THE CESARE ROSSAROL is fully loaded with ammunition, the 109 crewmen hard at work. It is 16 November, 1918, the war is over and the Italian light cruiser is on her way from Pula to Cape Kamenjak.
From there she will push on through the many minefields to Fiume Harbour.
The ceasefire has been in force for several days, so the only lurking danger is from mines. The cruiser is trying to avoid them, but just after noon she strikes one, and is broken in two.
The Cesare Rossarol sinks so quickly after the impact that the crew have little chance of reaching safety. Winter water temperatures render survival almost impossible, and only a few men manage to save themselves.
The stern and bow sections end up 300m apart on the Adriatic seabed. The Cesare Rossarol is almost certainly one of the Italian Navy’s biggest losses.
Since the summer of 2013, we have been playing around with the idea of doing something with the wreck of the Cesare Rossarol. The idea originated that August, during a pleasant exploration week organised by Maurizio Grbac of Krnica Dive in Croatia.
The wreck lies in relatively shallow water, between 45 and 50m, and because it is visited regularly from Krnica, it has been reasonably well protected against wreck-robbers. The same cannot be said about many of the shipwrecks on the Adriatic’s west coast. Baron Gautsch is a good example, because so many of its features have disappeared over time.
For a wreck that has been at the bottom of the sea for nearly 100 years, the current state of the Cesare Rossarol is very good, and every once in a while another new section appears from the bottom of the ocean. Unfortunately the stern deck has slowly started collapsing over the past six years, so it seemed to be high time to start mapping all facets of the wreck.
It’s easy enough to launch a project, but it can take months to turn it into reality. First we need a date. We decide on the holiday season, and pick a week when tidal effects will be minimal. The visibility is likely to be good, but you can’t rule out the possibility that it won’t be.
The tricky part is to get the right group of motivated divers together. After announcing the project, we soon start receiving applications from around Europe, and settle on seven participants from the Netherlands, one from the Czech Republic and two from Norway.
All are certified GUE (Global Underwater Explorers) Tech 1 or Tech 2.
With the support of Krnica Dive and Maurizio’s experience, the task of filling all the twin-sets and stages won’t be a problem. He even put a dive-boat at our disposal!
The project is fully supported by GUE because it’s in line with its education, conservation and exploration objectives, one of which is that the importance of the project should be communicated to the local population and authorities.
Our aim is to map the current state of the Cesare Rossarol to protect the wreck for the future, but this won’t be easy.
The mine caused considerable damage, scattering parts of the vessel over a large area.
Three sections require our attention: the stern, the most interesting part of the wreck field; the bow, which ended up with the deck and all of its features facing into the sand; and, finally, the major and minor components that ended up on the seabed in the 300m between bow and stern. That’s quite a search area!
COMPREHENSIVE BRIEFINGS are regarded as vital if we are to have made progress by the end of the week. The dive-teams all have their own missions, and if these are not properly discussed and clear to everyone, good results will be difficult to achieve.
At both bow and stern the objective is to obtain precise dimension and depth measurements, a detailed outline and compass directions.
In the debris field we hope to connect the forward-facing portions of the stern using a line, survey this line by determining distances and compass directions; and search for and identify specific wreck parts and note their relative position to the line.
In all three sections photo and video documentation has to be obtained.
By measuring bow and stern, we can determine the size of the middle section blown away by the force of the mine.
The number of dives is limited, as is time under water, so this must be used as efficiently as possible. The teams are reminded that no navigation lines can be tied to major wreck parts. The fishermen who cover this area regularly could get their nets or lines entangled with them and consequently pull the wreck to pieces, or move important parts.
The Tech 1 teams focus on the stern, but the 30 minutes of bottom time allocated for each dive fly by. Even divers who have previously visited a section find that it always takes a while to get their bearings and swim to where they need to be to continue their work.
The Tech 2 teams, with a little more bottom time at 60 minutes, focus on the debris field.
When I first dived the Cesare Rossarol, the imposing gun at the stern, the striking wheel and the crow’s nest had impressed me. But now I am curious about this field, as it hasn’t been studied before.
I am part of a Tech 1 team, and although I’m diving with hitherto-unknown divers of various nationalities, the project runs without problems. When you’re running under the GUE flag, all the divers use the same procedures and there is no miscommunication, making the process very efficient and pleasant.
Every day we get to know the area better, and discover more each time.
We see a lot of ammunition, boxes, shell-cases, an anchor and, to our surprise, several torpedoes standing upright in the sand!
ON OUR FINAL DIVE we try to make that connection between stern and bow (writes Peter Zaal). I attach my reel to the stern and we start swimming further out towards the bow.
The vis is getting worse, with a milky layer floating above the bottom, and we find fewer and fewer wreck parts as we go.
We encounter a number of fishing-lines, and I tie my line to one and put a mark on it. We follow the fishing-line, but then reach our minimum gas limit and have to begin our ascent.
Slowly we get shallower and above the fog layer. I’m keeping track of my bottom-timer, and then I look ahead.
I can’t believe what I’m seeing – it’s the bow of the Cesare Rossarol!
It looks mighty impressive sticking out of the sand, 10m ahead of us. What a view! Making the connection from stern to bow feels like a great achievement.
I can see that my buddy is as excited as I am, but we must continue our ascent. We swim to the shot-line and continue up – it’s a great climax to the week!
Krnica Dive specialises in technical diving and is located at the port of Krnica, 15 miles from Pula on Istria’s east coast. It has four boats and offers wreck-diving courses and “exploration dives” to discover new wrecks, www.krnicadive.com
|The Cesare Rossarol|
This light cruiser was built in 1913 by Gio Ansaldo & C of Genoa, which at the time was also building two sister-ships, Alessandro Poerio and Guglielmo Pepe, all three intended for the Italian Navy.
The names of the vessels came from fighters who helped to defend Venice during the Austro-Hungarian Revolution in 1848.
The three Poerio-class ships differed only in their weaponry:
LENGTH: 85m, Beam: 11.6m, Height: 8m
PROPULSION: 24,000hp steam engine
SPEED: 32 knots
ARMAMENT: Six 102mm/34-calibre and two 40mm/39-calibre guns, and four 450mm torpedo tubes.