Wednesday, 23 November 2016

Gold salvage, HMS Edinburgh

The photograph above shows HMS Edinburgh leaving Swan Hunter's shipyard after her launch.

May 2nd, 1942: early morning.
The heavy cruiser HMS Edinburgh lies in her death throes in the icy Barents Sea north of Murmansk after a running battle with a U-boat and German destroyers. Of her 850 crew all but 57 lying dead aboard are saved; minutes later a torpedo from a destroyer in Edinburgh’s QP11 convoy delivers the coup de grace. Down with her dead she takes five tonnes of Russian gold, Stalin’s payment for weaponry and equipment.

An official war grave, HMS Edinburgh lay well-preserved and undisturbed for 40 years entombed in 240M of water. In 1981, using the latest underwater technology, the gold was salvaged. The bars were worth £50 million. In the planning, preparation and execution of the operation, considerable care was given by all concerned to preserve the war grave status of the wreck.

The dive support ship for the gold salvage in 1981 was Offshore Supply Association’s  (OSA) Stephaniturm, built in 1978, 70M long, 1400 ton and equipped with main, decompression and emergency second chambers, dive bell, gas recovery systems, medical facilities, sonar, satellite navigation and pingers. The consortium undertaking the salvage comprised Wharton & Williams (2W), a major dive company in Dyce, Jessop Marine, OSA and Racal-Decca.

I worked on the Stephaniturm for 2W throughout 1980. I have vivid recollections of sitting out hurricane-force winds off Shetland in November of that year, just me and the German skipper grasping on to rails on the ship's bridge in the middle of the night listening as Maydays from stricken fishing vessels squawked from the emergency channels, a dark night in the annals of the North Sea.
By the time the vessel departed Peterhead for the Barents Sea ten months later, many non-essential dive crew members (like myself, ha ha) had made space for Soviet observers, MOD officials, a pair of troublesome Sunday Times journalists and specialists in survey and salvage.
The first arc with the cutting gear was struck on August 7th 1981. Two days later, a rusting piece of armour plate was cut away and the divers sent it up in a basket to be examined by everyone onboard the Stephaniturm, topside personnel’s first physical contact with the wreck and confirmation that things were moving on well 800M below. The plate was stowed away and later incorporated into the new HMS Edinburgh, a modern destroyer being built for the Royal Navy.

The image above (© forviemedia) I grabbed via a Remote Operated Vehicle looking up into a diving bell.

Research:-  Gold salvage, HMS Edinburgh

‘Goldfinder‘ - Keith Jessop'. After the 1981 salvage operation, Keith Jessop was cleared in a trial at the Old Bailey of conspiring to break the Official Secrets Act.

Watching:-  YouTube: ‘Gold from the Deep’ - documentary film  ‘Gold from the Deep’ - 1981 BBC documentary

Footnote:- In August 1986 2W deployed its Deepwater 2 vessel and made a second successful salvage on HMS Edinburgh, recovering 29 gold bars worth £3.5 million from the wreck. Five bars remain missing. Following this salvage, the consortium was forced to forfeit disputed interest payments and pay 15% VAT on all the bullion. Rik Wharton called the behaviour of the British government, the Inland Revenue, and Customs and Excise “petty and dishonest”. He castigated the Thatcher regime and the Civil Service for being "mean, greedy, venal and jealous".

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