Off the Delaware Bay, just a few feet from the shore, an unusual object sticks out of the water and draws attention from the beach. This is all that’s left of the former steamer S.S. Atlantus, one of the few experimental concrete ships built during World War I. In fact, during the war, when it became clear that the steel necessary to keep the army industry going was becoming scarce, the U.S. government approved the construction of twenty-four concrete ships which were intended to be part of what was referred to as the Emergency Fleet. Oddly, by the time the ships were completed, the war had already ended and the few vessels already constructed were converted and used for other purposes. One of them, the S.S. Atlantus, which was launched about a month after the end of the war, was first used to transport American troops back home from Europe and after that to transport coal to New England. In early 1926, the Atlantus was definitively towed to Cape May, New Jersey, where it was to be used as a ferry dock along with two other concrete ships of the former and now useless Emergency Fleet. Unfortunately, in June of the same year a storm hit hard on the Cape May shore, and the ship broke free of her moorings and ran aground a few feet off the coast. Several attempts were made to free the ship, but none of them was successful. Today the S.S. Atlantus, or better yet what remains of it, is still there and can be easily seen from the beach. Broken apart and eroded by the waves and tides, the ship will be gone soon, and in a matter of time the last of its remains will be only the sign on the beach that says:
Remains of experimental concrete ship. One of twelve built during World War 1. Proven impractical after several trans-Atlantic trips because of weight Broke loose during storm (June 1926) went aground. Attempt to free her were futile.
Photo Credits: Cape May County Historical & Genealogical Society Cape May Court House, New Jersey