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THERE ARE STILL TRACES OF EARLIER MILITARY action along the East Lothian coastline. The golden beaches of Longniddry are fringed by tank-busting blocks, 3m cubes of concrete designed to help foil an envisaged invasion. These resilient defences were never needed for that purpose but caused many a minor casualty among the kids who jump off them on hot summer days.
Aberlady Bay, a few miles down the coast, has an even larger block. Tethered to it are two midget submarines said to be the same class of craft as those that attacked the Tirpitz.
They can be viewed at low tide and are well worth a visit if the weather is too rough for diving.
Many years ago, my eye was caught by a fishermans chart showing a vessel named in bold writing as the Munchen. This pre-Dreadnought German light cruiser would turn out to be the most impressive and historically interesting wreck in the area, but it was only recently that I got to dive it.
The only other remains of these ships are in Scapa Flow in the Orkney Isles. Here was an intact light cruiser which, unlike those in Scapa, took a very active part in the Battle of Jutland. And it lay fewer than 20 miles from my front door.

When I had first seen that chart, the wreck had appeared to be beyond sport-diving limits, lying on its port side with its shallowest section in 48m. I was quite inexperienced at the time, so put the Munchen to the back of my mind.
Fifteen years later, I was surprised to learn that two members of my club had dived the wreck. I turned green as they described their explorations. Within two weeks I too was diving the Munchen.
At Jutland, Commodore Von Reuter (who would later command the interned High Seas Fleet in Scapa Flow) was in charge of the 4th Scouting Group, in the light cruiser Settin. Munchen was second in line, under Commander Bocker.
All the ships in this group were slow and poorly armed by 1916 standards. The 3250 ton Munchen, which could steam at 22 knots, carried ten 4.1in guns, two machine guns and two submerged 17.7in torpedo tubes. She had no belt armour, her deck armour was 2in thick and the deck ends were less than an inch thick.
HMS Falmouth of the 3rd Light Cruiser Squadron sighted the 4th and 2nd Scouting Group vessels soon after 10pm on 31 May, but it was seven minutes before the German vessels noticed the threat. The 2nd SG turned away, drawing fire from the British battle cruisers, while the 4th SG steered a course to intercept the British.

Two 6in shells hit the Munchen, the second exploding in the upper part of the third funnel and severely damaging the casings and pipes around the four aft boilers. Steam pressure could be maintained only with difficulty but the Munchen and Settin maintained the attack, the Munchen firing 63 shells, though unsuccessfully. After 10 minutes the 4th SG disengaged and was quickly lost in the mist.
Some two hours later the 4th SG was forced to slow down as two German battle cruisers, Moltke and Seydlitz, crossed the bows of the light cruisers. Ships to the rear of the line, unaware of the speed reduction, closed up in an irregular formation. Some 3000m away, the British 2nd Light Cruiser Squadron sighted the German ships.
HMS Southampton exchanged fire with the Munchen, Settin and Rostock. Shells rained on the Southampton, destroying her searchlights, and silencing her guns. She sank, but only after torpedoing and sinking the ancient light cruiser Frauenlob.
The Munchen had to manoeuvre violently to avoid the stricken vessel, while firing a torpedo at, but missing, the Southampton.

The Munchen was hit by three shells. Two burst in the water, peppering the hull in 16 places and sending a splinter through the conning tower with its 4in armour. The third passed through the second funnel and destroyed the starboard range-finder. For two hours the Munchen had to be steered from the steering-gear compartment, because the drive gear in the conning tower had been damaged, but the problem was eventually traced and repaired.
After a brief engagement with British destroyers G11, V1 and V3 at about 20 past midnight, the Munchens battle action was over. The final threat came from her own side. Hannover and Hessen opened up on an imagined submarine and came close to fatally damaging the Munchen and Settin until Admiral Scheer gave the order to cease fire.
Amazingly, the Munchen had survived against better-armed and armoured adversaries, though eight of her crew died and 20 were injured.
She had fired 161 shells and been hit five times by the larger-calibre 6in British guns.

