In the early years of World War II, the U.S. Navy was ill-prepared for the German U-Boat threat prowling off the Atlantic coast. Merchant ships from various nations running along the eastern seaboard were constantly harassed and sunk by the German submarines. The U.S. Navy had no ships suited to anti-submarine patrol. Britain offered assistance, sending 24 Royal Navy vessels with their British crews to patrol sensitive areas along the East Coast, including the Outer Banks.
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One of those British ships, the HMS Bedfordshire, was a trawling vessel that had been converted to anti-submarine duty, and was stationed at Morehead City, N.C. On May 12, 1942, while the Bedfordshire was on patrol, a German torpedo struck the ship and sank it, resulting in the loss of its entire 34-man British crew.Over the next few days four bodies from the Bedfordshire were discovered on Ocracoke beaches and in the surrounding waters. Citizens of Ocracoke buried the sailors near the village cemetery. A fifth body, an unknown sailor from the Bedfordshire, washed up on Hatteras Island, and was buried next to a British sailor from the merchant vessel San Delfino, torpedoed a year earlier. The U.S. Coast Guard carefully maintains the cemetery at Ocracoke. The graves and cemetery grounds on Hatteras Island are maintained by the National Park Service.