After our exciting dive on the President wreck, David Gibbins wrote a press release as follows:
29 May 2018 – Cornwall, UK
Divers off Cornwall have discovered cannons and an anchor thought to be from one of the richest ships ever to wreck against these shores. In 1684 the English East Indiaman the President came to grief against Loe Bar, carrying down most of her crew as well as a ‘very rich lading, modestly judged of no less than a hundred thousand pounds … with much treasure of pearl, and diamonds.’ Her loss was so great that she was even marked on the map of Cornwall produced at this period by the famous Dutch cartographer Van Keulen. The rediscovery of the site thought to be this wreck opens up a whole new chapter in the maritime history of Cornwall, linking these shores to a time when huge fortunes were made and lost in the ‘Enterprise of the Indies.’
David Gibbins, who heads the organisation Cornwall Maritime Archaeology along with Mark Milburn, takes up the story. ‘The site was first reported by divers twenty years ago and was designated under the Protection of Wrecks Act 1973. Mark and I are licensed by Historic England to monitor the wreck, but for many years it has been covered by sand. The recent period of calm weather has allowed us to dive off Loe Bar for the first time in months. We were thrilled to see seven cannon and an anchor, and quickly realised that we were looking at a new part of the site that had never before been recorded. You might think that all the important wreck artefacts off this coast have been found by now, but that is not the case. With every storm the sand can shift to reveal new treasures. It was incredibly exciting to see something that nobody has seen before.’
The President has a remarkably detailed backstory because a pamphlet was published that year based on the accounts of the survivors: ‘A full ACCOUNT Of the late Ship-wreck of the Ship called The PRESIDENT: Which was cast away in Montz-Bay in Cornwal On the 4th of February last, As it was deliver’d to HIS MAJESTY, (both in Writing and Discourse) By William Smith and John Harshfield, the only Persons that escaped in the said Wreck.’ It tells of a desperate sea battle off the Malabar Coast of India with six pirate ships, in which a roundshot from the President penetrated the powder magazine of one of the pirate vessels and blew it up. Gibbins continued: ‘Cannons are common finds on the wrecks of merchant ships from the Age of Sail, a time when most ships were armed. But its very unusual to know that guns on a merchantmen were actually used, especially in such a colourful action and on the very voyage on which the ship was wrecked. It gives a special excitement to seeing these guns for the first time underwater.’
Further diving is planned at the site. To follow the team’s progress and see more photos and video, go to Facebook/CornwallMaritimeArchaeology.
The story was sent out to various news agencies, several published it as it was. Some added a little extra, the David added some details for the Cornwall live version.
On June 9, 2018, I received was contacted by SWNS. They were asking for more details and more photographs, I gave them what they asked for. It soon appeared on the Daily Mail website, followed by the Daily Star and The Sun. The story started spreading, by the end of June 10, it was on 34 web sites.
Daily Mail story
June 11, I received a call from a BBC reporter. Would I be interested in doing a piece for the BBC News? Of course. We met on Loe Bar with the reporter and his cameraman, they asked me some questions about the wreck and the dive, filming me as we chatted. While I was there, I received a call from Radio 5live, they wanted a live telephone interview at 6:25pm. I said that would be fine. Turned out to be the same time as the most likely spot for my piece on the BBC news. I was the told that BBC Radio 4 wanted a piece for their news, which they would edit from the interview with BBC TV News. They used the R4 piece on Radio 2 news as well.
This was generating a lot of interest. Fox news rang asking for more details, not sure if it was for on-line use only or for a TV piece.
The combined BBC pieces had an estimated audience in excess of 15 million, plus now there were 103 web pages featuring the original press release, as well as being on Fox.
Since the sailing vessel, the Hera, sank in 1914, she has undergone a lot of changes.
Over the last eight years we have dived it many times, talked to people from around the area including retired divers and collected as much information about the wreck as possible. Culminating in the 100 year anniversary commemoration services at St Symphonian’s Church at Veryan, Cornwall.
Our main goal was to find out why it ended up in two separate parts, lying parallel, with the bow and stern alongside each other about 12m apart.
The Hera was a four masted steel barque. It was rigged with royal sails above double top and single topgallant sails. Weighing in at 1,994 tons and measuring 276x41x23 ft, it was a large vessel.
Built in 1886 by J.C. Tecklenborg, yard no. 58, it was originally named the ‘Richard Wagner’. A German document written in 1982 states that it was built completely on spec, it was the first iron ship the yard had built and their first tall ship. It took three years to sell and in the meantime was used by Franz Tecklenborg’s company, the yard owner’s brother’s company. It made several trips, bringing grain back from San Francisco.
