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Home arrow Dive Reports arrow A Dive To Remember - 1981: Guildford divers discover the remains of a 57 year old tragedy.
Saturday, 19 August 2017
 
 
A Dive To Remember - 1981: Guildford divers discover the remains of a 57 year old tragedy. Print

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By Ted Burrrows

Prologue:

Submarines do not usually make for good wreck diving as generally you cannot get inside them, but this one was something different.

For a change the weather was being kind to us, it was the fourth time we had come down to Weymouth to have a week's diving holiday and unlike previous years when we had lost several days through bad weather, this year was completely the opposite. The sun was shining and the sea was flat calm. Because the conditions were so good, Andy suggested that we took a look at an obstruction reported to him by a couple of trawler skippers who had snagged their nets on it. It was deep, lying in 180 ft of water although it stood up about 35 feet from the seabed. We marked off the position on the chart but there was nothing shown at this position, the nearest wreck being about a mile away.

The morning of August 25th 1981 was bright and sunny, as it had been the previous day and, as we left Weymouth Harbour, the 6 members of the group were looking forward to a good day's diving. When we arrived at the dive area the sea was flat calm; absolutely perfect conditions and we slowly circled round trying to locate the wreck with the sounder going. After about 5 minutes a bump appeared in the trace; we had found it. More passes were made in order to determine which way the wreck lay and also to find the highest point. One small piece seemed to stick up quite a bit higher than the rest of it and Andy said he would try to drop the shot line onto this high part. The boat was carefully manoeuvred until we were sitting right over the wreck. The shot weight was dropped over the side and disappeared into the blue water until only the marker buoys on the surface were visible. A few further passes to ensure the shot was on the wreck and then we just had to wait until the tide eased. We started to kit up.

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Only 4 of the group were going to dive (the other 2 felt it was rather too deep for them.). I, Bob Wanstall, Tony Johnson and skipper Andy prepared our equipment and kitted up. It was Tony and Andy's turn to dive first and when they were ready the boat was slowly motored up to the buoys and they dropped over the side and disappeared beneath the surface We had agreed to give them 7 minutes to check that the shot was on the wreck and everything was OK before the next pair entered the water. The minutes ticked by slowly as Bob and myself, fully kitted sat watching the bubbles rise from the pair below. 7 minutes were up and we had seen the bubbles moving away from the shot line obviously down the length of the wreck.

The boat moved up to the buoys and soon Bob and I were on our way down the shot line. As we passed through 100 ft the light began to Jim and by the time we reached 150 ft we were in the gloom that we had become accustomed to whilst diving to this sort of depth. I could see Bob just in front of me as he let go the shot line, dropped and slowly sank down on to the decking below him. As I let go the line I noticed the shot weight lodged in some superstructure. We signalled to each other that all was OK, checked our watches and depth gauges and then, as our eyes became more accustomed to the gloom we started to look around us. Visibility was quite good, in the order of 30ff. As I looked back up to where the shot line was I realised that this superstructure was a conning tower and what we were on, was a submarine. We swam over to the conning tower and started looking around. It was small, quite thin in section with a platform at the top. There was no sign of any hatch up through the centre and very little in the way of equipment in the conning tower itself. From between the tubes of the periscopes a head of a conger stuck out and as we swam round the other side we could see the rest of its massive body, the first of many guardians of this wreck.

As we moved off down the length of the boat we could see that the casing had gone and the decking we were moving along was the pressure hull. We came across a box like structure with 2 large tubes coming out of either end before disappearing into the hull. Again more congers lurked within the structure.

We moved on down the boat, a large ling swam across in front of us, and then we came to the gash in the hull. It was if someone had dealt a mighty blow to the boat with an enormous axe, the plates at the side turning inwards. The gash was about 2ff wide at it's widest tapering down to nothing more than a groove over the top of the hull. Moving past this we came to the propellers and rudder so we knew we were at the stern. We now knew how she lay, sitting almost upright on the sea bed.

We started to swim back along the starboard side until we came to the gash where now 4 menacing grey snouts peered out at us. I examined the gash and signalled to Bob that it looked as if the boat had been rammed. Perhaps another 6ff deeper and she would have got away with it, the ramming vessel passing over the top of her and missing the pressure hull.

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Swimming back past the conning tower I noticed a trawl net snagged across the wreck. Further forward we came to the forward torpedo loading hatch that lay open and the now familiar sight of three grey snouts and beady eyes watching our every move. I switched on my torch and shone it past them into the hull but could see very little. One of the congers moved forward and I moved back. It continued to come, it's eye's intent on the torch I held in my hand. I moved further back, it continued to advance so I switched off the torch and it returned back to its lair. Further forward we passed a capstan, exposed by the eroded casing, and then we were at the bow.

The upper torpedo tube door on the port side was open and as I looked beyond it towards the seabed the whole sea floor seemed to be alive. I realised that below me was a mass of fish, everywhere you looked were ling and large cod, moving and weaving amongst themselves making an ever changing pattern of graceful movement. Bob and I checked watches and we had about 8 minutes left.

I had another look around the bow at the 3 remaining torpedo tubes whose doors were closed and then we moved off back to the conning Lower. As we passed the forward torpedo loading hatch our 3 friends were still there, ever watchful. Back at the conning tower we circled around it trying to find some clue as to the identification of the boat but there were no markings visible so it was a case of trying to memorise the profile of the tower, it's layout and salient features.

Bob signalled that we had just time for another quick look aft before our bottom time was up. He had already changed over to his reserve cylinder, his main cylinders were smaller than mine, but he had a larger reserve. We moved the shot weight from out of the conning tower and dropped it down tide of the wreck. We had seen nothing of Tony and Andy, but we knew by now they would be on the line doing their decompression stops.

We started back up to start our own decompression, with one last look back at the submarine now almost entirely visible, the water gradually getting lighter until we reached 3Oft and began the first of our 3 stops. Above us we could see Tony and Andy at the 20ff mark. Then it was our turn at 20ft and finally 10ft. After what seemed an eternity Bob and I looked at our watches, looked at one and other, that was our penance served. We could return to the surface safely.

What was it? This is what everyone was asking, was it British or German, theories were expounded and shot down. Andy mentioned about the L24 that was rammed off Portland during an exercise. It seemed possible, the boat had definitely been hit by something sharp. It seemed to be the most likely theory.

Ashore in one of the dive shops we found an old newspaper cutting referring to the accident of the L24 but no positive proof. I searched through my collection of books on submarines for pictures of L class boats, but all looked different with larger conning towers and a gun mounted ahead of the tower. The one we had seen had no gun and looked more like an H class boat.

It was not until some weeks later when I visited the Submarine museum at Gosport that I found a picture of the L24 and knew straight away that was the boat we had dived on. I got into discussion with the assistant curator who was initially sceptical about my tale but then produced the transcript from the court of enquiry and I spent a fascinating hour reading the accounts from the officers on the battleships Resolution, which struck the L24, and the Revenge which was directly ahead of Resolution. Their account of what happened during that fateful exercise on 10th January 1924 tied up exactly with the damage found, thus confirming that this most memorable dive had been the L24.

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Epilogue

The article was originally written for the newsletter published by the submarine museum for ex-submariners. The admiralty gives the position of the L24 as being some 5 miles from where we found her and the survey report states that she was all covered in weed. We dived the wreck at the position given and found a small trawler festooned with nets, but as you would expect at this depth, no sign of weed.

HMS Resolution
HMS Resolution

 
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