Our first dive was on the Paris-Lyon-Marseille (PLM) 27. Hovering off the stern, I paused in awe at its sheer size, clear in the 20m-plus vis.
The superstructure of the PLM 27 has been badly damaged by Icebergs.
This made a change from my former local wrecks, where you could often find features only by banging into them.
I followed Connie down the vast rudder towards the seabed to get a better look at the propeller. She posed for a photo to give some impression of its size.
Ascending to deck level again, I noticed that much of superstructure was crushed – surely this hadn’t happened in the sinking? I later learned that, as the shallowest wreck, PLM 27 had experienced a few encounters with passing icebergs over the years.
We continued along the deck to an area where the side of the wreck had been gashed open by a torpedo, leaving the steel wrinkled like cloth.
Bell Island is one of the few North American locations that German forces attacked during WW2. They targeted it because of its iron-ore mine, which was supplying materials for the Allied war effort. Before the war Germany had been the principal consumer of the ore, and it might even have been used to make the submarines and torpedoes that inflicted this terror.
On 4 September, 1942, under cover of darkness, the U-boat U-513 followed the small merchant ship Evelyn B into Conception Bay. It then lay in wait on the seabed at 24m. Next morning, rising to periscope depth, commander Rolf Ruggeberg selected his target.
He fired two torpedoes, but the torpedo men had neglected to set the battery switches and they sank to the seabed.
The sub was spotted from the Evelyn B, which opened fire, forcing it to dive.
Ruggeberg selected a second target, the Saganaga, and, while submerged, hit it with two torpedoes fore and aft. It sank immediately.
While ascending for another attack
U-513 struck the stern of the Lord Strathcona, suffering serious damage to its conning-tower.
Yet the sub was still able to fire two torpedoes 25 minutes afterwards, sinking the Strathcona. The Saganaga lost 29 men but, having had more warning, Strathcona’s crew were able to abandon ship before their vessel sank.
On 2 November, U-518 under Friedrick Wissman launched another raid, but this time by night. To avoid detection, the U-boat came so close to Bell Island that its crew reported seeing cars on the roads.
Wissman fired his first shot at a moored coal-boat. He missed it but hit the pier, causing substantial damage.
Two torpedoes fired in quick succession at Rose Castle, one at the stern and one at the bow, sank the vessel fast, giving its crew of 43 little time to abandon ship, and 28 men lost their lives.
A further shot hit PLM-27 dead amidships, ripping a large hole that sank it in seconds, with the loss of 12 crew.
As well as disrupting the iron-ore transport these raids resulted in 70 deaths, so these wrecks are war graves.