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Divers find possible wreck from Royal Navy wartime tragedy off Land’s End

Light shines on the propeller of the wreck
18 July 2023
Divers believe they may have found one of six Royal Navy ships lost off Cornwall in a forgotten wartime tragedy.

Half a dozen large landing craft were lost off Land’s End in October 1944 when a storm overwhelmed their convoy, killing more than 50 Royal Navy sailors.

A team of divers – known as the ‘Gasperados’ – operating out of Newquay on the boat Atlantic Diver took the plunge off the westernmost tip of the English mainland in the hope of locating a shipwreck.

They didn’t find it, but around 100 metres down, in an undisclosed location, they did come across a different wreck – possibly an amphibious vessel.

They sought the advice of Dr Harry Bennett, Associate Professor of History at Plymouth University to identify it.

He suggested that it could be the one of six Landing Craft Tanks (LCTs) lost while being towed to Asia in 1944 in anticipation of the planned invasion of Japan (Operation Downfall, scheduled for 1945/46).

With France liberated and Allied troops on German soil by the autumn of 1944, the decision was taken to repair/refurbish/upgrade the 650-tonne vessels and prepare them for the mammoth journey to the Far East theatre of war.

In mid-October 1944, vessels of the 9th LCT Flotilla left ports in Scotland, Northern Ireland, England and Wales to link up with convoy OS92/KMS66 bound for the Mediterranean and ultimately Asia.

The landing craft were never meant for such voyages – or rough weather; older LCTs could not withstand wind above Force 4, newer ones Force 6.

On October 18-19 1944, the convoy ran into an Atlantic storm off the Cornish peninsula with winds estimated at Force 9 – speeds of up to 55mph – and mountainous seas.

Six landing craft tanks – 480, 488, 491, 494, 7014 and 7015 – were lost at the height of the storm, going down with some or all of their crews.

Although more than 100 sailors were saved in horrendous conditions, 55 men – including some in warships carrying out the rescue, washed overboard – lost their lives.

No-one has seen any of the missing vessels since October 1944 – until now.

“As divers, we never take for granted that we might discover the final resting places of sailors who died fighting for our country,” said ‘Gasperado’ Steve Mortimer.

“We are privileged to suggest that we may have found the remains of LCT 488 or, if not that ship, then a similar craft from World War 2.”

Dr Bennett added: "The tragic story of the lost convoy of LCTs which this wreck brings to the fore is a brutal reminder that in the midst of war our mariners still had to contend with the old foes of unrelenting storms and the cruel sea to sometimes deadly effect."

Further diving and investigation is required to formally identify the wreck and for those interested in the divers’ work so far, they’ll be presenting at the Guz.tech diving conference at Plymouth University on November 25. 

Underwater imagery: Rick Ayrton. LCT 7074 imagery: Barbara Mortimer.

As divers, we never take for granted that we might discover the final resting places of sailors who died fighting for our country.

Diver Steve Mortimer

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