It was sold to Rhederi Aktien Gesellschaft of Hamburg in 1889. On January 30th 1914, The Hera was ninety one days out of Pisagua, Chile. En route to Falmouth with a cargo of nitrate worth 30,000 British pounds, a very valuable cargo at the time.
The winds were strong from the south west, Captain Lorenz was unsure of their position. He sailed slowly, looking for either the Lizard or St Anthony’s light. As dusk fell and the conditions worsened, there was still no sign of any light. Just before midnight, land was sighted, Captain Lorenz ordered the ship be put about. In the stormy conditions that night, the ship was slow to respond. She hit the Whelps, on the south side of Gull Rock, in the south westerly gale just before midnight on January 30th January 1914. Taking on water, she then drifted around Gull Rock and eventually sank in the early hours of February 1st. When it sank in 15m of water, only her masts and rigging remained above water, the crew were clinging to the wet rigging and ropes for their lives.
Eight men clung to the rigging in total, but, as the tide rose three were gradually covered by the icy water. With one whistle between them, they passed it along and blew in turn, until the Falmouth lifeboat, guided by the whistle rescued the five survivors.
The lifeboat ‘Bob Newton’ was set the task of recovering the survivors. The Bob Newton was towed from Falmouth by the tug ‘Perran’, to about a mile offshore (possibly Carne Beach). It then made it’s way between Nare Head and Gull Rock to speak to the coastguard on the shoreline.
The lifeboat’s coxswain, Samuel Hingston, described the rescue:
“On the way we encountered huge seas. When about a mile offshore we slipped the Perran and and went in between the Gull Rock and Nare Head and spoke to the coastguards, who were on the rocks. From what we could ascertain from them there was a vessel near the shore, but on the outside of us. All at once I heard a whistle blowing. We immediately got our anchor up and went away in the direction of the sound. Then we saw a speck on our lee bow and later we made out five men hanging on a spar. We experienced considerable difficulty in rescuing the men because of the heavy seas. We were afraid of crushing them against the spar. Our bowman, William Leuty, badly crushed his finger in the rescue.”
The RNLI described the rescue of the five men in gale force conditions as “a commendable rescue.”
The survivors were discovered clinging to the jigger-mast which had broken, and which was held fast by the backstays and which protruded above the water. When rescued the men were half dead with cold, exposure and exhaustion having been clinging to the mast for between five and six hours and buffeted by tide and seas. Three others of the crew, who had clutched at the mast for safety, were forced to leave go their hold of it and perished, whilst the first mate, who was lashed to the mast, succumbed before help arrived.
Only five of the twenty four crew survived, fifteen of the deceased were buried in the churchyard at St Symphonian’s Church, Veryan. The grave interred the first twelve bodies that were recovered and is thought to be the longest grave in the country, as they were buried head to toe. Three more bodies were found and buried alongside their crew mates. The captains body was returned to Germany but three bodies were never found. Over six hundred people were reported to have attended the funeral by the vicar, Canon Kempe, who was accompanied by other clergy and Chaplain J.C. Badger (Falmouth).
One of the survivors, Joseph Cauchi, lived to the age of 84, passing away in 1979 at his home in Malta. His story can be found here – http://www.submerged.co.uk/joseph-cauchi-a-survivor-from-the-hera.php
The Hera was sold at auction to the Harris Brothers of Falmouth for £205. Much of her gear was salvaged.
It was reported in ‘The Echo’ of July 1914: ‘a Trinity House ship was noticed near Gull Rock…..an explosion was heard….afterwards huge spars and logs of wood were brought ashore. It is assumed that ….the ‘Hera’ has be blown up on account of her danger to navigation more especially to the fishing and crabbing boats’.
This would explain why she now lies in two major parallel sections, with the stern and bow almost alongside with the ships masts between them.
In 1959 a group of divers explored the Hera, they were taken to the wreck by the fishing boat of Les Johns and William Arthur Blamey. Among items recovered were some of the ship’s portholes.
In 1970, a group of divers from RAF St Mawgan sub aqua club began to investigate the wreck. Photographs were taken and the divers brought up a number of artefacts including links of chain, pulley blocks and lumps of steam coal stamped ‘Cardiff’.
It is also reported that another local club, whilst trying to access the coal bricks, blew the plating off of the bow. Whether this caused the bow to point upwards is unknown, nowadays this is the shallowest part of the wreck.On January 21st, 2006 I dived the Hera for the first time. With little prior knowledge of the wreck, I wrote this after my first dive on her:
I obviously really enjoyed it. I can now spot the obvious errors, that, a first glimpse could easily have been made.