The war was almost over for the Munchen by 18 October, when Scheer cancelled another sortie to confront part of the Grand Fleet, fearing a trap. The Munchen was torpedoed by a British submarine a few hours after the High Seas Fleet had left safety.
She did not sink, and went to the British as part of war reparations, to be used for torpedo-testing in the Firth of Forth. I dont know if the killing blow came from an aircraft, surface vessel or sub, but the Munchen finally gave up and sank very quickly after a single hit.
After work I headed down the coast to North Berwick. I had been worrying all day that the weather would deteriorate, but the club RIB was already in the water in the harbour and conditions looked ideal.
The journey out was fast, but I noted the troughs deepening as we pulled further from land. The Munchen lay four miles off the Isle of Fidra and it was essential to dive it on a low neap tide, enabling us to reach the side of the hull at 48m. I would be diving on air with a nitrox 50% mix for deco.
The viz was good, and green light followed us a long way down before the water turned clear black. At 45m my torch beam picked out the starboard side of the Munchen, completely encrusted in a carpet of large orange and white plumose anemones.

As this was our first dive on the wreck we didnt know exactly how it rested on the seabed. Dropping down the vertical deck, we came to superstructure that would turn out to be the bridge. On top of this we found the ships wheel, encrusted in anemones and marine growth.
It looked smaller than I had expected - perhaps I was thinking of finding one the size of those on old sailing ships.
The most interesting direction appeared to be to our left, so we headed off towards the bow, passing air vents, mooring bollards and anchor hawse pipes, with the anchor chains running out from them. I noted a number of interesting items below deck level, especially where the forward deck-gun turret had once been, though the turret and its armament had been removed before the sinking, leaving a large hole in the deck.
Looking down from deck level, pipes could be seen running the length of the ship, confirming that these early light cruisers were designed for raiding rather than lengthy campaigns.
The ship had no fewer than 10 boilers below deck, plus the two Parsons engines, 400 tons of coal and ammunition stores. I could imagine that space below decks would be limited.
I felt that to enter the wreck below decks at this depth would be madness, even though interesting brass items shone below me in my torchlight.
I couldnt get over the stunning encrustation of the Munchen by soft corals at this depth, suggesting that the tide runs fast and hard over the wreck.

We eventually reached the bow. Its clean, straight edge, fringed only by large plumose anemones, sloped down into the darkness. I would have liked to explore this area further but we had planned to stay above 50m.
This we managed, following the starboard rail and taking in the immensity of the vessel until we arrived back at the shotline for 45 minutes of deco stops. After 15 years of waiting, I had not been disappointed.
Exploring this special ships history later added to the diving experience. I felt great respect for the men of both nations setting sail in these lightly armed ships, aware of the threat of encountering an enemy capital ship.

There are dive boats operating out of North Berwick, but air divers wishing to visit the Munchen should note that not all the local skippers will drop you on to it, as some impose a 50m maximum-depth policy on air.
They cannot guarantee that the shotline will land on the wreck, so there is the possibility of it landing on the sea floor at 58m.
Trimix is the obvious solution, but if you plan to dive the Munchen on air, check with your skipper first to avoid later disappointment.

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FACTFILE

GETTING THERE North Berwick is 20 miles south-east of Edinburgh. Branch off the A1 and follow well signposted roads for eight miles to North Berwick.
DIVING:Aquatrek Diving & Marine Services (01620 893952, www.aquatrek.demon.co.uk) can do air and nitrox fills and its Thistle B is a fully equipped fast offshore 105-style boat for 12 divers that will take divers to the Munchen. Safari Diving & RIB Charter has a RIB that can carry around eight divers (01620 89 00 22, www.divesafari-scotland.co.uk)
ACCOMMODATION: With Edinburgh so close, you will find any accommodation you like. North Berwick has a good selection of small hotels and B&B accommodation..
PRICES: Local prices are£25 for two dives, or£30 around the Isle of May and offshore wrecks.
FURTHER INFORMATION: Edinburgh and Lothians Tourist Board, 0131 473 3800, www.edinburgh.org




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