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The original Hannibal was a general from Carthage.
The original ship that was grounded as a target ship for the U.S. Navy was a converted steamer (AG-1), built as Joseph Holland by J. Blumer & Co., Sunderland, England, in 1898. After the ship was purchased by the Navy she served in the Collier Service along the Atlantic coast. She was then assigned to the U.S. Survey Squadron. In World War I, Hannibal operated with the Patrol Force of the Atlantic Fleet. In 1918, she became a tender to submarine chasers at Plymouth, England. Then Hannibal remained in reserve at Philadelphia until 9 February 1921, when she sailed for Cuba to resume survey operations which lasted until 1930. Hannibal was decommissioned 20 August 1944 and was sunk as a bombing target March 1945 on a shallow little sand bar between Point Lookout (the mouth of the Potomac River) and Smith Island.
The Hannibal lasted 21 years as a Navy target ship before it was pretty much obliterated. In 1966, the Navy brought in a replacement ship -- the American Mariner, a 442-foot World War II Liberty Ship -- and carefully scuttled it near the Hannibal, pointing north. The water at that point is only about 20 feet deep, roughly the ship's draft, and the American Mariner settled to the bottom so little and so level that it looks like it's still floating.
By custom and for convenience, this "new" target is still called by the original ship's name (the Hannibal or "the old Hannibal"). This can be confusing, since, in fact, the ship there now is actually the American Mariner, its name still visible in peeled and faded paint on the stern.
If the Navy isn't using the area (meaning it's "cold"), you can pass close enough to see what prolonged exposure to .50-caliber machine gun fire will do to a ship. It's a wonder the vessel is still above water, this far out in the bay. After more than 40 years of being pounded by gunnery crews, there's hardly a square foot of steel on the ship that hasn't been hit.
If the target is "hot," you won't (or shouldn't) get close to it. Several times a month, helicopter gun ships, fighter-bombers and other warcraft practice strafing the ship with machine-gun fire or drilling it with rockets. Navy range boats chase away recreational and fishing boats from the Hannibal whenever live-fire target practice is about to begin. Occasionally, Navy range safety crews have had to chase away anglers who raft onto the Hannibal to catch fish. In one instance in the 1990s, they found two young men had actually climbed onto the wreck itself -- literally inside the bull's-eye of a target about to be sprayed by automatic cannon fire.
In 1957, the Holland Island Bar lighthouse which is nearby was mistaken for the target ship and fired on by jets on a training run from New Jersey.
Shortly after that the lighthouse was demolished and turned into an unattended light and horn on the old lighthouse foundation. (Photos 2 and 3)
Updated Jun 22, 2008