After a dedicated five-year search, scuba divers have been able to explore the 93m-deep wreck of HMS Jason in the Outer Hebrides – almost 105 years to the day the warship sank.
The Gasperados technical dive team reported that, despite its missing bow, the World War One wreck remains in good condition.
Launched in 1892 as a torpedo gunboat, HMS Jason was converted into a minesweeper in 1908 and continued in that role as part of Britain’s Grand Fleet during WW1.
On 7 April, 1917 the 70m ship was off the island of Coll, clearing mines laid two months earlier by the German submarine U-78 in a bid to block the Minches channel. Then Jason herself struck a mine and went down within five minutes, with the loss of 25 of her complement of 102 men.
Her sinking was recorded and photographed from another minesweeper, HMS Circe, but circumstances had made it challenging to locate and dive the wreck until now.
The discovery of HMS Jason was the culmination of a five-year project led by Orkney-based shipwreck researcher Kevin Heath who, with family historian Wendy Sadler, had scoured the archives and the crew’s personal histories for the website Lost in Waters Deep, while sonar-scanning through diving services company SULA Diving using Halton Charters’ dive-boat Clasina.
In March this year SULA’s Bertrand Taylor recorded a mark that was expected to be HMS Jason because it was the only known sinking in the area.
“The wreck was found 700m away from the recorded sinking position in the logbook of HMS Circe,” Heath told Divernet. “Thanks go to Bob Anderson from mv Clasina, who offered us a couple of days each spring to conduct sidescan surveys of the area.
“Although the search started five years ago, some years no or limited surveys happened because of Covid or bad weather. In fact only 10 hours of actual survey took place, with the same amount of post-processing of the usable recorded data.”
From 12 April the 12-strong Gasperados dive-team – temporarily adopting the name “Argonauts” in honour of HMS Jason – were able to carry out dives with 20-minute bottom times on the wreck.
Concentrating on the stern area on the first day, the divers noted the distinctive starboard propeller design, the aft 120mm QF gun, Admiralty crockery and bottles.
The following day they recorded that all the bridge equipment, including two telegraphs and the remains of the compass and helm, remained in place. The forward QF gun was present but the bow was missing from that point. Some of the four 47mm guns and the Yarrow-style boilers could also be seen – HMS Jason was powered by two triple-expansion steam engines.
“It was a privilege to help identify the remains of this vessel,” said dive-team leader Steve Mortimer. “Twenty-five families can now take comfort that the location of their relatives’ ship is precisely known. We think that’s important.”
Only one body had been recovered following the sinking – that of 25-year-old stoker James Blackman from Southsea.
“Many people have spent a long time searching for the wreck of HMS Jason, so it was very humbling to be part of the team that were finally able to confirm her location,” Dom Robinson, one of the underwater photographers, told Divernet.
“It was also incredibly exciting and a great privilege to be on a wreck that no-one has ever dived before, although we were also acutely aware that it is the last resting place of the 24 Royal Navy personnel whose bodies were never recovered. We all very much hope that the wreck will now be given the protection it deserves.”
The Ministry of Defence has been informed of HMS Jason’s precise location and the site is expected be afforded official protection as a war grave under UK law. The designation would allow technical divers to visit, but not touch, the wreck.
“Documenting the ship, showing people what she’s like today, is important to me,” another of the dive-team, Royal Navy officer Lt Jen Smith, told Royal Navy News. “Naval war graves are often forgotten, as it’s hard for people to remember what you can’t see… so the more we can show, explain what happened to her and her sailors, the better.
“It’s important to make sure those who served are not forgotten.”
The Gasperados are planning follow-up dives to document the wreck more thoroughly. The other divers in the team were photographers Rick Ayrton and Simon Kay, videographer Fran Hockley, Bryan Watters, Will Schwarz, Tapio Kaleva, Barbara Mortimer, Steve Ashton and Maggs Ashton.
“It was great to see the team working together to deliver such an excellent result,” said Kevin Heath, who has been involved in identifying many WW1 shipwrecks including HMS Duke of Albany, Neesus, Albacore, Steam Pinnace 288 off HMS Valiant and the U-boats U102 and U92. The background and search for HMS Jason is documented in detail on a dedicated page at Lost in Waters Deep.
Steve has been a scuba diver for 30 years and became editor of Diver magazine in 1996, following 10 years with BBC World Service and the 10 before that in motoring journalism.