DIVING NEWS

Malta sub dives sink conspiracy theory

Technical divers have proved conclusively that a WW2 submarine wreck discovered 108m deep off Malta in 2019 is HMS Urge. Hi-res photo and video footage taken close-up has revealed the vessel’s name embossed on its conning tower.

Two dives with 20min bottom times were carried out by a team of six in a collaboration between the University of Malta, Heritage Malta and the Superintendence of Cultural Heritage. Aside from the name, a detailed 3D digital scan of the hull proved to match Urge’s dimensions exactly.

The wreck had been found 18 months ago by marine archaeologists using an AUV. The find was reported on Divernet in November, 2019, but the follow-up visit by scuba divers had been delayed by the Covid pandemic.

Earlier in 2019, Divernet had also reported on the discovery near Sicily of  Italian light cruiser the Giovanni Delle Bande Nere. Torpedoed by Urge in April 1942, she was one of many of the submarine’s mainly Italian victims, also including the battleship Vittorio Veneto.

HMS Urge was part of the Royal Navy’s 10th flotilla, based in Malta while the island was under intense siege from German and Italian forces. Three weeks after she had sunk the cruiser, Urge was among the many vessels ordered to transfer to Egypt.

She left Valletta on 27 April with 32 crew, 11 other naval personnel and a war correspondent aboard, but was declared missing 10 days later, having failed to arrive in Alexandria. She was believed to have struck a mine off Malta.

The wreck was found six miles east of the island during the Project Urge survey, conducted by the University of Malta and RPM Nautical Foundation. Francis Dickinson, grandson of Urge’s captain Lt-Cdr EP Tomkinson, had suggested that the archaeological team carry out sonar-scanning in an area that had been heavily mined by German forces.

The AUV footage had revealed a large section missing from the bow, suggesting that a violent explosion had occurred at the surface. The rest of the submarine was intact, upright on the seabed oriented towards Egypt and with its deck-gun facing forward.

Britain’s Ministry of Defence had confirmed the wreck as that of HMS Urge and that it should be treated as a war grave, though a memorial ceremony planned for April 2020 was later postponed to April 2022 to coincide with the 80th anniversary of the sinking.

The recent dives end speculation that HMS Urge had been sunk by Italian aircraft in Libyan waters while on a secret mission. Belgian wreck-diver Jean-Pierre Misson had claimed in 2015 to have found the wreck off Tobruk, saying that there had been a conspiracy to cover up the operation.

This had upset descendants of the 44 who died aboard Urge, including Dickinson, because it implied that orders to proceed to Egypt had been disobeyed.

“We already knew this was the wreck of Urge, but to see the letters so clearly gives important further clarity,” Dickinson told the Times of Malta. “The commitment of the University of Malta team to this work means a lot to the families of those lost on HMS Urge.”

Marine archaeologist Prof Timmy Gambin, who led the dives, told the paper that the mine damage could be seen, as expected, on the starboard waterline. “The blast pene­trated both layers of the submarine, which means water went inside,” he said.

11 May 2021

“This means that any organic material – like fabric and human remains – would have only been preserved if covered in silt.”

He added that he and the other divers had been within metres of the wreck but operated on a strict look-don’t-touch basis. The Urge name on the conning tower had been partially obscured by a gorgonian that could not be disturbed because it was legally protected.

HMS Urge was part-funded and adopted by the people of Bridgend in Wales during a national “Warship Week” appeal held in 1941. They raised around £300,000 – the equivalent of more than £12 million today.