SIXTY years after a major marine incident occurred in Newcastle waters, the whole tragic episode continues to fascinate.
But strangely, it doesn't involve any ships.
Even the area involved today is described by the NSW Heritage Branch as a "unique site". But reading about it involves an ominous warning to divers there are likely to be corroded, unexploded shells among the wreckage.
Look a little closer and you find the government authority is referring to the events of the Stockton Bight military disaster of 1954.
On March 8, 1954, to be precise, one of Australia's worst peacetime disasters happened on the Hunter's doorstep.
It involved a convoy of 19 amphibious vehicles, including army "ducks" (DUKWs) and tanks with 184 men aboard setting out at 2am from Wave Trap beach (Horseshoe beach) near the then Camp Shortland (now Nobbys parkland).
The men were a mixture of regular army men, citizen soldiers and national servicemen.
The convoy set out in darkness going north in the open sea with a forecast of good weather towards the ominously named Cemetery Point. But by 4am, an unexpected squall blew up and the seas suddenly became monstrous.
Some 100 soldiers from the 15th Northern Rivers Lancers were pitched into the freak heavy seas infested with sharks.
The standard military exercise had gone horribly wrong. The swamped vehicles had either nosedived or had capsized into the deep waters of the bight.
Eight of the vehicles, including five amphibious armoured tanks and a landing craft (LVT4) nicknamed the "water buffalo", simply disappeared, apparently forever.
Survivors later said most tanks had broken down and were being towed by the army "ducks" which were then pulled down in the choppy sea by the extra 16-ton weights.
Soldiers struggled to swim ashore, then faced churning surf. Three men died - it was a miracle the toll wasn't higher.
The vessels were about 10 nautical miles from Morna Point and about two miles out to sea when waves pounded the flotilla, soaking radio equipment.
After the alarm was finally raised on shore, fireworks lit up the darkness as Very flare pistols and rockets were fired everywhere. The seas were so dangerous that not even the port's professional fishermen had earlier dared to venture out in their trawlers.
Amid the chaos, the acknowledged hero of the day was Sergeant Donald McHattie, who later went on to become a well-known Newcastle auctioneer.
He was awarded the George Medal for displaying outstanding courage and leadership, completely disregarding his own safety to save at least nine men and help give artificial respiration to three others.
Soldiers said he swam for a long time, supporting poor swimmers and encouraging them to get to shore as they bobbed in the massive swell.
He'd been thrown into the sea twice, once when his original vehicle sank and later when a rescue craft, now carrying the crews of three vehicles, tipped over.
But Sergeant McHattie wasn't the sole hero.
Others included people like Constable Bruce Wheeler, of Stockton police. He stripped to underpants and dashed into the water to rescue an exhausted army sergeant clinging to a kapok pillow about 80 metres out. He was suffering from exposure after being in the water for three hours.
Another soldier, the first rescued, had been unable to inflate his lifejacket and was taken to the beach, spitting blood and salt water.
The often officially forgotten heroes of the disaster were Stockton Surf Club lifesavers Harry Rowlatt, Frank Littlewood, Bill Arthur, Barry Jones and Colin Whyte.
They swam about 150 metres into darkness in four-metre waves to rescue soldiers floundering in a known shark hot spot.
Whyte said later the last soldier rescued shouted: "My legs, my legs". Whyte thought he'd been attacked as the bight was "lousy" with sharks at the time. On reaching the beach, it was discovered the rescued soldier had severe leg cramps. A contemporary news report said after the tragedy the beach, littered with debris north of Stockton, "looked liked a wartime battle field".
And 20 years later, there was an odd sequel to the disaster. Against all the odds, wreckage from one of eight amphibious vehicles was recovered by fishermen about one nautical mile off the middle of Stockton Beach in April 1974.
The tail shaft and two wheels of a lost, six-wheel sunken duck had become entangled in the net of the trawler Liawenee at a depth of about 15 fathoms (27 metres).
With the discovery came a photograph, recently found by Newcastle Herald library staffer Paul Partridge. A related news clipping revealed the wreckage was in remarkably good condition.
The differential still had oil in it and one of the tyres was still inflated.
An even more remarkable and rare photograph then appeared in the Herald in 1987. It showed diver Pauline de Vos from a marine archaeology group, investigating the deep, encrusted wreck of one of the lost five tanks, or cans.
Known as LTV(A)4, or Landing Vehicle Tracked (armoured), the amphibious assault vehicle was built between 1941 and 1945. Officially, it is the only one ever found, inspected and recorded.
Diver John Riley was credited with finding and sketching it earlier in the 1980s. Others say diver Geoff Parker first found this bight tank half buried in sand, with barnacle covered shells and teeming with fish; a speck on his echo sounder.
Sadly, markers change and the wreck location was later lost. In 2009, the NSW Heritage Branch conducted a localised bight sonar survey with the help of the Newcastle Port Corporation.
The survey ended in success when the LVT(A)4 was located facing east on the sea bottom almost 32 metres underwater.
However the multi-beam sonar sweep detected no other vessels within a half-kilometre radius.
Since then, it's been claimed recreational divers may have found at least three of the sunken vehicles resting on the bed of Stockton Bight. If they have, no one is talking much about it.