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Wartime RN wreck discovered off Iceland after 74 years

22 May 2018
This is the haunting sight of a Royal Navy support boat, sitting upright on the seabed off the Icelandic coast.

Nearly three quarters of a century after she mysteriously disappeared on a rescue mission, the wreck of naval tug Empire Wold has been discovered – and the tragic fate of her 16 crew revealed.

Crewed by a mix of Royal and Merchant Navy personnel, the Sunderland-built vessel was sent to Iceland to support Allied convoys crossing the Atlantic or sailing for the Soviet Union.

On November 10 1944, storm force winds lashed Iceland forcing an approaching convoy from Loch Ewe in Scotland to scatter.

November 10 1944, storm force winds lashed Iceland forcing an approaching convoy from Loch Ewe in Scotland to scatter.


As it did, a lurking German submarine, U-300 picked off the tanker Shirvan two dozen miles southwest of Iceland’s capital Reykjavik.

Survivors were picked up by an Icelandic vessel, the Godafoss, only for it too to fall victim to the U-boat. Torpedoed, the Godafoss sank in just four minutes.

Also heading for the Shirvan’s last reported position was the military tug Empire Wold. She never got there.

Some historians believed Empire Wold had become another victim of the German submarine, although U-300’s surviving crew were adamant they had not sunk the tug when their U-boat was sunk off Gibraltar the following February.

Now the Icelandic Coastguard has discovered the wreck and confirmed the U-boat’s crew account.

After sonar found the wreck on the seabed – some distance from the tug’s last reported position – a submersible was sent down to inspect the vessel and reveal its identity.

The coastguard team found no signs of any explosion and, having consulted contemporary weather reports from 1944, determined that the tug probably foundered in heavy seas and 40-knot winds.

Lost with her were seven Royal Navy personnel, led by 38-year-old reservist Lieutenant David Morris, and nine Merchant Navy sailors, including the tug’s 40-year-old Master, Henry Draper, from Gravesend, and Second Engineer Oswin ‘Happy Harry’ Green.

His widow María Elisabet Frederiksen still lives in Iceland at the age of 94. She was left looking after the couple’s daughter, Thórunn Elísabet Green, just nine months old.

As the last resting place of Royal Navy sailors, the wreck is now protected by law and its precise location is not being revealed by the Icelandic authorities.

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