Bell Island Wrecks - Newfoundland
SS Lord Strathcona
On the morning of September 5, 1942 while anchored off Bell Island, Conception Bay, Newfoundland the ore carrier SS Lord Strathcona was torpedoed and sunk. She was the second ship to meet her fate on this day at the hands of U-513, which had sunk the SS Saganaga only minutes before. Fortunately for the crew of the Lord Strathcona, they knew what was coming and took advantage of a few precious minutes to abandon ship, resulting in no loss of life.
The German submarine U-513, commanded by Fritz Rolf Ruggeberg, was also spared this day as, in it’s haste to sink the SS Saganaga and to maneuver for another kill, struck the stern of the Lord Strathcona, damaging it’s own conning tower. Quickly recovering from this almost fatal blow, U-513 fired two torpedoes from its stern tubes and brought the Lord Strathcona down. U-513 was to meet its fate on July 19, 1943 off Santos, where she was depth charged and sunk by U.S. Naval Aircraft.
Interestingly, it’s well worth noting that prior to the outbreak of the Second World War, Germany was the principal consumer for the iron ore produced at the Bell Island mines. It may well have been the same ore which was used to produce the U-boats and torpedoes that were to bring down these ships and cause such havoc on this day. The German High Command was very familiar with the Bell Island Anchorage and its strategic value in the war effort.
Diving on the S.S. Lord Strathcona, one is amazed by the abundance of flowering sea anemones that now decorate her decks and rails. This once proud ship is now the home to numerous sea dwellers that have taken over as crew! Similar in structure and size to the SS Rose Castle, which lies nearby, the Lord Strathcona presents the diver with the opportunity of diving on one of the most spectacular wrecks in Atlantic waters. Photographers and videographers always appreciate what she has to offer.
The British steamship SS Saganaga was torpedoed and sunk by the German U-boat U513 on September 5, 1942 at Bell Island, Conception Bay, Newfoundland. She was lying at anchor awaiting orders to set sail for North Sydney with a load of iron ore. U-513 had slid into the bay undercover of nightfall and lay in wait for the right opportunity to strike. It came the next morning at 11:07 when she fired her first salvo of two torpedoes.
In the excitement of their first action, however, the torpedo men had neglected to set the battery switch and the torpedoes sank to the sea bottom. They may well still be there with their deadly cargo of 500 pounds of explosives. Quickly, the U513 fired two more torpedoes which easily hit their target. The first hit about amidships on the portside at 11:07 and the second ‘fish’ quickly followed, sending the Saganaga beneath the waves in less than thirty seconds. She had a crew of forty-eight men, including three naval gunners. Twenty Nine of the crew was later reported missing.
As a sideline to this tragic sea tale, one of the crewmembers who perished aboard the ill fated vessel was Able Seaman Walter Skelton, from Grimsby, Lincolnshire, UK. His granddaughter, through a search on the internet, was astounded to find out that he had perished in Conception Bay when his family had assumed he was out in the North Atlantic at the time of the sinking.
Much to their amazement, they found out their loved one was actually in Newfoundland. An expedition was immediately set up to journey overseas to pay final homage to Able Seaman Walter Skelton. A touching moment was felt by all as Walter’s grandson, Alan Chapman, dived on the deck of the Saganaga on September 6, 2004, to place a memorial wreath on its deck.
Today the SS Saganaga is a divers’ paradise, teeming with new life. Beautiful anemones decorate her decks and an abundance of sea critters have found refuge in her iron hull. She has some of the most spectacular swim throughs imaginable - a true photographer’s dream. She rests at approximately 110 feet and can be easily viewed between 60 to 85 feet.
The steam ship PLM 27 - PLM was an acronym for Paris-Lyon-Marseilles - operated under the Free French Forces of General Charles De Gaulle during the Second World War. She was the second ship to be sent to her watery grave on the morning of November 2, 1942. U-518 had just sunk the SS Rose Castle and now had her sights on the PLM 27. Sending a single torpedo towards her, she was hit amidships on her port side and sank in less than a minute, sending twelve crew members to their graves.
Survivors were picked up ashore at Lance Cove, Bell Island, located only a few hundred yards away. Residents of the island were shaken from their beds early this Sunday morning and were reminded of the earlier attack on two ore carriers in September. Parents dressed themselves and their children in their ‘Sunday Best’, anxiously awaiting the land invasion of German forces they thought was about to happen but fortunately was never to occur.
The Wolf, U-518, swiftly set out to open sea after leaving its deadly cargo of torpedoes in the hulls of the ill fated Rose Castle and PLM 27 but, as was to befall over 85% of the U-Boats in operation, she was to meet her deadly fate at the hands of allied forces on April 22, 1945, Northwest of the Azores. She was lost with all hands.
Less than two months after the tragic loss of the SS Saganaga and the SS Lord Strathcona, the SS Rose Castle met her fate at the hands of the German U-boat, U-518.
U-518, commanded by Friedrich Wissman, was under orders to drop off a German agent at New Carlisle, Quebec and attack allied shipping. On her maiden voyage, it was decided to slip into Conception Bay and attack at first opportunity. Early on the morning of November 2, 1942 as U-518 was approaching the Bell Island anchorages she spotted the ‘Anna T’, a coal boat of 3,000 tons anchored off the Scotia Pier. The first torpedo was let loose towards the Anna T, but as luck would have it, it passed underneath the stern of the Flying Dale, also lying at anchor, and struck the Scotia Pier. This change of events became the first and most likely only enemy strike on a North American shore during the Second World War. Two more torpedoes were quickly fired towards the Rose Castle, anchored nearby. She went down in less than ninety seconds, taking twenty-eight men to their watery graves.
Of special note in regard to the ill fated SS Rose Castle is the fact that on a previous occasion she had escaped a similar fate. U-69, the German submarine that sank the ferry ‘Caribou’ (this vessel ran on the Port Aux Basques to North Sydney service), had fired a torpedo at the Rose Castle on October 20, 1942. Fortunately it had a defective detonator and the Rose Castle was spared - but only briefly.
Being the deepest of the other three ore carriers sunk during this tragic event, the Rose Castle is the most spectacular. She sits upright at approximately one hundred and fifty feet, looking almost ready to set sail just as she was over sixty years ago. Lines running to her mast are still taut, the Marconi Room’s radio is still awaiting messages, and deep in her hull one can still see personal effects of the ill fated crew. Without a doubt, she is well preserved from the elements. One can visit the 4.7 inch gun located on her stern and decorated with flowering sea anemones, for evermore ready for action. Cavernous cargo holds beckon the adventurous diver, but beware – this shipwreck is deep and unforgiving!
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