The Tank Museum | SS Alexander Macomb

SS Alexander Macomb

New-ISH aquisition

26th January 2018

Seven technical drawings were recently returned, to the Tank Museum’s Archive and Library after over 50 years!

To the Archive’s great surprise, we learned that the drawings had been borrowed by the company Rizden Beazley in October 1965, from what was then known as the RAC Tank Museum to assist in their salvage of the Liberty Cargo ship SS Alexander Macomb.

The SS Alexander Macomb was a Liberty Cargo ship, launched in June 1942. Liberty ships were ships which were mass-produced by the US during the Second World War. She was carrying M3 Lee tanks, aircraft and munitions destined for the Soviet Union. She was struck by a torpedo from U-215 on the 3rd July 1942 and scuttled 200 miles east of Orleans Massachusetts, with the loss of 10 crew. To this day the SS Alexander Macomb remains too dangerous to dive due to the amount of unexploded ordnance remaining on the seabed.

Lee tank scanIt appears that once the intended salvage operation was over the drawings were simply forgotten about with Museum staff remaining blissfully unaware that they had not been returned until being contacted. 

The drawings have certainly led a charmed life surviving the upheaval of two company take-overs, and were rediscovered in the files of Submar Salvage, a famous Dutch salvage operator based in Rotterdam, who kindly returned the drawings to us shortly before Christmas, 53 years after they originally left the Archive. Considering the unusual nature of this donation/return, Submar Salvage included a pen and wash sketch drawn by an employee of Rizden Beazley showing the SS Alexander Macomb’s wreck as she appears on the seabed, revealing that the tanks were stored in the front of the ship. 

These scaled drawings were created for the USA Department of Ordnance by the Tank Engineering Office, and feature the Medium M3A1 tanks [Lee]. They are dated between April 15th 1941 and 9th July 1942.  The drawings include useful information such as to the Chief Draughtsman, Tracer, Checker and Submitter along with a scale guide in inches. They also include front and side elevation, plan, and horizontal sectional elevations of the Medium M3A1 tanks.

Thankfully, the Museum’s Loan policy and record keeping has significantly developed from the 1960s and is up-to-date and fully compliant with SPECTRUM standards, making a replication of these events highly unlikely, but reminding us all the importance of detailed record keeping.