I soon went back and wrote this:
“It had been about four months since I last dived the Hera and I was happy about diving it again so soon. This time I decided to take my video camera as well as the digital still camera. It’s fun jumping in with two cameras. The last time I dived the Hera I swam through part of the wreck near the bow. This time I wanted to see if it made good viewing. I also wanted to get some better close up shots of the jewel and plumose anemones that cover the ‘A’ frame. We entered the water at slack on low tide. Shaun had dropped the shot right on the ‘A’ frame, the most distinctive part of the wreck standing about 5m proud of the 15m deep sea floor. I started off with a few shots of the anemones on the ‘A’ frame then set off with my video camera to do the swim through the wreck. There are some huge Pollack around the ‘A’ frame and large Ballan Wrasse are found all over the wreck, including one unfortunate individual that looked like it had got too close to a boat propeller. I made my way to the swimthrough and entered the larger opening. Inside there were a few Starfish and lots of small Pollack, Bib and Whiting, as well as the odd Dead Man’s Finger. There is nothing exciting inside and the exit is a little tight. I swam around outside looking at the sea bed with its smattering of tube worms before I decided on a return trip through the wreck. At any point within the swimthrough you do get to see patches of light through holes or under the edge where the wreck meets the sea bed. Just after I exited the wreck I came across two other divers, so I showed them the entrance to the swimthrough, then swam back around in the opposite direction. All over the wreck there is a lot of fish life; Ballan or Cuckoo Wrasse, Pollack and Whiting. As I reached the ‘A’ frame again I got the still camera out and started to get some photos of the abundant anemones that cover it; Jewel Anemones in red, orange, yellow and green as well as orange, white and green Plumose Anemones. A photographers heaven. As I neared the end of my dive I saw a Tompot Blenny watching me, so I got a shot of him too. After 75 minutes of a very enjoyable and successful dive I surfaced with a big smile.”
I still hadn’t realised that the ‘A’ frame was indeed the remains of the bow. No one else on board knew either. I dived the Hera almost every month when the weather allowed but didn’t always write about it.
My next written piece was on 29th July 2007.
That was the first time I had found the stern section of the wreck, I could feel my fascination increasing. This was my fourth dive of the year on the Hera.
My next written account was several months later on a Friday evening dive.
There were dives where I took the camera and never wrote about it, and, there were times I just dived it for fun. It was around this time that I had decided to find out as much as possible about the Hera. I wanted to collate as much information about the Hera as possible, these pages are the result.
Although the Hera struck the Whelps on January 30th, it didn’t sink instantly, so technically it sank on February 1st 1914.
With the centenary approaching we were wondering what we could do to commemorate the sinking of the Hera. Here were two of our projects:
On Saturday November 30th, we took out nine divers and 1,200 lobsters, on our RHIB Stingray, to the Hera wreck.
During the week, we had received a phone call from the National Lobster Hatchery, asking if we were diving at the weekend. We had already arranged to dive the Hera followed by the Stanwood wreck on the Saturday, and, we already had a few booked on the boat. After describing the sea bed substrate around the Hera, to Ben at the Hatchery, he said it sounded ideal. The sea bed around the Hera is a mixture of Maerl (dead and alive), coarse sand and shells, giving the juvenile lobsters plenty of places to bury and hide. Most of the divers were locals and some had even previously released the baby lobsters on our boat before. Two divers had come down from Portsmouth and loved the idea of helping with the release. Eight divers each took down one tray, containing roughly one hundred and fifty 25mm long lobsters. Several had cameras, one diver just took their camera to film some of the releases.
We had also planned to dive the Hera on February 1st, 100 years to the day of it’s sinking. Whilst talking about it and making preparations, I was contacted by Father Doug Robbins. Father Robbins was after any photos or footage we had of the Hera, it was for a commemorative weekend over the 1st and 2nd of February. After several emails and many photos and links to videos on You-Tube had been sent, I asked if they wanted a plaque or wreath laying on the Hera on our dive. We agreed on a plaque, which we collected from Father Robbins at the church.
The weather on February 1st wasn’t suitable to go to sea, so we had to delay our trip. With the winter storms of 2013/2014, it was 7 weeks before the conditions were suitable to dive the Hera.
