Wreck Tour 143: The Schokland

The Schokland Wreck Tour
The Schokland Wreck Tour

For a long time the circumstances of the sinking of this freighter in the Channel Islands were a matter of controversy, says JOHN LIDDIARD, but it's an easy dive and often marked by good vis. Illustration by MAX ELLIS

FOR THIS MONTH'S TOUR we are way south off Jersey for the wreck of the Schokland, a Dutch-built and owned steamship requisitioned by the Germans to carry troops and supplies to the Channel Islands.

The Schokland
The Schokland

There are so many Boy's Own-type stories surrounding the sinking, involving sabotage, deception, drunken parties and the Resistance, that it can be difficult to separate truth from rumour and fiction, especially with the confusing evidence of the wreck being part-loaded with a cargo of cement.

Also read: Above 18m: Diving Jersey’s Bouley Bay

Nevertheless, Kendall McDonald has sorted it all out (see history panel below). On 4 January, 1943, the Schokland struck the rocks of Les Grunes Vaudin to the south of Jersey and sank.

We begin at a depth of 25m on the bow, where Mike Rowley, now retired from skippering mv Maureen, conveniently dropped the shot for an easy length-and-back tour of the wreck.

Pouting among the wreckage
Pouting among the wreckage

The bow is beginning to crumble, but all the fittings remain roughly in place, including the anchor-winch (1), with chains holding the anchors tight against either side (2). We then have a larger cargo-winch (3) and pairs of bollards to either side of the deck, before it drops away to the forward hold.

Anchor winch

Descending a little into the first hold, the lower part is packed with bags of cement (4). The sides of the hull are rotting through between ribs and caving in, so the deck and hatch-coaming have dropped at a slight angle while remaining reasonably complete.

Between the forward holds, the stub of a mast (5) rises between a pair of cargo-winches (6). The second hold is similar to the first in that the cargo of bagged cement (7) remains in the lower part, and the deck has dropped as the sides have caved in. The overall structure of the hull also remains complete.

Cargo winch

Looking at the general state of decay, I suspect it is the solidified mass of cement bags that is actually holding the forward part of the ship together, and hindering further erosion by storms and tide.

The deck now rises one level (8) with the remains of the amidships superstructure. A mast has fallen across the ship to hang over the port side.

Behind this, much of the wheelhouse and superstructure has collapsed into the bunker space (9).

Access is from above, with additional light entering through gaps rotted in the side of the hull. Among the debris are a toilet and bath, and even a pair of jackboots covered in silt. If you find them, please leave them where they are, as they would disintegrate if moved.

Upturned toilet
Upturned toilet

Two conventional cylindrical boilers (10) fill the width of the hull with more debris scattered above. Behind the boilers, the wreck has opened up considerably, providing easy access around the triple-expansion steam engine (11).

Boiler and side of steam engine
Boiler and side of steam engine

From the base of the engine, a small stub of propeller-shaft leads aft, but soon breaks where a section of deck with a cargo-winch (12) has fallen in.

The single aft hold (13) is considerably less intact than those forwards. The port side of the hull is rotted between the ribs, and the starboard side is a gaping hole with a jagged break in the deck above it. The aft mast lies diagonally across this hold.

A hole that conceals a conger eel
A hole that conceals a conger eel

At the stern, the remains of an anti-aircraft gun platform are turned upside-down, with the four legs that would have supported it jutting upward (14).

The deck beneath is relatively intact, even with some planking still in place.

The last notable feature is the T at the top of the rudder-post (15). The real steering mechanism is hidden below the deck, but this would have been used to rig auxiliary steering in the event of a failure.

While our tour has stayed at about 25m so far, dropping below the stern to 30m reveals the skeleton of the rudder turned to starboard (16). Then, almost buried in the seabed, the propeller remains attached to its shaft.

Following the curve of the hull back upward, our return route rejoins the main deck beside pairs of mooring bollards (17) before heading back towards the bow.

If there is any time to spare, another look among the debris amidships (18) may reveal more interesting curiosities.

