Saturday, 25 August 2012

First World War wrecks to be salvaged - disturbing graves

At 6.20 AM on the 21st of September 1914 Leutnant Weddigen of the Kaiser's Imperial Navy gave the order to fire the first torpedo from U-boat U9.
HMS Cressy

The torpedo struck HMS Aboukir and she came full stop and began her 35 minute futile struggle to stay afloat, the order was given to abandon ship as her sister ships HMS Cressy and HMS Hogue, the other two vessels in the patrol fleet, moved to assist and launched boats believing the flagship (under the command of Captain Drummond. Rear Admiral Christian who had commanded the flotilla had been force to take his flag ship HMS Euryalus back to Harwich to recoal).

At 6.55 Hogue was struck by a further two torpedoes and began to sink as well finally disappearing at 7.10am. U9 quickly submerged into the darkness but fired again at 7.20. The crew of Cressy spotted torpedo trails and the order "All ahead full!" was passed but to no avail. The blast from the torpedoes impact was so hard that it lifted her high enough in the water for a second torpedo to pass under her!
A third struck at 7.30 rupturing tanks in the boiler rooms and sending white hot steam out onto the men working in the engine rooms. She began to slide into the water before rolling onto her back where she remained for twenty minutes before slipping beneath the waves.

U9 post war in Dover
In under two hours the German Navy had cost the Royal Navy three Cruisers and 1397 officers and men with 837 saved by Dutch fishing vessels and Royal Navy destroyers who arrived late to the scene - more than the British losses at the battle of Trafalgar! Of those lost 85 were from the Medway Towns.

These vessels lay undisturbed for some forty years resting twenty two miles from the Dutch coast until Winston Churchill's Conservative government of 1954 sold the salvage rights to a German company however a Dutch company has now applied to search the wrecks for Copper, Bronze and other rare or precious metals and this has angered Naval Associations.

Mr Murray of the Chatham branch of the RNA has stated;

They are war graves and should remain so. They have been down there for damn near 100 years. Why do they want the scrap metal? Somebody's trying to make money. It is nothing to do with the families of the people who fought for their country.

Also, in October of last year Navy associations from Germany, France, Holland, Italy, Begium, Britain and Austria wrote to a national Newspaper to decry the salvage;
[We] suggest that no such desecration would take place in graves on land.
We urge that our sailors should be allowed to rest in peace.

I agree. I know that, by law, you can remove a grave stone from a church yard or Grave yard after 100 years as it is considered that no one in living memory is alive - though I am sure that with current life spans that can be contested, and I'm sure salvagers would argue that case now but it does not remove the fact that those hulks are in fact tombs.

As the Association states, should a German army grave be found deep in the woods of France, or a Spitfire found in a laying in a bay it would be left be, so why should the a sunken vessel be any different?

The same goes for the wrecks of Titanic and Lusitania. As interesting as the artifacts brought up by they should remain taking things from the "Debris field" that lies between the two halves of Titanic and leave the actual wreck alone.

When a vessel is lost at sea and the crew and passengers hit the water they are often sucked down by the vessel, die of exposure, drowning, injuries sustained or even to Shark attack well before recovery. In rare occasions there will be recovery operations for the dead but that is usually in peace time, the Navy cannot put other vessels into danger to collect the dead and know the dead who was ashore will be buried properly but to those that don't have no memorial to mark their loss except for the vessel itself.

When HMS Bulwark exploded (killing 736 officers and men) in Sheerness, 26th November 1914,some of her dead were buried in Woodlands Cemetery in Gillingham where vast lines of white graves marked HMS Bulwark and even sadly "Crewman unknown" HMS Bulwark, but the wreck remains untouched as it is a grave and is protected by the "Protection of Military remains act"

Unfortunatly Cressy, Hogue and Aboukir are out of British controlled waters and have already had salvage carried out upon them so are exempt from the act.

The disturbance of these vessels is a violation of the last resting place and memorial to those 1400 odd men who died early one September morning and are all but forgotten. They should be allowed to continue to rest in peace.


Salvage firm urged to leave Sailors' war graves alone Medway Messenger, 2nd December 2011, A McGuinness

Wikipedia entries for HMS Cressy, Hogue, Aboukir, Bulwark and Protection of Military remains act.