By Michael Salvarezza and Christopher
On November 21, 1991, the USS Algol (AKA-54), became the latest addition to New Jersey’s artificial reef program. At 12:30 pm a series of explosive charges tore through her hull as if it were made of thin sheets of paper. Minutes later, the Algol was resting almost silently on the soft, sandy bottom of the Atlantic Ocean, 14 miles offshore of New Jersey’s Shark River Inlet in 120 feet of water. The serenity beneath the sea would now be disturbed for many hours by the sounds of belching air escaping from the holes and other cracks and crevices that now make up her hull.
The Algol, affectionately known as the Steamin’ Demon was originally launched by the Moore Dry Dock Co and christened the James Baines on February 17, 1943 in Oakland, California. Months later she was converted on December 3 of the same year to an auxiliary cargo attack vessel and renamed the USS Algol after the star that forms the head of Medusa in the Perseus constellation (the Demon Star).
With eight decks, 459 feet of hull and rising nearly 100 feet high, the Algol was truly a massive sight to see. Being well designed, she was able to carry a wide assortment of equipment such as tanks, trucks and other needed artillery hardware as well as to ferry troops to and from shore during amphibious beach assaults. This was accomplished by her 14 LCVP boats complete with two 30-caliber machine guns and 8 LCM boats which sported two 50 caliber machine guns. These landing craft were not going out unprotected! The Algol itself carried a wide array of armament, consisting of a five inch mount, four double 40mm mounts and six double 20mm mounts.
After being fully commissioned on July 21, 1944, the Algol was hastfully pressed into active duty. On January 13, 1945 she successfully transported reinforcements for the 25th infantry division that was making an amphibious assault in the Lingayan Gulf. 16 days later, she was putting other U.S. troops ashore in the Zamabales of Luzon. The Algol also participated in and survived three amphibious invasions of Okinawa in April of 1945 without sustaining any damage to herself or loss of life.
After a brief rest and being inactive in November of 1947, the Algol was once again thrust into harm’s way. This time the place was Korea, August 30, 1950, and the task was to ferry vital supplies and personnel to awaiting U.S. Marine troops. She also took part in two more invasions. The first was at Inchon on September 17, 1950 and the second at Wonsan in October. On December 4, 1950, the Algol assisted in the evacuation of Chinnampo. Years later on January 2, 1958, she was finally put to dry-dock and de-commissioned but not after receiving two World War II battle stars and five Korean War battle stars.
In 1983, the late Senator Edwin B. Forsythe petitioned the U.S. Maritime Administration for a surplus Liberty Ship to be used as part of New Jersey’s Artificial Reef Program. When no such ship was found, the USS Algol was substituted. The Algol was about to begin her final tour of duty.
The sinking was finally arranged for November 21, 1991. The Steamin’ Demon was truly an unbeaten hero to many and scores of loyal crewmembers came from across the country to say their final good-byes and witness the sinking of their ship as she began to proudly server her final duty as a living artificial reef, a permanent home to all marine life. Seven months after the sinking, the Algol was still easily recognizable, sitting perfectly upright on a clean, sandy bottom in 120 feet of water. She lies in close proximity to several other prominent New Jersey shipwrecks, such as the Stolt D’Agali and the Coney Island. The Algol still appeared pretty much as it did when it was sunk, with little or no marine growth to disguise its features. Although still sterile, the Algol was just beginning to attract some aquatic life. More recently, the Algol’s superstructure has been covered with mussels and other shellfish, and schools of Blackfish, Bergall, Pollack and Black Sea Bass have been spotted on the wreck. Macro Photographers have been delighted to spot several colorful Nudibranchs on the forward boom control structure. In time, the Algol’s exterior will become even more covered with marine growth such as Anemones, shell fish and other various plants and animals, and a thriving fish haven will have been created. Photographers have a unique opportunity to continue to document this process over the next few years as the Algol’s new life as an artificial reef takes shape.