On 1 February 1914, the sailing barque ‘Hera’ foundered and sank near Nare Head. To commemorate the event, divers attached a plaque to the wreck, in memoriam to the 19 souls who lost their lives. It had originally been arranged to be placed on the wreck on 1 February of this year, the 100th Anniversary of the sinking. Mark Milburn, of Atlantic Scuba, who arranged the event with Father Doug Robins of Veryan Parish, said that the weather had been so unfavourable that they had been forced to bide their time.
Mr Milburn said: “We had arranged to dive the wreck on the 100th anniversary of the sinking, when many dive
boats were to be on site to pay their respects. The weather has been so bad, we have had to wait six weeks to get on site.””With the recent storms it is easy to see why a sailing ship would have come to grief all those years ago.”
We will continue to update our site if we find any more information or if there is any changes to the wreck.
The winter storms of 2017/2018 have caused some damage to the Hera. One of the capstans has fallen over and around 30cm of sand has been removed. There is quite a lot of fresh rust, where plates have become exposed or moved.
Last year, we took part in the Falmouth Spring Festival Clean event. Organised by Falmouth BID and Falmouth Bay Residents association, we were contacted to help. I combined with Fathoms Free, they organised the beach cleans, I organised the divers for the underwater section. We are doing the same event this year, 2018, with Fathoms Free.
Other events past and present
We did our 1st underwater litter pick in 2011 at Swanpool Beach in Falmouth. We then continued and did a clean from every beach and dive site from Durgan to Pendennis Headland. The underwater clean at Gyllyngvase attracted the media, we got it on BBC national news and BBC News 24 worldwide. Project Aware rang me to thank me for mentioning them on TV, they had been trying for years to get the issue of marine litter on TV without success. I think this was the event that inspired Rob to set up ‘Dive Against Debris’, later renamed to Fathoms Free. We continued doing the underwater litter picks, nowadays we don’t do organised cleans, all our divers do it automatically on shore and boat dives. My regular divers sometimes compete for who can collect the most. I even teach underwater litter picking in the SDI Open Water course, I have informed the Vice President of SDI about this addition. We also did a combined event with Neil Hembrow (Beach Care, part of Keep Britain Tidy) and Penryn Campus at Gylly with 17 divers taking part, collecting litter from underwater and the surface.
We have removed many nets, pieces of nets and old pots. October 2015 saw us remove the biggest from the Manacles, a marine conservation area – http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p036yq7q – which appeared on the BBC One Show. We did another big net in 2017 – http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/av/uk-england-cornwall-40442092/animals-rescued-from-ghost-fishing-gear-in-cornwall – this one only appeared on BBC Online. We continue removing ghost gear and nets. During 2017 I came up with the idea of Ghost Gear Thursdays. Our boat went out every Thursday with FreediveUK training freedivers. When the boat was only half full, 4 divers came aboard (including me) and we sited the boat above a wreck, we then took turn removing ghost fishing gear. We did this 8 or more times during the summer, it will continue this summer. The Mylor fishermen tell us when they lose gear, we either recover it or re-buoy it for them, it stops it ghost fishing.
We have taken part in a few combined events with Fathoms Free and have more planned, our boat is listed on their MMO license for removing ghost gear and sea litter.
We have released juvenile lobsters for the National Lobster Hatchery as well, in excess of 25,000 around Falmouth so far.
On another note. For the last 3 or 4 years, I have been trying to get permission to do a small trial of Seagrass reseeding. The system I wanted to trial, has proved successful worldwide and I have the backing of the World Seagrass Organisation. The VP of the WSO, Dr Richard Unsworth, will even come and join in. After many emails going back and forth, Natural England came up with their demands. A range of studies, that if I did in conjunction with a degree course would probably earn me a decent degree. Dr Unsworth got involved and told them they were being ridiculous, asking a volunteer group to undertake such tasks. Especially for such a small project. The idea was to prove it works and encourage dive clubs and groups country wide to do a similar project, we could reseed acres of lost beds but I have almost lost interest.
This could work in every country. It would generate a lot of programs around the world, for people to watch. This could be done in several ways, here are a couple of ideas based on the U.K.
Around the U.K. there are hundreds, if not thousands, of dives completed every week. With the arrival of sports cameras to suit all budgets, there is a lot of footage being taken. It’s not all good but most could be edited down into short usable clips. Clips of a single dive site could be collated, they could then be used to create the basis for a program. Editing of potentially hundreds of clips sounds a nightmare, if you have a local university that teaches media studies, the students could be used to do the first edit. Reducing 40 minute videos into a clip that suits, it may just be a few seconds of genius or luck by the cameraman. A willing presenter can then talk to people at the dive site or on a boat near the dive site. The key to a good program will be in the final edit, which takes time. With the amount of footage available, it would be easy to make a 30 minute program for most sites. Due to programming styles, allowing for start and end titles and adverts, this is only two 11 minute segments. There will be more about programming later.
