MY SONAR SCANNING of the waters around Bozcaada, aka Tenedos Island, near Turkey’s Dardanelles approaches, had already revealed the wrecks of the Greek steamer Eleni and the British submarine HMS Simoom.
But in early June last year another wreck showed up on my sidescan screen, upright in 52m on a sandy bottom, and it meant more detective work for me.
Not that I was complaining about having to sift through the archives, but in fact it was while discussing the case with Hamburg wreck-diver and researcher Dimitri Galon that the name ss Nantaise emerged as the most likely candidate.
Dimitri’s family comes from Tenedos, so he was very interested in joining other friends of ours to dive this and the other wrecks I had discovered off the island.
I learnt more about the Nantaise. The steamship was built just after WW1 by SP Austin & Son in Sunderland, for the Normandy Shipping Co Ltd of London.
The Nantaise in her early day as the Vaux.
Launched as the Vaux and completed in March 1920, she was 79m long with an 11m beam and a triple-expansion steam engine.
She was renamed Nantaise after being bought by French company Fernand Bouet of Caen in 1925. Three years later she changed hands twice in a year, ending up with the Societe Navale Caennaise.
In June 1940 Nantaise was in the thick of WW2, and took part in the evacuation of the last French troops from Le Havre before falling into German hands at Bayonne. In February the following year she left for Casablanca in Morocco, where she was returned to the Vichy authorities to support the traffic between France and its North African colonies.
In January 1943 the Nantaise was seized by the German army in Marseille and, under the ownership of MMS, a company formed to handle all shipping captured or confiscated by the Reich in the Mediterranean, worked as a freighter for military transports.
On 7 August of the same year, Nantaise was steaming through the northern Aegean in convoy from Varna in Bulgaria to Piraeus in Greece with the French vessel Thisbe. They were being escorted by five German submarine-chasers, four R-boats and three Arado aircraft, with sub-chaser UJ-2104 commanded by Oberleutnant Nikolai von Ruckteschell leading the convoy.
This is when the Nantaise came under attack from Porpoise-class British submarine HMS Rorqual and sank, without loss of life, about nine nautical miles west of Tenedos.