Remembering the James Eagan Layne

The School’s Human Interface Technology Team was in the maritime heritage spotlight again recently, courtesy of a project to commemorate the 1945 sinking of a US Liberty Ship, the James Eagan Layne.  The Eagan Layne was one of many hundreds of mass-produced cargo vessels built by the US during World War II to provide the Allies with vital supplies.  After being torpedoed by the German U-Boat U-399 off the Eddystone Reef in March 1945, the Eagan Layne was taken under tow by two local tugs and finally sank – fortunately without loss of life – in Whitsand Bay near Plymouth.

 James Eagan Layne - Surface and Sub
James Eagan Layne. Surface and Sub

The HIT Team’s Virtual Reality reconstruction of the final moments of the vessel, developed by the Team’s Lead Simulation Researcher Dr Robert Guest, was featured as part of a BBC Spotlight television programme.  The BBC tracked down Prof. Stone to give an impromptu TV interview at the Burrator Inn, a popular pub on the edge of Dartmoor, where he and his students were staying during trials of the Team’s new DJI Inspire 1 Quadcopter. 

More recently, PhD student Cheng Qian has taken the 3D model of the Eagan Layne and integrated it with real-time 3D models of data converted from high-definition multibeam sonar surveys of the wreck, which is today in quite an advanced state of decay.  Given the existence of similar and more historical databases relating to the wreck, it is hoped that this visualisation technique will be able to display the deterioration of the vessel over time, which will help both maritime archaeologists and marine scientists to understand the life cycle of other wrecks, including those used as artificial reefs (such as the ex-HMS Scylla, the focus of a previous VR project executed for the National Marine Aquarium by the HIT Team1  located just 540 metres west of the Eagan Layne).

James Eagan Layne -  Converted Sonar Data and Ship Model
James Eagan Layne. Converted Sonar Data and Ship Model

The VR reconstructions have been undertaken in support of Liberty 70 (www.promare.co.uk/liberty70/), an initiative coordinated by the public charity ProMare, as part of the group’s SHIPS Project (Shipwrecks and History in Plymouth Sound), in partnership with the US National WWII Museum in New Orleans (http://nationalww2museum.org/).  The HIT Team has collaborated with the ProMare group in the recent past, notably involving the VR reconstruction of the wrecksite of the submarine HMS A7Liberty 70 aims to generate comprehensive records of the life of the Eagan Layne, from its original build - Hull No. 157 laid down in October 1944 at the Delta Shipbuilding Company – through to its final resting place in a depth of just 20 metres.

1 Stone, R.J. & Guest, R. (2012).  “Virtual Scylla: Interactive 3D and Artificial Life for Marine Virtual Heritage”; in Henderson, J. (Ed.) “Beyond Boundaries, IKUWA 3”; the 3rd International Congress on Underwater Archaeology. Römisch-Germanische Kommission/NAS Publications, Frankfurt; June, 2012; pp.485-491.