The U.K. has many stories and secrets to be unveiled. In 2016, I embarked on a quest to find the Darlwyne, a motor cruiser lost in 1966, with 31 people on board. The vessel was lost with no survivors. After some detective work, we knew the area to search. I found some remains of what we believe to be the Darlwyne, just one week before the fiftieth anniversary of the loss. The BBC filmed most of the process, interviewed relatives and others who remembered the event. It was then presented on TV, as a whole 30 minute episode of BBC’s Inside Out. The program shouldn’t have cost a lot to produce and was aired on BBC HD country wide. There are many stories like this, I am working on one right now with the BBC. It only takes a small team and a half decent story, to make a good and interesting program.
I have ideas of programs that have a wider interest but still contain diving. We have people we know who would make great presenters. We have a multi award winning and twice BAFTA nominated cameraman/editor/producer. We even have a local university that teaches media studies. I am sure we are not the only ones in the U.K., there are probably several in similar situations in every country.
A suggestion for the U.K. and a bit about programming.
In the U.K. and most of Europe, we have Sky TV. There is also Freeview in the U.K. and probably similar programming in Europe and the rest of the world. These broadcasting companies have many channels, some allow individuals to buy air time. Air time is not expensive for the smaller channels, these channels are watched by tens of thousands of people, including other channels. Other channels will then license programs it likes, to be shown on their channels, this can happen more than once.
The cost of airtime can be financed by a sponsor and advertisers. An advert can be as short as 15 seconds. So where is this going? Programming, it’s about financials around programming.
Air time on a lesser known Sky TV channel will cost roughly £1000 an hour. That hour gives you 9 minutes of advertising space to recover the costs. It will also appear on-line, to watch on-demand, after being shown. If we could make an inexpensive program, which certainly can be done, for say around £3000. A 15 second advert would need to be sold for under £120, slightly less if there is a program sponsor too. This would then break even. If the program was re-sold to another channel, then there would actually be a profit. It could even be sold to other countries. Most airtime suppliers would like a series, rather than a single program. So six programs would need to be made for a small series, although it does not have to be limited to any specific amount of programs. If done worldwide, by half the countries in the world, there would be 300 hours of diving on TV globally available, based on six 60 minute programs
. Create a new series each year, in each country, the choice would be expansive.
Any profit made by reselling, could be put into making more or better programs, or used to refund/credit advertisers.
The more diving gets seen, the more people will want to dive.
On March 3rd 1915, the 325 ton trawler ‘St Ives H11’ was requisitioned for the navy. It was converted into an auxiliary patrol vessel, it entered naval service in May 1915 as 1192. HM Trawler St Ives, along with other vessels, helped salvaging the SS Keltier on December 11th and 12th 1916. The crew would have received a share of the salvage award, once it had been sorted out with the insurers. On the 21st December the St Ives came into contact with a mine laid by UC17 somewhere in Falmouth Bay. The officer and ten ratings on board were lost. The Commodore at Falmouth sent a telegram; “Regret to report trawler 1192 ST.IVES blown up by mine two miles W.S.W. of St. Anthony Falmouth. Sent to Admiralty and Devonport. 0845.”
The servicemen who were lost of the ship were:
|CARMICHAEL||WILLIAM ALBERT||24||Leiutenant||21 Dec 1916||Son of Charles and Mary Ann Carmichael, of 346, Boulevard, Hull|
|DENTON||JOSEPH ALEC||20||Telegraphist||21 Dec 1916||Son of Mr. and Mrs. Elizabeth Denton, of High St., Scawby, Brigg, Lincs|
|FAREY||HORACE CHARLES||19||Signaller||21 Dec 1916||Son of Thomas Henry and Alice Sarah Farey, of 141, Havelock St., Kettering, Northants|
|GRIMES||WILLIAM GEORGE||20||Deckhand||21 Dec 1916||Mother J. Grimes, Hill Top, Clay next the sea, Norfolk.|
|PASCOE||JOHN NICHOLAS||20||Deckhand||21 Dec 1916||Son of Robert and Lydia Pascoe, of Chapel Row, Porthleven, Cornwall.|
|PATTERSON||ALEXANDER||18||Deckhand||21 Dec 1916||Son of Robert and Elizabeth Patterson, of St. Ellas Place, Eyemouth, Ayton, Berwickshire|
|PENDER||SYDNEY||.30||Deckhand||21 Dec 1916||Husband of Janie Stevens Pender, of Tresco, Scilly Isles|
|PROUT||ALBERT HENRY||30||Trimmer / Cook||21 Dec 1916||Husband of Mary Jane Prout, of 34, Langton Rd., Falmouth, Cornwall|
|ROGERS||FREDERICK||.||Trimmer||21 Dec 1916||Wife Sarah, John Street, Maryport.|
|SCOTT||ROBERT||.||Engineman||21 Dec 1916||Son of Robert and Isabella Scott, of Hull.|
|STOREY||ARTHUR||.||Engineman||21 Dec 1916||Wife Annie, Church Street, Brentwood?|
Until now, the resting place of these servicemen and the wreck has not been known.
