner.
Description: The W.E. Hutton is large wreck and is probably one of the most confusing to navigate. It is contiguous, but in low viz, the wreck is so spread out and knocked down that unless you are a frequent visitor, even "hunting the edge" can get you confused. And there is no "ship-like" features to help get you oriented. Only the damaged cluster of boilers provide any identifiable relief to the low, flat, undefined features typical of the rest of the wreck. It is a fun wreck to dive, not having to "chase" the decocompression clock, while gigging some flounder for the dinner table.
There is some speculation that this wreck is not really the the Hutton, but another wreck — either the Papoose or the Ario. All three were tankers of similar size and age. One piece of evidence is that the Hutton only had two masts and there appear to be three mast-like structures at this wreck site. The Papoose also appears to have only two masts. The Ario had three masts. Evidence #2: an artifact is rumored to have been recovered from this site had the Socony name and emblem on it. Socony owed the Ario while the Hutton was owned by the Pure Oil Company.
One group did a "study" of the two sites made their conclusions, but their conclusions and observations strike me as incorrect or speculative - particularly the notion that no anchors have ever been found on the Papoose wreck site. Some attack reports of the Hutton mentioned that the first torpedo blew away the forepeak taking the anchors with it, while the ship continued its forward progress - which could explain this conclusion. However, on both the Hutton and Papoose wreck sites, the anchors are quite evident and are contiguous with the rest of the wreck and thus the "on site" evidence is not consistent if the attack reports are accurate.
July 2006: The latest saga of the wreck "identity" investigation presents a scenario which blows-up a number of decades-old wreck locations and identifications. The hypothesis of this chapter is that the W.E. Hutton site is really that of the Ario. And the site of the Papoose is that of the W.E. Hutton. So where is the wreck site of the Papoose? In this hypothesis, it is the wreck site previously thought to be that of the San Delfino, well north of Hatteras over 50 miles a way. And the San Delfino? It is the located at the site locally thought to be the Mirlo, another large tanker sunk by the U-117 during World War I. The new location of the Mirlo is yet to be identified.
W.E. Hutton
453-0 x 56-0 x 27-3 — Sunk: 3/18/1942
Papoose — 412-0 x 53-4 x 25-8 — Sunk: 3/19/1942
Ario435-0 x 56-0 x 31-0 — Sunk 3/15/1942
San Delfino —  463-0 x 61-0 x 33-0 — Sunk: 4/9/1942
Mirlo — 425-0 x 57-0 x 33-0 — Sunk: 8/16/1918
Only the recovery of a definitive, identifying artifact and further investigation will prove whether this hypothesis holds.

One of the bow anchors
Typical wreck vista
The other bow anchor under hull plate
Three boilers all a tumble
Typical twisted debris
Typical large unidentifiable debris
The bow anchor windlass oblitered
Diver on the wreck edge
Remains of ventilator

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

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