Four Enormous Shipwrecks and…Part 1

Thanks to my current state of unemployment, I finally have the opportunity of time to dive the massive ore carriers sunk by 2 U-Boats during WWII off Bell Island, Newfoundland.SS Saganaga & SS Lord Strathcona
September 5, 1942. It was a beautiful fall morning in Conception Bay with clear skies and mirror calm seas, probably much like the conditions we experienced this first week of July in 2006, some 64 years later.Beneath the calm surface of the sea, however, U-513 lay in 80 feet of water. Her captain, Rolf Ruggeberg, was eagerly awaiting his first kill.SS Saganaga, fully loaded with 8,800 tons of Bell Island iron ore, anchored in wait off Little Bell Island for a convoy to escort her to the smelters in Sydney, Nova Scotia. The 48 crew members were enjoying a quiet Saturday; some had even launched a boat to try their luck at catching a cod dinner.

Saganaga wasn’t alone. SS Lord Strathcona and Evelyn B were also anchored nearby. Strathcona was loaded with iron ore, awaiting escort to Nova Scotia while Evelyn was waiting her turn to unload her cargo of coal.

Across the sheltered channel between Little Bell Island and Bell Island, SS Rosecastle and the Free French ship PLM 27 (Paris-Lyon-Marseilles) also lay at anchor. Like Saganaga and Strathcona, Rosecastle and PLM were also Nova Scotia bound. Rosecastle was being loaded with ore, while PLM was already loaded and ready for her voyage west. They would escape the fates of Strathcona and Saganaga that September day.

11:07 am Atlantic Daylight Time. William Henderson, Chief Engineer of the Lord Strathcona, hears a sickening sound of explosion as the first torpedo hit the Saganaga about midship on the port side, tearing her in two. In less time than it takes to say Saganaga, Henderson reports that “a second torpedo literally blew the Saganaga to pieces. Debris and iron ore was thrown up about 300 feet and, before the last of it had fallen back into the water, the Saganaga had disappeared.” With 8,800 tons of iron ore on board, Saganaga landed upright on the bottom of the North Atlantic in 15 seconds.

Quickly recovering from the shock of the attack, Henderson gave the order to abandon Strathcona, knowing she faced the same peril. All 45 crew members got off in 2 lifeboats, then attempted to rescue the survivors from Saganaga. Most of the rescue efforts, however, came from the men of Lance Cove. For 30 of the Saganaga crew, September 5 was their last sunrise.

In the days immediately following, morbid curiosity would drive Rees and his friends to row out to the wreck. She lay in such shallow depths in water with such good visibility that they were able to look down on her and still see the spread-eagled body of a sailor with an arm pinned on the deck.

11:30 am. While efforts were underway to rescue the Saganaga survivors, the crew of Strathcona would witness 2 torpedo strikes against their abandoned ship. Strathcona sank within a minute and a half, but not before U-513’s inexperienced crew accidentally rammed into her stern as it manoevred for attacks, damaging its conning tower in the process.

I enjoyed diving the Strathcona tremendously. Subconsciously, I think, part of it was due to the fact that no lives were lost in her sinking. She’s beautifully decorated with anemones and populated by cod, conners, lumpfish, sculpin, star fish, and various jellyfishes pulsating with their otherworldly inner light. Strathcona’s deck is in about 75 feet of water; the day we dove her, the sun penetrated 75 feet down and illuminated a large area of the wreckage. In my mind, I will always see Strathcona with her debris strewn deck bathed in the dappling sunlight.

I didn’t get a chance to dive Saganaga. It was only my second day diving the frigid North Atlantic, and I was shaking uncontrollably when I surfaced from my dive on the Rosecastle. I called off the second dive of the day, which was to be on the Saganaga, since we planned to dive on her again the next day. Unfortunately, the weather did not cooperate. There would be only one dive on Saganaga this trip.

I guess I have unfinished business in Newfoundland.

For pix taken by real professionals, which is to say, far beyond my ability, go to the following sites:
Wrecks
Marine Life
AquaSub

Sources:
Rupprecht de Thomas

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