Watch this space.
A few years ago I wrote a few guides about Falmouth underwater. These were short separate guides about wrecks, marine life, snorkelling, shore diving and dive sites around the area. These were well received and a few people said I should sell them. With that in mind, I have collated them, added more information and lots more photos. I have just converted them to a Kindle Book and it is available on Amazon for just £2.99. Packed full of full colour images of the underwater wildlife and wrecks around Falmouth. You can preview a few pages or buy it here – Falmouth Underwater Kindle version
This book is now available in print, re-formatted so it looks quite good, full of updated and improved images, it isn’t cheap as it is print on demand and full colour. The print version is also available from Amazon – Falmouth Underwater Paperback
Close to the wreck of the Volnay there is a small sea mount. We hadn’t noticed it in the past but recent nautical chart updates made it stand out. We headed out there in our boat, Stingray, to have a look. It was high tide, the sounder showed 13.9m at the top of the pinnacle and 21m at the bottom. The top of the pinnacle looked like a camel’s back with two humps, there were several steps on the reef and a lot of noise around it. We were on another job at the time, so couldn’t dive, we would go back though.
A week later we headed back, this time it was low water. The top was around 10m with the sea bed at 17m. We dropped a shot line on the south side at 17m, it was just after low water, so any tide would take us over the pinnacle. We descended, there was a little amount of tide. The first thing we noticed was that there were a lot of big rocks around the area. Under the rocks there were crawfish, crabs and lobsters, around the rocks there were and several species of wrasse, bib and pollock. The deeper areas were quite sparse and a little silty with several urchins and starfish. As we ascended the pinnacle we noticed there were still quite a few large rocks, some lying on top of others creating a bridge. Various sea weeds appeared as we got shallower, still plenty of fish and other marine life. At the top there were more than just the twin peaks, several large boulders and a few rocky tips.
The whole area had a lot of rocks around it, they grew less the further away you went. It was typical of a fallen stone stack. When it had fallen may never be known, it may have been a hundred years ago or even thousands of years ago. What we do know is that it is now a haven for life. The visibility around low water wasn’t great at between 2-4m on this day, it may be better at high water or on another day. It was quite interesting and although it is quite small, we only covered less than half of it. We shall return to have another look, we may even find some divers who would like to visit the site.
At the end of the Great War, the Keisers’s high seas fleet was interned at Scapa Flow, Orkney. Due to some miscommunication or maybe the lack of communication, Rear Admiral von Reuter ordered the scuttling of the entire fleet. Most were removed straight away, except some of the vessels that were in deeper water, several were then salvaged. Most of the German U-Boats, in UK waters went to Harwich to surrender as well as some other ports, receiving various fates over the next few years.
Some of the surrendered U-Boats, were dispatched to Falmouth. The story that went around and even appeared in several books, was that they were sent to Falmouth, for gunnery practice. They shot at and sank three of them, the rest blew ashore during a south easterly gale.
This story was believed to be true for a long time, we have no idea where it came from but it sounded feasible. Then one day I thought “Why would anyone tow a flotilla of submarines to Falmouth, just to shoot and sink them? That could be done anywhere, not towed hundreds of miles at great cost.”. There was also an issue of the submarines blowing ashore, one was supposed to have gone in at Gyllyngvase Beach, which is on the west edge of Falmouth Bay, the rest ended up on Pendennis Point, to the north of the bay, this did not make sense, so we decided to look into what actually happened.
Information is constantly coming forth, this is the factual information as we know it as of May 2018.
