KendallQ

Kendall McDonald, a former Fleet Street editor, has been diving (and writing about it) for more than 45 years. He has been DIVERs wreck expert since 1960.
Seeking Wolves in sheeps clothing  
I have been researching WW1 U-boats and have read some tales of the way the submarines concealed themselves. Several times U-boats were reported as sneaking up on a victim disguised as a fishing vessel, with a small mizzen sail aft of the conning tower and attached to the periscope or radio mast. Is this likely
Henry


Yes, very likely. Reports of German subs using a dummy funnel (with smoke) or setting a mizzen sail aft are very common. At a distance the U-boat was easily mistaken for a drifter or trawler.

Such trickery needed care in its execution. A sub with a sail might well go unnoticed among trawlers at work over a wide area, but there is one report of a disguised U-boat which went into a bay with her fake mizzen flapping wildly against a headwind. Her commander was probably puzzled by the explosive reaction.
However, there is one camouflage story that is not true. It concerns Oberleutnant Johann Lohs in UB57, who sank the armed merchant cruiser, the 9505 ton Moldavia, 24 miles due south of Littlehampton, Sussex, on 23 May 1918.
Lohs is said to have concealed his periscope inside or beside a floating wooden soapbox tied to the conning tower. Lookouts on the British ships in the convoy are said to have failed to note that the box was moving against the tide until too late.
Dont believe it. Lohs chased the convoy flat out on the surface, but he dived before being spotted. The Moldavia, carrying 907 American troops, then zigzagged back across UB57s bow and Lohs fired one torpedo at her from a bow tube while at periscope depth.
The Moldavia is a magnificent dive at 50 23.13N; 00 28.72W in 43m, with 28m to her highest point at the stern. The viz is usually good. Littlehampton boats visit the wreck site by appointment.
What does salvor in possession mean  
On and off for 10 years we have dived the wreck of the 3421 ton German steamship Schiller, which was wrecked in 1875 on the Retarrier Ledge near the Bishop Light off the Scilly Isles. We have recovered silverware probably belonging to passengers Mr and Mrs N L Becker, ornate spoons bearing the initials NLB. We also brought up a small silver travelling sewing kit, the remains of a mother-of-pearl fan and a silver toast-rack.
We declared all these finds and gave them to the Isles of Scilly Museum, which has put on a small Schiller wreck display.
Last summer we recovered more artefacts, which we declared and gave to the museum, including a gold thimble and a $20 gold coin (nearly all the 300,000 gold coins carried had been salvaged by 1877). I have now received a letter from Richard Larn declaring himself a salvor in possession of the Schiller, a popular site with holiday divers. He also told me when I called on him in the Scilly Isles that I am interfering in a 12-year project.
If that were so, surely the Receiver of Wreck would have told me Is there such a thing as a salvor in possession Can we go on diving the wreck
Todd Stevens


There has always been confusion among divers about the law of Salvor in Possession. So I asked Mike Williams, senior lecturer in law at Wolverhampton University, who specialises in marine law and is an archaeological diver himself.
Does salvor in possession really exist He says it does. In 1798 the Aquila, a Swedish brig on her way from Cadiz to Hamburg, was abandoned by her crew and found by fishermen as a derelict. Those men are the first recorded SIPs.

The Dutch liner Tubantia, sunk in 1916, was the first wreck on which divers claimed to be salvors in possession
The first case concerning divers is of the Dutch liner Tubantia, torpedoed by a U-boat in 1916. Salvage operations by salvors in possession in the 1920s were spurred on by tales of£2m-worth of smuggled gold hidden in the Dutch cheeses that formed most of her cargo. A lot of hard cheese was found, but no gold.
Must you register your claim to be salvor in possession No, just declare it to the world in general. If challenged, you need evidence of possession, such as a continuous presence shown by a diving log, and formal records of a proper salvage operation done with the intention of benefiting the owner.
It is not essential for the SIP to buoy the wreck all the time, and the Receiver, having no record of a SIP, will be unable to inform divers when they declare items.
Mike Williams has told the Stevens group that the choice is theirs - carry on diving and wait for the SIP to take them to court with evidence of his salvage work, or give up diving the Schiller.
I asked Richard Larn if he intended to stop all divers on the Schiller.
The claim of salvor in possession of the Schiller, which has been widely publicised, is in the joint names of David McBride and myself, he said.
Mr Stevens was advised in writing that we were legally joint salvors of the Schiller as of January 2002, and a letter dated August 2002 respectfully requested that he cease to visit the site from then on. Mr Stevens, having then stated that he had every intention of continuing to dive the site, received a formal letter from our Admiralty lawyers in September which stated quite clearly that we were prepared to take out an injunction if necessary.
I have been diving in the Scilly Isles, including the Schiller, since 1964, before Mr Stevens was born, and David since 1986. It was Davids find of the ships bell and a large quantity of artefact material 12 years ago that started the current interest.
Is the site closed to other divers Yes, that is why we have taken this action, but if someone asks us if they can visit on trust, and under our conditions, any such request would be considered.
Epsilons fate  
Can you give details for my logbook of the steamer Epsilon. Without the story, its just some lumps of metal.
Bluebell Two


The story of the loss of this 331ft, 3050 ton Dutch steamer is one of bad luck for her skipper and good luck for Oberleutnant Wilhelm Fürbringer, commanding the minelayer UC17.
He laid a small field of mines off the entrance to Falmouth Harbour at the end of January, 1917. Epsilon was taken out of Falmouth on 31 January and left by the pilot just off Black Rock. Captain Klaas Lieuwen ordered full steam for Amsterdam, where he aimed to deliver 4760 tons of maize from Buenos Aires.
He had been moving for only a few minutes when a mine blew holes in Nos 1 and 2 holds and she started to fill. He and his crew took to the boats.
When they looked back, their ship was sitting in shallow water near the entrance with part of her poop, funnel and masts standing clear. Later, some dispersal salvage was carried out.
Why were these war graves salvaged  
I am very interested in the Deutschland-class pre-dreadnought German battleship Pommern, torpedoed by British destroyers at Jutland in 1916. I read that she has been heavily salvaged, but as all aboard were lost, this amazes me. Do you have details about the condition of the ship
Tony Schnurr


Innes McCartney led an expedition to the wrecks of Jutland in summer 2000, and says a huge amount of commercial salvage must have been carried out on most of them in the 60s.
Pommern is closest to the Danish coast and suffered more than her fair share, even though she is in an area notorious for bad visibility, and just a mass of twisted metal. She sank in 30m in a massive explosion, and Danish divers cant decide which end is which.
The most heavily salvaged British ship, battle-cruiser HMS Indefatigable, lies inverted, though so much explosive was used that it appears upright - the bottom has been blown right off.
Non-ferrous items are said to have been available for sale on a Danish quayside as early as 1952.
Why all this salvage was allowed on war graves (only two of the 1012 crew survived) can be explained only by the attitude to shipwrecks at that time. Or by greed, of course.