Depending on the number of divers and the strength of the tide, which can be pretty big in the Channel Islands, your skipper may be happy with a delayed SMB for ascent, or may require a return to the shotline (19) to regroup all divers for a drifting decompression on a lazy shot or decompression station.


THE SCHOKLAND, freighter. BUILT 1915, SUNK 1943

When the small Dutch steamer Schokland sank stern-first, at 1.30am on 5 January, 1943, the German Occupying Force tried hard to conceal the fact that 110 German soldiers had died in the icy water a mile off the south coast of Jersey, writes Kendall McDonald.

Within an hour of dawn, however, rumours were flying around the island that this was no accident, and that a bomb had blown a huge hole near her rudder.

The Schokland had been commandeered by the Germans for carrying military cargo and troops between the French port of St Malo and the Channel Islands.

She had been built in Rotterdam in 1915. Her battered appearance had not been helped by the Germans adding 20mm AA guns bow and stern. The stern gun was raised on a high metal platform.
The three-cylinder triple-expansion engine gave the Schokland a top speed of 10 knots.

She weighed in at 1113 tons, schooner-rigged with a single tall funnel, and her length of 225ft made her look low in the water.

The Schokland had been unloading a cargo in St Helier on 4 January when she was ordered to go to St Malo to fetch something, to return and complete the unloading.

A large number of German troops were waiting for transport to St Malo, and were told that they could travel aboard the Schokland if they wished.

Because many of them were hoping for a long leave in Germany after months away, they needed no encouragement, and 284 soldiers had joined the crew of 26 when she sailed.

On board too were women not listed by the Germans. These were said to be prostitutes from the forces' brothel at the Victor Hugo Hotel. Others were believed to be German nurses, but no details were ever given about these passengers.

Nor were any details revealed about the relief master of the ship who had been flown into Jersey that afternoon, a Dutchman with no previous experience of Channel Island waters.
He was to be the real cause of the loss of the Schokland.

Escort ships arrived south of the island at 11.30pm and signalled for the Schokland and another cargo ship, the Holland, to join them beyond the inshore reefs.

As they did so, those aboard the patrol boats spotted that the Schokland appeared to be turning
to the south too soon.

Flares were fired to warn her, but at that moment she struck rocks, causing serious damage below the waterline. Within half an hour she had sunk.

The rescue work went on for the rest of the night, and 174 soldiers were finally rescued. Rumours about a bomb on board persisted, and for many people it was difficult to accept that the sinking had been a simple accident.


The Schokland Tour Guide
The Schokland Tour Guide

GETTING THERE: Condor Ferries from Weymouth, Poole or Portsmouth to Jersey, 0845 609 1024.

HOW TO FIND IT: GPS co-ordinates are 56 03.707N 002 29.717W (degrees, minutes and decimals).

TIDES: Slack water is 45 minutes before high water and 30 minutes before low water St Helier.

DIVING & AIR: Jersey – Dive Jersey, 01534 880934. Guernsey – Richard Keen, 01481 265335, richardkeen@cwgsy.net. Sark – Sark Diving Services, 01481 832565.

ACCOMMODATION: Jersey Tourism.

QUALIFICATIONS: This is an easy wreck for PADI Advanced Open Water or BSAC Sports Divers, and at a good depth for making the most of nitrox.

LAUNCHING: Slip at St Helier in Jersey.

FURTHER INFORMATION: Admiralty Chart 3655, Jersey. Admiralty Chart 1137, Approaches to St Helier. Jersey Tourism.

PROS: Usually good visibility. Convenient for a quick trip out and back from St Helier.

CONS: Big tides can lead to a short slack water period.

DEPTH: 20-35m


Thanks to Mike, Penny and Giles Rowley.

Appeared in DIVER November 2010


Get a weekly roundup of all Divernet news and articles Scuba Mask
We don’t spam! Read our privacy policy for more info.
Notify of

Inline Feedbacks
View all comments

Connect With Us

Would love your thoughts, please comment.x