SS Ashkhabad

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Ashkhabad shelled

SS Ashkhabad was built in 1917 in Glasgow, Scotland, and registered in Odessa, Russia. Ashkhabad was originally built as a freighter, but was converted to a tanker to carry fuel oil. The four hundred foot tanker was owned by the Soviet Union.[1] It was torpedoed April 29, 1942, and sunk as a hazard to navigation on May 3, 1942. It is now a popular dive site.


On April 26, 1942, Ashkhabad left New York City for Matanzas, Cuba, and was being escorted by the Royal Navy trawler Lady Elsa. At 9:50 pm on April 29, 1942, Lady Elsa spotted a U-boat five hundred yards off the tanker's starboard beam. Lady Elsa fired a round but the submarine had already launched its torpedo. Ashkhabad was hit on the starboard side by a single torpedo launched by the German submarine U-402. Ashkhabad's gun crew fired three quick rounds at the submarine when it partially surfaced, but scored no hits. Captain Alexy Pavlovich gave the order to abandon ship. Two life boats and one raft holding forty-seven crew members (three of which were women) were rescued by Lady Elsa and taken to Morehead City, North Carolina. There were no injuries.[2]

At 10:00 am the next day, crew from HMT Hertfordshire, a British trawler, boarded Ashkhabad and took valuable navigational equipment and clothing. The Russians returned to their ship at 3:00PM and discovered it had been looted. The next day the Russians returned to their ship in time to catch Hertfordshire's crew removing more loose items from the ship. Once they were told the ship was not abandoned and salvage tugs were on the way, the British returned the items they had taken.[1]

Ashkhabad's condition appeared to be stable and it could have been salvaged and refloated, however, word never got out that it was awaiting salvage. On May 3, 1942, USS Semmes, a destroyer, saw Ashkhabad and determined it was an abandoned ship which was a navigational hazard so they fired three rounds which caused the midship superstructure to catch fire. HMS St. Zeno saw the fire and went towards Ashkhabad and fired a shot at it under the authorization of the commanding officer of Hertfordshire, who commanded all British trawlers at Morehead City. His explanation was that he considered Ashkhabad a menace to a large convoy expected in the area, so he authorized the firing to sink Ashkhabad to extinguish the fire. Some wonder whether the action was taken out of malice.[who?] Because of this series of military snafus, by the time the Navy salvage tug, Relief, got to Ashkhabad, it was a total loss.[1]


The wreck of Ashkhabad in August 2014

Ashkhabad has become a popular dive site. It lies at a depth of 55 feet off North Carolina, close to the shoals which are an hour boat ride from the Beaufort inlet. Because it was blown up twice, the ship is very broken up, but the boilers, condensor and some ribs of the ship can still be seen. Deck plates and twisted beams are scattered around the soft, sandy bottom. [3]


  1. ^ a b c Gentile, Gary (1992). Shipwrecks of North Carolina from Hatteras Inlet south. Philadelphia, PA: G. Gentile Productions. ISBN 0-9621453-5-1. 
  2. ^ "The Sinking of the Ashkhabad". Sunken Ships of the Outer Banks. Retrieved October 10, 2015. 
  3. ^ "Ashkabad Wreck Description". Discovery Diving. Retrieved October 10, 2015. 

Coordinates: 34°21.908′N 76°21.081′W / 34.365133°N 76.351350°W / 34.365133; -76.351350