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.
CAN YOU FIND OUR BELL  
I am a survivor from the Belgian ship Persier, torpedoed in February 1945 near the Eddystone Lighthouse. I would like you to show me where my ship lies now and I would like to see the ships bell once again. I am coming from Belgium to see you. Can you do these things for me
Raymond Claeys, Zeebrugge


Such a direct personal approach to Wrecks Q&A is rare, but the chance to meet a wartime survivor of a ship you have dived and hear him explain what happened is equally rare, and becoming rarer.
In his early 20s Raymond Claeys was an Able Seaman and one of the Oerlikon gunners on the 5382 ton Belgian steamer Persier when she sailed from Cardiff on 8 February, 1945, taking food and other goods to the liberated but starving people of Belgium.
Most of her crew were Belgian merchant seamen. After surviving other torpedoings they were looking forward to meeting loved ones left when they had escaped to Britain at the start of the war.
But on 11 February 1945, U1017 intercepted Convoy BTC 65 inside the Eddystone and torpedoed the Persier, striking her port side.
She started to list almost at once. Following the explosion in the ABs stern quarters, Raymond ran on to the poop deck, heading for his station at No 1 lifeboat on the starboard side of the bridge.
He found that the lifeboat had been lowered while the ship had too much way on her. It was full of water and still being towed. Those men already in it were spilling into the water.
The Persiers prop was still turning and chopped to pieces Lifeboat No 3, which had stayed upright when launched. The list to port was now so great that escape on the starboard side was impossible.
 Raymond scrambled back to the stern, jumped onto a Carley float already in the water, and tied it to another waterlogged lifeboat.
He dragged seven men from this lifeboat onto the float and saw an eighth crewman struggling in the huge seas and Force 7 wind to reach them. I remembered something they had taught me years ago in the seamens school, he said. I tied a rope to one of the oars and launched it like a harpoon towards the man. He grabbed it. It seemed to take ages to drag him in.
The men were picked up by the Gem, a little cargo vessel under Captain Neil Campbell, who against convoy orders stood by the Persier and saved 18 men. Forty-four of the 63 aboard survived. The Persier drifted off into the dark, stern high out of the sea.
One Sunday in May, 1969, four members of Plymouth Sound BSAC dived on an obstruction reported by an angler. Colin Hopkins, Ken Miles and two unrelated Peter Fosters dropped into the middle of a large, uncharted wreck.
But it was nearly a year before Ken found its bell, half-buried in sand. It was inscribed War Buffalo, the name of the Persier when first built in 1918. A syndicate of 12 club divers bought the wreck for£300, covering that by salvaging its bronze propeller.
Since then many thousands of divers have Persier in their logbooks, diving with permission on a look-dont-touch basis.
I picked up Raymond Claeys, now 80 and a Belgian trawler-owner, with his wife Antoinette at Totnes. Climbing into the car, he was already asking questions about his long-lost ship. I drove him to a hillside overlooking Burgh Island and pointed down to its final resting place, off the mouth of the Erme, in 28m at 50 17.00N; 03 58.15W.
 I told him how the wreck lay over on its torpedoed port side, its bow the highest point about 10m proud, how it had collapsed inwards, that its three boilers were clear to see. I added that the bronze propeller and three guns, two of his 20mm Oerlikons and the 4.7in gun from the stern, had been salvaged.
And the bell asked Raymond hopefully. Ken Miles, who lives near Plymouth, was delighted to show Raymond the bell. They talked Persier for hours and are now discussing a short-term loan of the bell to Zeebrugges maritime museum.
The Livebait Squadron  
Has anyone ever dived the unfortunate trio of British cruisers, Aboukir, Cressy and Hogue, torpedoed on 22 September 1914 by U9 Are they at diveable depth Have they been victims of industrial salvage
Kevin C MacDonald


