TIM AND I WERE THE FIRST to drop into the cold, clear water. A few easy fin-strokes started us toward the shotline as we submerged.
In those seconds the cold had already stared to bite through my ridiculously inadequate 3mm gloves, but from 4m down the wreck of the Rosecastle was already clearly visible 30m below, and I stopped thinking about my rapidly numbing fingers.
The shotline was tied at deck level on its port side, a little toward the stern. We quickly dropped below it, heading forward along the side of the hull as we went deeper.
A touch of the inflator halted our descent at 44m, just a metre or two above a seabed of coarse, light sand. Within seconds we reached the great hole in the wreck’s side, blown by a torpedo from Friedrich-Wilhelm Wissman’s U518 on 2 November, 1942.
Gas was good, Tim was good – I led in through the gash. Visibility remained excellent, but it was dark inside the hull. I saw the water behind me light up as Tim turned on his Halcyon.
To our right we passed a narrow vertical gash filled with pipes and cables. A little further on saw a second hole, just a foot across and framing only blackness. Then came a larger break in the smooth steel.
By the glow from Tim’s torch I could see the jagged edges of torn metal plate as I eased through.
Ahead was a vertical metal pipe a foot wide. I went left around it, straight into a mass of tightly packed machinery and low-hanging cables. It looked passable, but not inviting.
Tim wasn’t too close behind, so there was room to turn and swim the other way past the pipe, ascending a little and finning over the open ironwork of an engineering walkway before emerging into a cavernous engine-room.

PAUSING FOR TIM TO JOIN ME, we headed aft, crossing to the starboard side of the engine-room and dropping a little deeper until we found what we’d come to see – the engine-room telegraph repeater.
The old instrument, some 45cm across, had been made by JW Ray & Co of South Castle Street, Liverpool. It had been under water for almost 68 years, yet the wording on the face was legible.
I took a couple of pictures, then moved aside for Tim and his video camera.
Turning on my own light, I looked around. Every walkway and set of stairs was intact and in place. On the engine the crankshaft, big ends and con-rods were all discernible, running up into the shrouds of the cylinder-heads.
A few seconds digging in the silt that had accumulated in the corners would have turned up spanners and other tools, but that would have been sacrilege. Twenty-three men survived the sinking, but 28 more died as the German torpedo ripped the ship open, allowing the frigid water to fill her broken hull.
A soft chiming interrupted as my computer politely informed me that my no-deco time was ending. In water this cold, neither of us wanted extended stops. Then again, we were in no hurry to depart.
High above were the open vents of the engine-room skylights. We found our way up easily, taking our time despite the increasing deco obligation.
Somewhere there must be doorways leading into the hull, and everywhere there was machinery that looked as if a few hours’ work would get it running once more.
Take away the water and we might have been in a museum, the wreck was so well preserved.

