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WW1 destroyer wreck found after 103 years

9 March 2020
A seemingly ordinary ‘mound’ on the otherwise flat seabed in Orkney is actually the last resting place of 15 sailors.

One hundred and three years to the day that they were killed when a mine blew the bow off a Royal Navy destroyer, the crumpled section has been located by shipwreck hunters.

No-one has seen this part of HMS Albacore since the small hours of March 9 1917 when the destroyer left her anchorage in Inganess Bay, just east of Orkney’s capital Kirkwall, to intercept a suspected German submarine sighted patrolling off the island’s east coast.

At the time, Orkney was home to the Royal Navy’s principal wartime base, Scapa Flow. U-boats frequently mined the waters or waited to intercept vessels leaving or entering the huge natural harbour.

Albacore got no further than the entrance when she struck a mine laid by UC55. The blast tore the bow section as far back as the bridge and killed 18 men – all ratings, mostly drafted through Chatham dockyard; five were working for’ard, tidying up after weighing anchor, the rest were asleep off watch below.

The destroyer was towed back to harbour and subsequently repaired, returning to duty four months later.

Only three bodies were recovered; they were laid to rest in the main naval cemetery at Lyness.

More than a century later and experts from Sula Diving set out to locate the wreck of 17th Century prison ship Crown of London, dashed on rocks in nearby Deer Sound.

In the course of that search, they came across an unrecorded wreck which turned out to be the Albacore’s wrecked bow.

Kevin Heath from Sula Diving said the fate of the destroyer and her 18 dead crew was little known, even in Orkney, probably the result of a combination of wartime censorship and the fact that the ship survived, rather than foundered.

What remains of Albacore lies around 100ft down, is about 60ft long and 40ft wide and may in time be protected by the government.

Philip Robertson, of Historic Environment Scotland which has been working with Sula on the wreck project, said the remains were “sensitive as the last resting place of 15 of the crew” and the discovery of the bow section was “a poignant reminder of the loss of life on board the ship in 1917”.

Albacore got no further than the entrance when she struck a mine laid by UC55.

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