The exact reason why any were sent to Falmouth does not seem to be documented too well, we do know they were coming for explosive trials. There are also misleading reports about the actual number sent, somewhere between five and nine. On November 23rd 1920, a report in a newspaper stated “Experimental submarine sinks”. The story stated that an aft panel had become loose on one of the U-Boats, SM (Seiner Majestät, His Majesty’s) UB118, it started taking on water off of Dodman Point. It then created a lot of drag and the tow broke. Knowing that it would continue to break it’s tow with the extra weight of water now inside, it had to be sunk as it would be a danger to shipping if left. It was going to be easier to sink it than try to bail it out and restart the tow. The auxiliary patrol vessel ‘Kennet’, fired on UB118 and sank it. There are two U-Boat wrecks listed near Dodman Point, UB113 and UB118. UB113 was on patrol when lost according to official records, UB118 was part of the convoy to Falmouth. Whether UB113 is actually there, is another project for the future. The remaining U-Boat flotilla ended up moored in Falmouth Bay, awaiting whatever their fate would be.
Naval records stored within the National Archive, state that they were used in explosive experiments, to test for weaknesses in their construction. A huge twin hulled submarine lifting rig, the steam powered ex-German submarine support vessel, Cyklop, carried the subs out into deeper water, lowering them down to the required depth.
Trial 4 stated that UB106 was at a depth of 100ft, in 22 fathoms of water. A net mine with 45 lbs of Amatol was placed 6ft off the port beam. The charge was set off, the sub was then recovered and inspected for damage. Trial 4 completely filled the sub with water, the bow was bent to starboard, straining the bow tubes causing them to leak. At the end of the tests, they were dropped off close to the rocks on Pendennis. Within the National Archive, there is a photo of UB86 and the stern of Cyklop, captioned “BEACHING U.B.86. STERN OF CYKLOP”.
They were then manually hauled up onto the rocks, below the castle. Another photo shows around twenty men on the shore leaning back, with the caption ‘UB-106 being hauled ashore’. The angle of the rope lines up with the remains of two metal spikes sticking out of the rocks, quite likely where there had some pulley blocks to help with the task. It is believed they were beached as and when they became too damaged to withstand another trial. UB97 had to have barrels strapped to it’s bow to help it float, before it was beached.
What we do know is that on December 16th 1920, UB112 appeared in a newspaper stating that this U-Boat was ashore. The newspaper piece also stated that experiments were expected to continue after Christmas. Trial 4 stated above, is dated 17th January 1921, so they did return.
The official records stated that UB86, UB97, UB112, UB106, UB128 & UC92 arrived at Falmouth, so six in total. We have photos of five on the rocks, backed up by a newspaper article dated April 2nd, stating there were five U-Boats on the rocks. A few days earlier on March 28th, another newspaper article showed UB112, with a conning tower just sticking out of the water behind it. That makes six submarines.
Over the years, many photos were taken of the submarines. Most offered no clues as to what they were. One photo, from an unknown source, shows a U-Boat in a gully, with it’s stern out of the water. On the side of the conning tower, it’s markings of UB86 are clearly visible. Quite a bit of that submarine remains underwater today. On a very low spring tide, some of it is visible from the surface.
A lot of the contemporary photographs showed both UB86 with another submarine close to it.
Within the records at Historic England, they have a collection of photographs, taken by a British Naval submariner of the time, Jack Casement. There are also copies of these in the National Archive. They are of UB86 and another submarine, one of the H.E. photos shows the markings of that submarine, UB112. There are some remains of this submarine left today, although most of it lies flat and close to the sea bed. Divers notice a large three pronged fork, which is the highest point of the wreckage that remains. It is thought to be part of the hydro-vane’s mechanism.
A little further east of these two wrecked submarines, there are remains of three more. Most of the time the remaining bits of these lie hidden under the sand, only becoming occasionally exposed after a storm. These are virtually impossible to identify as submarines underwater. One is UB106, according to an excerpt from the National Archive and the photograph of it being hauled ashore.
There are two submarines next to it, so far not known as well as the sub in deeper water. The sub that is now on Castle Beach, was not on Castle Beach at the time. It was hauled there later and salvaged. The subs on the rocks underwent a lot of salvage over the years, it would have been a major job to drag one of them off and onto Castle Beach. So the logical answer would be the sub in deeper water behind UB112, so this was most likely UC92. This leaves the two subs between UB86 and UB106, one is UB97 and one is UB128. Historic England have a photo showing the side of the conning tower of the sub next to UB106, it reads UB128, which leaves the middle sub to be UB97.
A newspaper article dated June 1921, states that the Steam Tug ‘Alice’ sank on it’s mooring one night near Pendennis. Alice had been involved in salvage operations on the submarines when it sank.
