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Dive team pays respects to HMS Boadicea

Dive team pays respects to HMS Boadicea

A technical dive-team has raised the White Ensign on the protected Channel wreck of WW2 destroyer HMS Boadicea, and laid on board the ashes of the sister of one of the ship’s stokers.

The 54m dive was carried out from the dive-boat Skin Deep, and aboard was Stephen Carr, whose uncle had died on Boadicea when she sank in 1944.

Carr had requested that the ashes of his late mother Elizabeth be taken down to reunite her with her brother Jack Joseph. Skin Deep’s skipper Ian Taylor, who was diving on the day, carried out Carr’s request and also raised the flag.

HMS Boadicea lies 13 miles south-west of Portland Bill. Commissioned in 1931, the 98m destroyer was described as “a real workhorse ship of the Royal Navy” by Rick Ayrton, one of the dive-team. After service off Palestine and Spain during its civil war, Boadicea supported British Expeditionary Force troopships in 1939 and the following year carried Winston Churchill from Boulogne to Dover.

On 10 June, 1940, a day after evacuating troops from Le Havre, a German dive-bomber knocked out the destroyer’s engines and boilers, but she was towed back to Dover for repair.

Boadicea was involved in the famous hunt for German battleships Scharnhorst and Gneisenau, and escorted many Arctic convoys. She was involved in the invasion of French North Africa, and rescued 449 people from the liner Viceroy of India and, off Sierra Leone, 220 from another stricken liner, the Incomati.

On 13 June, 1944, seven days after taking part in the D-Day landing operations, Boadicea was escorting a merchant convoy when aerial torpedoes from a German bomber struck her forward of the bridge, setting off a magazine explosion and blowing off the bow. The destroyer sank quickly with the loss of her captain, Lt-Cdr FW Hawkins, and 174 crew. Only 12 survived.

“The shotline caught on a lifeboat davit so it was easy to land at deck level and right beside one of the anti-aircraft guns, complete with barrel,” said Rick Ayrton who, using a rebreather, was able to spend 40 minutes on the wreck. Surface conditions limited dive-times to 90 minutes.

Ayrton reported that the Oerlikon 20mm gun, to which Ian Taylor attached the White Ensign, stood a couple of metres above the deck complete with pedestal and platform: “It wasn’t difficult to imagine gunners frantically firing at the approaching aircraft,” he said. Ammunition for the gun lay scattered on the starboard deck.

Moving aft, the divers saw the four 21in torpedo-launchers, a skyward-pointing 4.7in gun barrel and some of Boadicea’s 20 depth-charges. At the stern they dropped to see the rudder and two partly buried propellers. Ayrton said that it was “amazing to see how compact the destroyer is with its firepower all closely fitted together”.

Ayrton reported that more damage was evident forward of the AA guns, engine and boilers: “Abruptly it appears as if the ship had been chopped with an axe – a messy break that drops in steps to the sand.”

He saw a gun with its barrel pointing into the sand but bad visibility prevented further progress.

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20-Aug-16

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