Kendall McDonald, a former Fleet Street editor, has been diving (and writing about it) for more than 45 years. He has been DIVER's wreck expert since 1960.
FAR MULBERRY PUZZLE - HOW DID IT SINK?
My club has been discussing our usual D-Day anniversary dive on the Far or Outer Mulberry off Pagham Harbour, and one of the new boys started asking questions we couldn't answer. In the 'Dive Sussex' book you did a first-class job of reporting the facts about this Mulberry which missed the Normandy landings, but he reckons someone must have blown it to bits using more than strafing runs from Typhoon fighters practising for sweeps in support of our troops in France. Aircraft may have sunk most of the D-Day debris in the area, but surely something bigger was used on the Mulberry? John Messent
I haven't dived the Mulberry for years, but I didn't lose interest in it after our first dives in 1952. It was the only wreck within easy reach of Bognor, where we kept a small boat, and since then thousands of novice divers have done their first wreck dives there. It was always good value: good vis, shelter from tide runs and more than good value for the huge amount of marine life that sheltered in an around the Mulberry. The Hydrographic Office called it a 'wreck', because although it was made of concrete it had a boat-shaped bow and stern and was designed to float and to be pulled and pushed by tugs. Two big Mulberry units are recorded as being sunk in the area. The Far Mulberry, a Phoenix A-type, was raised from its temporary seabed location on 20 May, 1944 to see if the system worked. It did, but the Mulberry broke its back after being allowed to settle back crossways over the hole it had left in the seabed. Another unit was reported as rammed near Selsey by a small tug 'just as it was being taken over for the cross-Channel tow' but it is unlikely to be the Far Mulberry, as it was much further out to sea. I tend to agree with your questioner. I tried hard to find eyewitnesses to a Typhoon strafing, asking local fishermen and their fathers what happened to the Far Mulberry and the craft around it, and getting requests for information published in local newspapers. One fisherman had heard that someone had dropped a big sea-mine into the Mulberry and detonated it, but who, why, what and when, he couldn't say. Can anyone confirm this? Is there any record of an RAF bombing and strafing range over the area? Who gathered the Landing Craft Men Mark I, the concrete petrol barge, the air-sea rescue Cuckoo and other D-Day debris around the Far Mulberry and sank the lot? There must be some RAF or RN records somewhere. Please let us all know.
Confusion off Start Point
I am looking for information about the ss Agnete, on which my wife's great-uncle, James Harrow, was Second Officer. The Commonwealth War Graves site says he was killed on 24 April, 1918. Derek Reynolds.
I receive a huge number of enquiries from people who are clearly not divers, but are compiling family histories. Usually I have to put these to one side, as this column is aimed at helping divers, but sometimes genealogical questions do have a bearing on diving matters. This question, for example, enables me to come back to the Agnete, which is once again causing problems for divers in the South-west. The 1127 ton armed merchantman was torpedoed by UB-40 and sank south of Start Point, Devon, on 24 April, 1918, on her way from Newport to Rouen with coal. James Harrow was one of 12 crew-members, including the Master, who died. Eight survived. The wreck's position was given as 50 11. 07N; 03 39.03W. Local divers used to think this was the location of the Hazelpark, though we now know that Hazelpark lies to the south at 50 09.72N; 03 39.47W. But we are also now sure that the position is not that of the Agnete. Fred Tones of Birmingham told the Wreck Section he had been diving in that position on what was clearly a petrol tanker. He thought it was the 5426-ton Neches, lost on 15 May, 1918, when she hit something several miles south of Start Point. Fred's wreck had four boilers and a huge engine driving a single prop with 7ft blades. The Agnete had only one boiler and a very small-hp engine. So where is the Agnete? Some divers have suggested that the Neches might have sunk after striking the Agnete wreckage and that the two are near one another. So if any divers can positively identify a nearby wreck as the Agnete, I'd like a position and to learn what the wreck looks like now.
Where can I get a photo of HMS Moldavia? My mother, now 98, was born in India and says she sailed to England on this vessel around 1912. Is this possible? Beryl Lowe.
You should have faith in your mother's memory! It is highly likely that she was on the Moldavia in 1912. The 9505-ton liner would become 'HMS' only on being taken over from P&O and turned into an armed merchant cruiser at the beginning of World War One. She was built at Greenock by Caird and Co at a cost of£336,178 , one of the first two M-class series of luxury liners - the Mongolia was the other. Launched in 1903, she sailed on the India and Australia routes until 1914. HMS Moldavia was torpedoed by Oberleutnant Johann Lohs' UB-57 on 23 May, 1918 while carrying US troops to Britain to fight in France. Fifty-seven 'doughboys' were killed, the only losses in the whole operation, in which more than a million troops were carried across the Atlantic in British ships. Today the liner lies 24 miles due south of Littlehampton, Sussex, on its port side in 45m, its stern the highest point 28m below the surface. Littlehampton dive boats visit the wreck regularly. Diving details and a photograph are in the Diver Guide Dive Sussex, but P&O may well supply you with a photo from its records.
Have divers recovered any items from the armed trawler Falmouth III, which was sunk about three miles south of Dover Admiralty Pier in 1915? Does anyone own her? I would like to own something from her as a reminder of my great-grandfather, who was lost on her. Jonathan Grobler
This, of course, is another of those family-history enquiries but it may interest divers for several reasons. First, it is a sensitive subject. Divers undoubtedly treat the wreck as a war grave. RNR Sub-Lt WA McIntosh was killed when Falmouth III hit a German mine laid by UC-5. He was doing a minesweeping course, and as he was the only casualty, he was presumably Jonathan's great-grandfather. If a diver raised any item for Jonathan it is difficult to know whether, as he is a relative of a casualty, that would be considered a breach of the sanctity of a war grave. The Falmouth III has yet to be designated under the Military Remains Act 1986, though the MoD is publishing new designations soon. The wreck belongs to the Royal Navy. Falmouth III was requisitioned as a minesweeper, converted from a 198-ton hired trawler. It is very broken and mostly buried in the sand-mud seabed in 24m, though traces of the port side and a little of the boiler still shows. Falmouth III was struck by one of four mines laid in line with Dover Harbour's western arm overnight on 16 November, 1915. She sank on top of the wrecked hospital ship Anglia, a victim two days earlier of the same minefield with the loss of 129 aboard, including many wounded soldiers. Falmouth III perched on Anglia for several days until a gale shook it off, causing further damage.
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