Wessex Archaeology spent two days in July 2013, investigating the Castle Beach site, taking photos etc. I assisted and even revisited to go and take a couple of extra measurements for their official record. There are six circular features near the shore end of the sub, measuring 1m in diameter and 9m from front of the first to the rear of the last. This was the last piece of data required to determine that it is in fact UC92. The six circular features are the mine shafts, UC92 was the only mine layer of the six submarines. Records state UC92 was lifted in 1971 and scrapped, it looks like it wasn’t lifted, just dragged up onto Castle Beach to be scrapped. The date of 1971 is a bit suspect, on a postcard dated 1957, the remains of UC92 can be seen. The stern now lies at 50.147027, -5.055695, the bow at 50.147299, -5.055984, it is visible on Bing maps or Google maps. On a low spring tide, the bow is visible out of the water.
Over the years the Falmouth U-Boats have had a hard time. They were gradually broken up and salvaged. In Roland Morris’ book, “Island Treasure”, he mentions the Falmouth U-Boats. In it he states – “Many years ago, I cut up several ex-German submarines. These were the small First World War U-boats of about 800 tons and they lay about on the rocks at Falmouth like a flock of stranded whales. Many years after, a bather gashed a leg on an underwater projection in the vicinity of these wrecks.”. Another story states that whatever was left, was then possibly flattened by George Renton in 1966/7. Contracted by the Navy or maybe by the Harbour Master, George, or whoever it was, did a fine job of flattening the remains.
Details within the National Archive “Explosive trials on German submarines: 1921“ ref:ADM 189/102, are held at the National Archives, Kew.
So of the seven we know, from west to east:
- UC92 now off Castle Beach, originally in deeper water behind UB112
- UB112 most westerly on Pendennis
- UB86 next heading east from UB112 on Pendennis
- UB97 unidentified but believed to be the next heading east on Pendennis
- UB128 next heading east from UB112 on Pendennis
- UB106 the most easterly on Pendennis
- UB118 off Dodman
From newspaper clippings we know the U-Boats would have arrived around November 23 1920. By December 16, just over three weeks later, UB112 was on the rocks. The trials continued after Christmas 1920 into 1921. With newspaper reports from March and April showing all the U-Boats on the rocks, plus the salvage being under way in June, experiments never continued for very long. Therefore, the U-Boats were only experimented on for a very short period of time, completing 17 explosive trials.
There may have been more U-Boats, we may find out one day.
A group of volunteer divers, led by Mark Milburn, went out into Falmouth Bay today to release seven hundred juvenile lobsters for the National Lobster Hatchery. Their chosen location was just off of Rosemullion Headland. Diving in two groups, Mr Milburn dived with the first group, they descended and released around half the lobsters. They then headed along the reef to do a little exploring. It wasn’t long before they came across a piece of net, standing 4-5m from the sea bed. They then realised that it continued a long way and was stretched across the reef. Within a few metres they came across some spider crabs, caught in the net, they started to cut the crabs free. Once they had released the crabs, placing them some distance away, they continued along the net. The net had dozens of spider crabs, brown crabs and lobsters trapped along it’s length, stretching out for over one hundred metres across the reef. The divers left a surface marker buoy in place for the second group to locate the net. The first group thought it was going to be a very dangerous operation to remove the net, the nest group could offer a second opinion about potentially removing the net. The first group headed for the surface, where their boat came to collect them. They dropped a buoyed anchor by the surface marker buoy, which was then recovered.
While the second group was kitting up, a local fisherman, Tim Bailey came across to see if the representative from the National Lobster Hatchery was on board. She hadn’t gone out on the boat but had returned to the hatchery in Padstow. Mr Milburn told Mr Bailey of the net, explaining it’s size and direction as best he could from what he had seen. Mr Bailey offered to help recover the net using his mechanical hauler aboard his boat. It would be a lot safer than divers trying to do it. The second group entered the water and descended down the buoyed anchor line. Once they reached the sea bed, they released the rest of the baby lobsters, they then tied the anchor to the rope of the net. Once they competed they dive, Mr Bailey picked up the buoyed line and attached it to his hauler. Four of the divers went aboard Mr Bailey’s boat to help bring the net aboard. For over thirty minutes they pulled and hauled at the net, slowly dragging it aboard. Eventually they managed to bring the whole net aboard, with an estimated length at well over one hundred metres. Once back at harbour, more fishermen came to help Mr Bailey with the disposal of the net. How many creatures it has caught and killed will never be known, it won’t be able to kill any more.