WE EMERGED THROUGH the hatches at around 30m, and headed a short way across the open deck on top of the engineering accommodation to a small deckhouse that resembled a garden shed.
The doorway was on the stern side, and inside was not just the place where a Marconi radio set would have been, or the remains of one, but an intact set, with bulbs, switches and capacitors. There was even a skeletal Morse key on the bench.
A new battery would not have powered it up, but I’d bet that my old BSAC Equipment Officer could have had it working again.
It really was time to ascend, and we were conveniently close to the shot.
Off-gassing is less efficient in such cold water, so we wanted to keep everything nice and easy, but with no current and excellent vis we kept the wreck in sight on all but our final 3m safety stop.
Far below, Jenny and Phil were starting their ascent by this point.
They had enjoyed their dive as well, if the big OKs were any indicator.
Back on the boat, Divemaster Arthur helped unclip our stages and handed me a hot chocolate and Tim a black tea the instant our gloves were off. Once the others were back onboard, Skipper Bill headed us along the coast of Bell Island for some après-dive sightseeing.
Back in the late 19th century, and for the first half of the 20th, much of the world’s iron ore was mined on Bell Island, at the easterly extremity of Newfoundland, Canada.
The mines began a few hundred metres inshore, but finished as much as two miles out under the seabed, as the miners followed the ore-bearing rock.
Between the wars, the specially built Dominion and Scapa piers on Bell Island were as busy as they had ever been, discharging iron-ore into the holds of vessels from around the globe.
When war became inevitable in 1939, Germany bought over half a million tons of ore. The last German ore-carrier left the island only hours before World War Two began.
After that, the iron went to the Allies for tanks, ships, planes, guns, helmets, bayonets and a thousand other things. Without it the war effort would have collapsed, so the Bell Island anchorage was a prime target.
In 1942, Korvettankapitan Rolf Ruggeberg took charge of U513, and headed across the grey wastes of the North Atlantic on her maiden patrol. Rounding Bell Island on 5 September, he found six ships riding in the anchorage, and quickly lined up to attack the Saganaga.
U513’s first “eel” went into the water, but the U-boat’s inexperienced crew had forgotten to compensate for the vessel’s changed buoyancy, and she bobbed to the surface before sinking again.
That torpedo missed, but her next didn’t. Within an hour the Saganaga and the nearby Lord Strathcona were on the bottom, taking with them 30 merchant mariners.
Two months later, Oberstleutnant Wissman took U518 on her first wartime patrol to Bell Island.
On 2 November she sent the PLM27 and the Rosecastle to the bottom, along with 35 more seamen.
On the way home, U518 damaged two more merchant ships and sank the Empire Sailor and the Caddo.
These two U-boats were sunk later in the war, but both commanders had already moved on, and survived the war. Ruggeberg was Naval Attache to London in the 1960s.

CRUISING ALONGSIDE THE CLIFFS, we could see the reddish-coloured rocks, stained by the presence of iron ore, and the sites where the great loading piers had stood until the mines closed for dismantling in 1966.
High on the cliffs, not far from the wreck-sites, a pair of WW1-vintage 4in guns still point their barrels over the anchorage. These, along with nets and searchlights, formed the defences of the anchorage, defences strengthened with booms and a standing Canadian naval patrol after the 1942 attacks.
Cape Race, at Newfoundland’s tip, is the closest point to Europe on the North American continent, so a direct flight from Heathrow to St John’s takes less time than a hop to Sharm or Hurghada.
Even better, Air Canada is a scheduled airline and its planes have seats that are wide enough to fit your backside into, and far enough apart to prevent damage to your knees.
We were diving with Ocean Quest and staying at its purpose-built lodge in Conception Bay South.
The lodge was warm and comfy, with a huge downstairs meeting room filled with leather sofas at one end and a dining table and kitchen area at the other, and very nicely appointed twin and double rooms upstairs, each with private facilities and hot showers.
Skipper Bill collected us from the airport and dropped us at the Lodge, and Rick Stanley, who owns Ocean Quest, took us back, as well as showing us around Bell Island on our last day.
Each morning we went downstairs to bacon, eggs, pancakes and more before heading across to the dive-shop, where Ocean Quest’s do-anything guy Roger had our tanks ready and waiting.
Roger would drive us to the jetty, where Bill and Arthur would be waiting.
Standard practice is to dive PLM27 first. She’s the shallowest wreck at 30m to the seabed, but just 20m or so to her decks, and the most battered.
Icebergs sometimes find their way into the sheltered waters, and collisions between the stationary wreck and moving icebergs (yes, really) have all but flattened her bridge.
Next deepest is the Saganaga. The torpedo impact jolted her bridge telegraph forward into the depths of number 2 hold, plucked the big anchor from the seabed ahead of her and curled it up and back and over, leaving it lying on her after-deck beside a hold, the chain draped almost the length of the wreck. That hook must weigh 10 tonnes.
Lying open beside the shot was a box of what looked like .303 calibre ammunition, on top of a dislodged porthole. There is, fortunately, a “no-take” policy on souvenirs. Depths of 25-30m are needed on Saganaga.
Deeper still is the Lord Strathcona, sister of the Rosecastle. The crowning glories are the intact Marconi room on the bridge and the open-air accommodation provided for the engineering officers.
The Marconi room has to be seen. Even the little bakelite plaque that identifies the radio as Marconi property is still there. The engineering accommodation wasn’t really open-air, of course, but with the top of the superstructure gone you get a bird’s-eye view of baths, toilets and bunks in otherwise intact rooms. You’ll find yourself at 30-35m on this tour.
Our final dive of the week was on the Rosecastle. Tim and I headed for the bridge, leaving the engine-room to Phil and Jenny.
In still water with excellent visibility we left the line as soon as the wreck was clearly in sight, and headed forward.
The bridge wasn’t far away, rising three decks high above the main deck of the freighter, but finding a way inside was a challenge. The wreck is so densely covered in marine growth that every doorway seemed half its size,
and we had to push thick-stemmed plumose anemones out of the way and send spider-crabs scurrying for shelter, or spinning into the water, to get into the middle deck level. From here Captain WJ McDonald would have worked his vessel.
On the port side, a rectangular hatch in the deck yawned open and invited us down to the lower level, where the wooden walls that had divided the large space into individual rooms were still mostly in place.
This was a tight, enclosed space with easily disturbed silt on the floor and stray electrical cable dangling from the bulkheads and decking above, but the condition of preservation made exploration irresistible.

