Stories of ghost ships adrift in the vast expanses of ocean have survived since man first took to the sea.  Legends about ships like The Flying Dutchman, which was lost under the leadership of Van der Decken near the Cape of Good Hope as they traveled toward the East Indies, continue to spring up in reports given by sailors claiming to see the cursed vessel ever continuing on its voyage.

Another famous ship, the Mary Celeste, was found adrift in the Atlantic Ocean in 1872, completely unharmed and in good working order, but missing its crew, a lifeboat, and the captain’s logbook.  All of the crew’s possessions remained on board, as well as its untouched payload of 1500 barrels of alcohol, prompting a number of theories ranging from mutiny, to poisoning, to sheer madness.

The two-thirds of our planet covered by water has always been ripe with mysteries, thanks in large part to its ability to swallow ships, airplanes, survivors, and wreckage into its depths, never to be seen again.  Without any evidence left behind to help us to understand what happens on ships like the Mary Celeste, the mystery proves enduring, and like a fine wine, mysteries often get better with age.  But not every ghost ship is lost at sea.  Some ghost ships, in fact, are of the airborne variety.

Nazi U-Boats proved to be a significant threat to allied naval efforts throughout World War II, prompting a number of novel approaches to spotting and combating submarines before they could sneak up on our ships.  One such approach was the use of L-Class blimps, which could float above the ocean and spot submerged enemy vessels.

On the morning of August 16th, 1942, Lieutenant Ernest Cody and Ensign Charles Adams climbed aboard their L-8 Airship, a former Goodyear Blimp that had been procured by the Navy in April of that year to deliver equipment to the carrier USS Hornet (CV-8) while at sea.  Their mission was simple: head out to sea from their post on Treasure Island in California and look for any signs of enemy submersibles.

Prior to the August flight, Lt. Cody had flown the L-8 out to the Carrier Hornet to make one last delivery as the ship, and sixteen B-25 bombers, headed across the Pacific, bound for Tokyo. (National Archives)

A little over an hour into their patrol, the two men radioed that they had spotted an oil slick on the water and were moving to investigate.

“We figured by that time it was a submarine,” said Wesley Frank Lamoureux, a member of the Navy’s Armed Guard Unit who was aboard the cargo ship Albert Gallatin. “From then on, I am not too positive of the actions of the dirigible except that it would come down very close over the water. In fact, it seemed to almost sit on top of the water.”

According to his testimony, the blimp dropped two flares and circled the area, which was in keeping with protocol when investigating the possibility of a German sub.  The Albert Gallatin cargo ship, believing the blimp could have located a U-Boat, sounded the general alarm, manned their guns, and made a hasty exit from the area.  It would be the last time anyone would see the L-8 operating under the controls of its crew.