Divers who descend to the USS Algol will generally find visibility of 20’ - 40’. Because the ship is intact, clean and sitting upright, navigation along its exterior is not difficult. Swimming along the main deck at a depth of 100’ divers will pass over open cargo bays, past pieces of the ship’s superstructure and will notice various items such as gun turrets, winches, boom control structures and cable reels. For the more experienced diver, penetration is possible into the main superstructure and below decks. Since the wreck has only recently been sunk, there is little silt inside and again navigation is relatively easy. However, penetration of any wreck requires specialized training and equipment. As part of the artificial reef program, the USS Algol was cleaned of all pollutants and floatable material prior to its sinking. Portholes and other large objects were removed as well. However, there are still plenty of small souvenirs, such as cage lamps, name tags and valves, which can be recovered from the wreck.
The USS Algol has begun the next phase of her distinguished career as part of the New Jersey Artificial Reef program. As a wreck, the Algol has plenty to offer. Divers new to wreck diving will enjoy seeing a recognizable shipwreck with all its features intact. More experienced divers can explore the deeper recesses of the wreck with numerous interesting passageways, rooms and compartments. Photographers will have many opportunities to photograph this magnificent shipwreck. People interested in studying the creation and development of marine habitats will be able to witness the Algol’s transition from a military vessel to an Artificial Reef.
The USS Algol, on final duty 14 miles off the coast of New Jersey, is destined to become one of the area’s diving hotspots.
Type of vessel:
Depth of Water:
Loran C Position:
November 21, 1991
February 17, 1943
6,830 gross tons
145 ft + (starts at 70 ft, main deck at 110 ft)
14 miles offshore of New Jersey’s Shark River Inlet
The name Algol is a star in the constellation Perseus, also known as the Demon star. More...
- For more detailed history, please link to Detailed History | New Jersey Scuba.net
- Additional Archive photos can be view at the NavSource Online: Amphibious Photo Archive web page. web page.
Algol is a fixed star,
in Medusa's head, in the constellation Perseus, well known for its
periodic variation in brightness. Perseus, Son of Zeus is an Autumn
constellation and is a popular star to observe, because it is
possible to see it with the naked eye from Earth -- a great sight
using binoculars or a telescope.
In general, common names for Algol are the Demon, the Demon Star, the Blinking Demon, the Ghoul and the Spectre's Head. This is the origin of why she was affectionately known as the Steamin’ Demon.
PERSEUS Son of Zeus (Autumn constellation)
- Where to look - South on late autumn evenings, close to Andromeda and Pegasus.
- What to look for - An upside-down ‘Y’, where Perseus is holding Medusa’s decapitated head. Algol, the "demon star" marks the Gorgon’s evil eye that appears to vary in brightness or "wink" over a three day period. This is because Algol is an eclipsing binary (two close stars orbiting each other), its brightness changes every 68 hours and 49 minutes -- the demon "blinks" for roughly 8 hours as the dimmer star of the pair passes between the brighter star and the earth.
- Myths and Legends - Its earliest reference is in
Arabic, with the names Ri'B al Ohill (The Demon's Head), and Al
Ghul (the Ghoul, Demon Star, Mischief-maker). The Hebrews knew
Algol as Rosh ha Sitan (Satan's Head or the devil's head), and
Lilith (Adam's legendary demonic first wife, and predecessor to
Eve) in Babylonian. Perseus was one of the most famous of the
Greek heroes. Homer wrote of Algol in the Iliad, describing it
as, "the Gorgon's head, a ghastly sight, deformed and
dreadful, and a sight of woe". The Chinese gave it the
gruesome title Tseih She, the "Piled-up Corpses".
His story is in the stars and evolves many of the constellations around him. He was sent on a quest to kill Medusa, the snake-haired Gorgon, protected by his bronze shield, diamond sword, winged sandals and helmet of invisibility. Having slain Medusa, he rescued the beautiful Princess Andromeda from the sea monster, Cetus. Andromeda and Perseus married, had many children and lived happy ever after. Their marriage turned out to be one of the better love stories in mythology.
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