TIM’S LAMP FLASHED on the floor ahead, and he scooped up what looked like a full service of tea-cups and matching saucers. I waved a gloved hand at the floor to waft away the silt, and saw cutlery and more crockery.
On the wall above were the remains of a wooden cabinet, and it was easy to imagine a crewman packing away the utensils and closing the cupboard door after breakfast on 2 November, 1942, unaware that U518 was nearby.
Carefully replacing the items where we found them, we dashed for the stern and the old, US-made 4in deck gun, so thickly encrusted with marine growth that only the shape and the position made it possible to identify it.
Rosecastle had been at anchor at one of the loading piers when Ruggeberg made his September attack, and this gun had fired on U513 when she made her unplanned journey to the surface after launching her first torpedo – something to think about on our final stops.
The four Bell Island wrecks are as intact as shipwrecks can be. The cold water and lack of diver-traffic has limited damage, and makes each of them a superb time-capsule.
For a rough idea of what the diving is like, UK divers could think a merchant version of Scapa Flow with good vis, and for Red Sea divers a fair comparison is Rosalie Moller, only bigger, better preserved and with better vis.
However experienced a wreck-diver you are, these wrecks will impress.
Just don’t forget the 65 merchant mariners who died in those frigid northern waters when they were sunk.

FACTFILE
GETTING THERE: Flights from Heathrow to Newfoundland with Air Canada take around five hours direct, or you can go via Halifax, Nova Scotia. British visitors don’t need a visa.
DIVING & ACCOMMODATION: Ocean Quest is the only dive operator nearby. Standard practice is for two dives from its own boat with a 90-120min surface interval, and you either take a second cylinder or a top-up cylinder and decanting hose if you’re twinned. Air and nitrox can be pumped on demand at the dive shop, but advance notice is required for helium or Sofnolime.
WHEN TO GO: Diving season in Newfoundland is May-October. Water temperatures at depth vary from 0° in early May to 6-7°C later in the season – add 4-5° at stop-depths. Vis is usually 30m-plus, though when the water warms up plankton blooms are possible. Weather out of the water is similar to that of the UK. In season you can swim with icebergs or whales, and there are other sites nearby if you’ve had enough of the four main wrecks.
MONEY: Canadian dollar..
PRICES: A one-week package from Scuba Travel including flights, transfers, accommodation, breakfast and lunch (try the moose soup!) and 10 boat dives costs around £1795, www.scubatravel.com.
TOURIST INFORMATION: www.newfoundlandlabrador.com