 Yes, they have been dived by British and Dutch divers, who took care to treat them with the respect that must be accorded to these giant war graves. No entry was made into any of the wreckage, though there has been some commercial salvage.
The three cruisers lie in 28m on the edge of fishing grounds some 22 miles out from Scheveningen. HMS Cressy and HMS Hogue are only 200m apart, with HMS Aboukir 800m away.
The three were spotted by Oberleutnant Otto Weddigen in U9 when they were patrolling the Broad Fourteens, the area south of the Dogger Bank. Built at the turn of the century these 12,000 tonne, armour-plated monsters were 454ft long with a beam of 70ft and had 21,000hp engines. Each carried twelve 6in guns, twelve 12-pounders, three 3-pounders, two 9in guns and two torpedo tubes.
 Wags aboard the destroyers - which usually escorted them, but on this day were confined to port by the appalling weather - called the cruisers The Live Bait Squadron. No German ship, they said, could resist such easy targets.
The Aboukir was torpedoed first. As she sank, Weddigen was amazed to see through his periscope that the other two cruisers had stopped to pick up survivors. He hesitated, but torpedoed Hogue from both bow tubes. Then, spinning his boat right around, he fired at the Cressy with both stern tubes before finishing her off with his last torpedo from a bow tube. More than 1400 men were lost in an hour.
Weddigen was awarded the Iron Cross 1st and 2nd Class and every member of his crew got the Iron Cross 2nd Class. Back in Kiel, U9 was sent on a lap of honour around the entire German High Seas Fleet.
The positions of these huge war graves are: Aboukir - 52 15.32; 03 41.58E; Cressy - 52 15.25; 03 40.92E; Hogue - 52 15.27; 03 41.65E. They are well sunk in a very soft mud seabed, standing between 5m and 10m proud. Parts of their bridges are well clear and gun turrets stand out in viz that rarely is more than 6m.
The wrecks are so close together that it is difficult for divers to distinguish them, particularly the Cressy and the Hogue. One of these has been salvaged commercially at some time. The engine room has been blown open, but some superstructure has collapsed over it.
Mulberry picking  
I am researching the Mulberry harbours of WW2 and hear that there are several submerged around the coast of Britain. A diver told me that one is near Harwich, but I would appreciate any information. If there are others off the French coast which dont show above the surface, they would be useful in establishing losses.
Keith Langridge


I have dived a lot of Mulberry units and associated concrete shapes, but not one off Harwich. Can anyone tell us how it got there
There were 213 units, code-named Phoenix. Two-thirds were sunk between Selsey Bill and Bognor; the rest at Littlestone, near Dungeness. They were then raised and towed across the Channel to form, with 60 blockships, the D-Day harbours on the Normandy coast. Some are now on the seabed at Littlestone and some near Bognor. Others remain in position just off the Normandy beaches.
A few sank during the tow in mid-Channel. Most have been dived; a few are very popular.
Reports on diving these concrete monsters can be found in Dive Kent and Dive Sussex (Underwater World Publications 020 8943 4288) and the Mulberry wrecks off the French coast are itemised in D-Day Wrecks of Normandy by Mark James.
Images of Isis  
 Thanks for all the information you gave to Les Cockerton about HMS Isis. Sadly, his grandfather died when it sank off Arromanches on 20 July,1944. My grandfather was also aboard, but survived. Can I get a picture of HMS Isis
Nick Clark


Is there a dive boat which visits HMS Isis so I can take some pics

Yes to both. The Imperial War Museum has a picture of her in its photo library. Ask for negative A 7297. The picture shows Isis in the foreground. Maureen of Dart visits the Isis, 01803-835449.
Shell stories  
In recent years I have reported finding seven types of brass and steel shellcases of various sizes. Are there any books that will tell me their history
Andrew Musselwhite


For starters, try The Armouries of the Tower of London, Volume 1, Ordnance, by HL Blackmore, published by HM Stationery Office in 1976, and Cannon by Austin C Carpenter, Halsgrove Press,Tiverton, Devon, 1993. The Imperial War Museum library (0207 4165000) can help with other titles.