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War Roebuck / Gairsoppa

War Roebuck / Gairsoppa


Laid down and launched for the Shipping Controller on 12 August 1919 as War Roebuck by Palmers Shipbuilding and Iron Co. Ltd., Hebburn-on-Tyne. She was a 5237 ton triple expansion 10 knot steamer.
She was completed as Gairsoppa fro British India S. N. Co., Glasgow on 17 October 1919.
On 17 February 1941 she found herself straggling from Convoy SL-64 on voyage Calcutta-Freetown-London with a cargo of 2600 tons of pig-iron, 1765 tons of tea, 2369 tons of general cargo and £600,000 of silver ingots.
She was under the command of Master Gerald Hyland when at 00.08 hours she was hit just behind the bridge by one G7a torpedo from U-101 about 300 miles southwest of Galway. The U-boat had spotted her about 6 hours earlier but because of heavy seas had missed hitting her with a spread of two torpedoes at 23.28 hours and one G7e torpedo at 23.32 hours. After the torpedo hit she caught fire but continued to stay afloat. A coup-de-grace at 00.20 hours also missed so the U-boat commander, Ernst Mengersen, decided to forgo any further attacks assuming that she would eventually sink in the heavy seas.
She did finally sink with the loss of all but one of her crew of 85. The only survivor was the second officer Richard Ayres who made landfall near the Lizard on 1 March.
He was made an MBE for his efforts in trying to save his fellow sailors, and lived until 1992.
U-101 was stricken at Neustadt on 21 October 1943 and scuttled there on 3 May 1945. The wreck was later broken up in situ.

In 1989, the British government invited tenders to salvage the cargo and received just one, from Deepwater Recovery and Exploration Ltd.
After a competitive tender, in January 2010 the government awarded a US company, Odyssey Marine Exploration, a two-year contract to find and salvage the 7,000,000 ounces of silver, which was worth £600,000 at the time of sinking, but hundreds of times that amount now.
On 26 September 2011 Florida-based Odyssey Marine Exploration confirmed the identity and location of the Gairsoppa. The wreck of the ship was found on the sea floor at a depth of nearly 4,700 meters, 300 miles off the coast of Ireland. Footage of the Gairsoppa was provided by the Odyssey Marine Exploration Company and published at the It was reported that the silver to be recovered from the ship could have a value of £150 million at 2011 prices. Odyssey Marine indicated that the operation to recover the bullion would begin in the spring of 2012. Odyssey will retain 80% of the value of any recovered cargo, with the remainder going to HM Treasury.
Odyssey Marine's senior project manager, Andrew Craig, said: "We've accomplished the first phase of this project - the location and identification of the target shipwreck.
"Now we're hard at work planning for the recovery phase.
"Given the orientation and condition of the shipwreck, we are extremely confident that our planned salvage operation will be well suited for the recovery of this silver cargo."
SS Gairsoppa settled upright on the seabed with its cargo holds open, which means remote-controlled robotic submarines should be able to retrieve the bullion.
The seven million ounces of silver on the ship is a mixture of privately owned bullion insured by the UK government and state-owned coins and ingots. Researchers used records including insurance do***ents from Lloyds War Losses Register to work out how much was on board.
Odyssey president Mark Gordon said one set of do***ents suggested the silver bars may contain 2.5% gold as well, which he described as "an added bonus".
The marine archaeology and exploration company said it was "highly unlikely" any human remains would be found, given the age and depth of the wreck.
Odyssey's chief marine archaeologist Neil Dobson said: "Even though records indicate that the lifeboats were launched before the ship sank, sadly most of her crew did not survive the long journey to shore.
"By finding this shipwreck and telling the story of its loss, we pay tribute to the brave merchant sailors who lost their lives."
Odyssey said it had taken on the risk and expense of the complicated search, cargo recovery, do***entation, and marketing of the cargo.

Photograph belongs to Stuart Smith
Copyright World Ship Photo Library.

317 Posts
Excellent post Stuart. I always find your descriptions interesting, and this one fascinating.

120 Posts
Thanks Wallace, I just try to make the best use of the information available.

14 Posts
Odyssey does some remarkable marine salvage and recovery work. They used to have a show on the Discovery Channel that chronicled some of their work. Would be very interesting to see how they recover the silver from the Gairsoppa.

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