Posts Tagged ‘ Rosecastle ’

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:
Marine Life

Rupprecht de Thomas


Four Enormous Shipwrecks and…Part 2

SS Rosecastle
November 2, 1942. U-518 had arrived the previous day in Conception Bay, under cover of darkness. This was her maiden voyage, and her captain, Fredich “the wise guy” Wissmann was in comand. His mission: to land a German agent in Canada and to seize every opportunity to attack allied shipping.In the overnight hours, Wissmann fired his first shot. Fortunately for the Anna T and the Flyingdale, which were tied up at the Scotia Pier on Bell Island, Wissmann missed. The torpedo struck Bell Island instead, bestowing the community with the dubious distinction of being the only one in North America to sustain a U-boat hit during WWII.Unfortunately, Wissmann’s aim improved. His next 2 shots sent SS Rosecastle 150 feet to the bottom. The impact woke sixteen year old Lloyd Rees. From his bedroom window, he saw what he already knew: that Rosecastle had been hit. Running to his sister’s room to get a better view, he arrived to see bits of Rosecastle still raining down on the surface of the sea. Attacked as they slept, the crew hopefully never knew what hit them. Miraculously, 15 of the 43 on board survived.

Three of our group of divers (Rob Geddis and Ron Irvine, led by Norbert Pietkiewicz) decided to search for the torpedo holes on one of their dives. They had asked our able divemaster Arthur Cleal if he knew where the torpedo hole was.

“Nope,” says Arthur, who knows just about all there is to know about these wrecks. Next, they asked Debbie Stanley, co-owner of Ocean Quest Charters, who was diving with me that day.

“Nope,” says Debbie, who also knows just about all there is to know about these wrecks, having made more than 200 dives on the Rosecastle alone. That leaves our wise skipper Bill Flaherty.

“Nope,” says Skipper Bill.

Excited, our 3 intrepid divers splash in, their hearts no doubt thumping in anticipation that they might be the ones to discover the sites of the torpedo holes. They descend down the line on the wreck, tied off amid-ships on the port side. Continuing down towards their planned deepest depth to begin their search for the holes, they see somewhat anti-climactically the massive concussion just below the down line. They’re convinced they’ve been the butt of a Newfie joke.