Battle of the Atlantic: Archaeology of an Underwater WWII Battlefield

A Day in the Life of a Submersible Surface Officer

By Shane Ziegler - Brownie’s Global Logistics
August 28, 2016

Shane Ziegler (center) on the bridge of the R/V Baseline Explorer as he guides the submersible during dives.

Shane Ziegler (center) on the bridge of the R/V Baseline Explorer as he guides the submersible during dives. Image courtesy of NOAA - Battle of the Atlantic expedition. Download image (jpg, 51 KB).

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Shane Ziegler on the bridge at the moment that U-576 is located. Video courtesy of NOAA - Battle of the Atlantic expedition. Download (mp4, 5.3 MB).

As the submersible surface officer onboard the R/V Baseline Explorer, I am responsible for the manned submersibles’ safety, communication, and tracking during expeditions.

Working on a private research vessel is a rewarding endeavor in general, but there are pivotal moments on the job that make it extra special. My day-to-day operations mostly consist of logging information such as the start and stop of video transects while documenting the health of coral reefs around the world. It may include navigating the submersibles to environmentally sensitive or disturbed areas to show media personnel and politicians the damage humans are causing to the oceans.

Shane Ziegler on the bridge of the R/V Baseline Explorer.

Shane Ziegler on the bridge of the R/V Baseline Explorer. Image courtesy of NOAA - Battle of the Atlantic expedition. Download image (jpg, 81 KB).

Thursday, August 25, 2016, however was one of those special days. On this occasion, I had the job of navigating the submersible Nemo, manned with submersible pilot Robert Carmichael and expedition lead Joe Hoyt, as they became the first men in history to witness the final resting place of the German U-boat U-576 firsthand.

The anxious crowd of researchers and media personnel gathered around me on the bridge of R/V Baseline Explorer as I guided Nemo closer and closer to the wreck site. Cameras were rolling and recorders were on as Nemo encountered a debris field and momentarily diverted course to explore the area. This, of course, only enhanced the excitement from the throng crowded around me on the ship’s bridge as we all listened to the crackling communications coming in from 800 feet below us.

An anxious crowd awaits communication from Nemo as Shane Ziegler (center) guides the submersible in her exploration of the U-576 wreck site.

An anxious crowd awaits communication from Nemo as Shane Ziegler (center) guides the submersible in her exploration of the U-576 wreck site. Image courtesy of NOAA - Battle of the Atlantic expedition. Download image (jpg, 88 KB).

As Nemo slowly moved closer and closer towards the target site, the enthralled academics with their nervous excitement became eerily quiet. After I gave Nemo and her occupants a final course correction, the crackling sub-sea communications finally announced that they had visual confirmation of U-576 as the World War II submarine appeared out of the darkness.

The bridge of R/V Baseline Explorer erupted in applause. A big smile came over my face as I calmly responded to Nemo that we had all become part of history today to help tell this piece of the story of the Battle of the Atlantic.

I know my job is special and unique, but moments like this really drive that point home and make up for the months of preparation and long hours and weekends away from family. I get to take an active role in the history and health of our glorious and mysterious ocean!