Thursday, September 21, 2006

War History: Filmmaker to give talk on lethal German U-boat activity along N.C.'s coast


Journal Now
By Stephanie Stallings
September 21, 2006

During six months in 1942, German U-boats sunk or damaged 397 ships, killing 5,000 people off the eastern seaboard of the United States. More people were killed on the Atlantic Ocean during that time than died at Pearl Harbor.

Yet many people have never heard that the East Coast, and particularly the area off the North Carolina's Outer Banks, was the theater for one of the Allies' worst defeats of World War II.

Kevin Duffus, an independent maritime historian and award-winning documentary filmmaker, will talk about this subject at the Bermuda Run Country Club in Advance on Sept. 27. He will speak from 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. as part of the "Lunch and Learn" seminar program.

The Davie Campus of Davidson Community College will sponsor the program. The final day for registration, which is $20 a person and includes lunch, is Friday.

"One of my greatest joys is meeting wonderful people, interested in learning about North Carolina history," Duffus said in a telephone interview at his Raleigh office.

Sixty five German U-boats hunted predominantly merchant vessels, virtually unopposed by the U.S. Navy, for six months in 1942, many in view of coastal communities off the Outer Banks, Duffus said. Their goal was to choke Great Britain of direly needed oil and food imports.

Duffus' program, illustrated with a PowerPoint presentation, will focus on eyewitness accounts of these attacks. Duffus also will discuss rumors of German sympathizers, spies and attempted saboteurs that survive, some as urban legends, to this day.

Duffus' presentation is encapsulated by the story of two births: the first, the remarkable birth of a baby at sea in a lifeboat after a German U-boat torpedoed a passenger ship.

The program ends with the story of a British lieutenant and friend of a Coast Guard member, who lives on the Outer Bank. The officer learned of the birth of his son just before he was killed by a German torpedo.

Duffus later met the lieutenant's son when he came to America to see his father honored in an annual ceremony, held every year on the second Friday of May on the Outer Banks at a place called the "British Cemetery."

The ceremony, which was first held in 1976, honors the lives of British soldiers who gave their lives defending U.S. ships and shores from German U-boats.

Duffus said he was inspired by the Outer Banks when he was 15 and read Graveyard of the Atlantic by David Stick. The stories of pirates, shipwrecks and the many mysteries of the Outer Banks captivated Duffus.

Duffus later met Stick, and today the two are close friends. This book planted the seed for what would later become Duffus' life work, he said.

The documentary film, War Zone: World War II Off North Carolina's Outer Banks, chronicles the actions of the German U-boats on the East Coast, and serves as the basis for his lecture. Duffus produced, directed and edited the film. Based on photographs from the National Archives, the film uses more than 400 images from World War II and interviews with residents, sailors and coast guardsmen.

Joe Brandt, a former local radio broadcaster, narrates the film. The North Carolina-based Gregg Gelb swing band performs the soundtrack, which uses Big Band swing music.

Duffus has recently published a book titled Shipwrecks of the Outer Banks: An Illustrated Guide. The book, Duffus said, gives a general perspective about the culture and maritime history of the N.C. coast.

Other accomplishments for Duffus include several award-winning documentaries, a new discovery about the pirate Blackbeard and solving the mystery of the whereabouts of the lens from the Cape Hatteras lighthouse.

Duffus, who spends about 25 percent of his time giving talks and discussions about the material he has written or filmed, said, "As an independent author and filmmaker, going around and speaking is the best way to promote what I do."

All of his work is published through his own company, Looking Glass Productions.

Duffus is a member of the N.C. Humanities Council speakers' board, which includes 63 people who speak on various topics about North Carolina.

To register for his lecutre or for more information, call 751-2885.

The program is paid for by a grant from the N.C. Humanities Council.



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