A fitting tribute as I write this post today, as it will be 84 years this day that the Hawarden Castle sunk, supposedly to mine as laid by U-17.  We remember Emil Gonsales (55), Cook; Adolf Grunfeld (21), Sailor; Olaf Henriksen (37), Sailor; Knute Petersen (27), Sailor; Charles D Smith (36), Mate; William Worrall DSC (49), Master.

Yesterday’s dive was to what I thought could be the missing Hawarden Castle as lost on this day; 13th September 1939. A story that centres around her being sunk, hitting a mine as laid by U-17 within the first fortnight of the declaration of WWII with Germany. Information as to her location is inconclusive, so this was an exploratory dive. Website Uboat.NET proposing a GPS search location and that divers had recorded yellow bricks in that location. Ditto, the German U-Boat museum confirming to me the location of U-17’s minefield. However, the HC’s normal route was Nieuwpoort in Belgium to London, so this location in my opinion is too far south and an Achilles Heal to that website information.

William Worrall - Hawarden Castle
William Worrall - Hawarden Castle

What’s interesting is that this movement list dated 1939 from the National Archives shows the HC’s movements leaving London on 31st August 1939 arriving Nieuwpoort the same day, departing for London on the 7th September. She then left London on 10th September, arriving Nieuwpoort on the 11th, deparing Nieuwpoort on the 13th. There were no further movements and interestingly, cause of loss is 60% war and 40% marine.

Hawarden Castle Movements 1939

Nonetheless we were looking for a three masted schooner of around 35m in length, retro fitted with a diesel engine and carrying bricks. A little further SWW than the minefield, the marks that I had were from a blemish from seabed sonar surveys, a mark that was not on the Admiralty Charts but around 35m in length. A mark that I was told has been dived before and yes, there were bricks. Expectations were high! Kev and I were the only divers.

Arriving on site, Chris surveyed the area and confirmed a mark around 2m high. It was certainly a wreck of sorts and worth a plunge.

As we dived her, there was a lot of wood around the area and one part that may have been a gunnel? Quite flat. We couldn’t be sure what type of ship, other than the vessel was wooden. There was no metal. The 2m ‘mound’ which was alien to the environment of a hard chalk seabed, looked like concretion. Kev confirmed when back on board Maverick. There was a wheel of sorts with a spline. Chris thinks they’ve dived it before. From what we described, Chris thinks it maybe some sort of barge and the mound may have been ballast or rock cargo? No bricks, but boots and shoes that seemed strange and a broken clay vase that were perhaps litter? The give-away though was that both Kev and I found coal.

We know the HC was not carrying coal and was fitted with a diesel engine. Whether the coal would make this wreck a steamer or to fuel some kind of monkey boiler perhaps of an industrial barge? Both Kev and I agreed that this was not a vessel of the WWII era and probably mid/late 1800s.

So it’s back to square one and to speak to Tom as it was he that said there were bricks on that mark. Maybe write to Uboat.Net for clarity of their information source. However I still think the minefield is too far south as the HC would route north of the Varne Bank from Nieuwpoort to London. One thought I now have is that the divers mentioned on Uboat.NET are not British and could place the HC in French Waters? For sure, more research is needed but we can now be sure to write off this mark as the HC.

A nice relaxing dive though, logged to 35m in depth, around 4m visibility in 18degC of water. Run time for me was 42 minutes.