Captain’s ‘odd behavior’ sunk WWII-era ship, experts say. Now the wreck has been found

In 1940, a ship transporting wheat across Lake Superior hit bad weather and sank with its captain still on board while the rest of his crew made it to safety.

The wreckage has now been found, but questions remain.

On Feb. 12, the Great Lakes Shipwreck Historical Society announced that the Arlington, a 244-foot bulk carrier, was discovered in Lake Superior more than 600 feet below the surface.

Shipwreck researcher Dan Fountain originally discovered the anomaly using remote sensing data, and with the help of the historical society’s resources, confirmed the vessel’s identity using side-scan sonar and remotely operated vehicles.

But the Arlington and its captain — “a seasoned veteran of the lakes” — may have both been able to avoid tragedy the day it sank, according to experts.

‘No one will ever know’

On April 30, 1940, under the command of Captain Frederick “Tatey Bug” Burke, the Arlington left Port Arthur, Ontario, for Owen Sound, Ontario, fully loaded with wheat, according to the historical society.

After hitting dense fog, the Arlington’s first mate, Junis Macksey, ordered a new course along the Canadian North Shore that would provide some cover from wind and waves, according to experts.

Burke, however, disregarded the order and continued across the open lake, the society said.

On May 1, the Arlington began to sink. The crew, without orders from Burke, abandoned ship and were picked up by the Collingwood, a large freighter nearby, according to researchers.

Burke, for reasons “no one will ever know,” chose to go down the ship, experts said.

Illustration of Captain Burke going down with the Arlington.
Illustration of Captain Burke going down with the Arlington.

“Much speculation followed the sinking of the Arlington and the odd behavior of its master,” researchers said. “Why did he go down with his ship…when he easily could have been saved like the rest of his crew?”

The historical society said it hopes this discovery provides “some measure of closure to the family of Captain Burke.”

There are an estimated 10,000 shipwrecks in the Great Lakes, with about 350 of those in Lake Superior, according to the Minnesota Historical Society.

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