Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Divers find WW1 British submarine


By Andrew Picken
July 19, 2006

EYEMOUTH, UK -- An intact First World War submarine has been discovered in deep waters off Eyemouth after divers initially mistook it for a sunken fishing trawler.

Divers from Edinburgh and South Queensferry were part of an expedition that found the wreck virtually unscathed despite lying 200ft down on the floor of the North Sea for more than 85 years.

It is thought to be a British submarine known as the H11, which was lost in 1920 while under tow.

Members of the South Queensferry Sub Aqua Club (SQSAC) are awaiting confirmation from the Royal Navy that the submarine was not manned before they carry out further investigations of the torpedo-carrying vessel.

Stevie Adams, 43, a BT engineer from South Queensferry, who is the SQSAC's diving officer, said four members of the club were among the party who discovered the wreck earlier this month.

He said: "We initially thought it was a trawler and because visibility was poor on our first trip we couldn't decipher exactly what it was.

"We managed to get down again and this time it was much clearer, and to our amazement we found this great big submarine. We think it was being towed to be scrapped before it sank.

"What we don't know is if there was any crew on board so we are waiting for the Admiralty to get back to us on that before we go poking about any further.

"It just amazes me that it has sat there for so long, in such a good condition, and nobody knew about it.

"The difficult part is the onshore detective work but we have a few people working on that."

The submarine is around five metres tall and 45 metres long and is lying on her port side with the bows clear of the seabed.

There is little damage to the submarine with the conning tower, periscopes and hatches in good condition according to Mr Adams.

Iain Easingwood, who runs the Marine Quest Boat Charter in Eyemouth which took the divers out to the submarine, said the wreck was known about locally.

He said: "My dad was a fisherman for over 40 years in these waters and he was always getting his nets caught around this spot so we knew there was something there. It was always assumed it was a trawler but to find out it was a submarine, and in such good condition, is just amazing.

"When they all came back up and told us what had happened they were understandably excited at what they had discovered and I think we'll back to find out more about it."

Mr Easingwood estimates there are at least another 20 wrecks in the area that have still to be explored by divers.

The H11 was reported as possibly being lost while under tow although other maritime records indicate she was also scrapped that year with no note of ever being lost.

Experts at the Submarine Museum in Gosport and navy officials are looking into the discovery to try and shed more light on the vessel's past.

The H11 was built in the United States and was released to British forces when the Americans joined the war in 1917.


Saturday, July 15, 2006

Clue found in mystery of Civil War sub


July 15, 2006

Confederate crew may have opened hatch on historic Hunley

CHARLESTON, S.C. - Scientists say they may have found an important clue in the mystery of why the Confederate submarine Hunley sank 140 years ago after making history by sinking an enemy warship in battle.

Archaeologists and others working to restore the submarine recovered six years ago from the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of Sullivans Island have found evidence the forward hatch may have been opened intentionally on the night the sub sank.

The forward hatch was one of two ways crew members got in and out of the sub. It is covered in a thick layer of sand and other ocean debris, but X-rays show the hatch is open about half an inch (1 centimeter), according to a news release Friday from the Friends of the Hunley.

Earlier reports said rods that could have been part of the hatch's watertight locking mechanism were found at the feet of the sub's commander, Lt. George Dixon.

That evidence leads those working on the sub to think the hatch may have been opened intentionally.

"The position of the lock could prove to be the most important clue we have uncovered yet and offers important insight into the possibilities surrounding the final moments before the submarine vanished that night," said Hunley Commission chairman state Sen. Glenn McConnell, R-Charleston.

Why open the hatch?
If the hatch was intentionally unlocked, there are several possible explanations.

Dixon could have opened it to see if the 40-foot (12-meter), hand-cranked vessel was damaged when it rammed a spar with a black powder charge into the Union blockade ship Housatonic on Feb. 17, 1864, becoming the first sub in history to sink an enemy warship. Or Dixon could have opened the hatch to refresh the air supply in the eight-man crew compartment or to signal that it had completed its mission.

An emergency also could have led the crew to open the hatch to get out. But because the second escape hatch was found in the locked position, that theory seems less likely.

"If the Hunley crew opened the hatch, it must have been for a critical reason," said archaeologist Michael Scafuri. "Even on a calm day, three-foot swells can occur out of nowhere on the waters off Charleston. Every time the hatch was opened, the crew ran the deadly risk of getting swamped."

Mystery remains
The Hunley sank three times, killing a total of 21 crew members.

But the reason it sank on the night of its successful mission remains a mystery.

Although scientists said the new discovery could help determine the cause of the sinking, it also is possible that the lock was damaged after the sub sank and the hatch opened while it sat on the ocean floor.