World War Two submarine-chasers may be small but they’re packed with interesting details for divers to examine. JOHN LIDDIARD heads for Dorset, illustration by MAX ELLIS
IT SEEMS AS THOUGH hardly any time has passed since we toured the Carantan (Wreck Tour 124), but it was actually four years ago. The Carantan was also known as Chasseur 5, being number 5 of 17 virtually identical small patrol vessels.
The Carantan is not the only Chasseur wreck in the area. Only a few miles further out from St Alban’s Head, Chasseurs 6 and 7 were lost on 12 October, 1940, in a night action with German destroyers.
At the time I dived this month’s wreck, I didn’t know which of the two Chasseurs it was. Since then, I have learned that this wreck was identified as Chasseur 6 in the past by a number from the gangplank.
With the wreck being such a small target on an echo-sounder, the shot could land anywhere. So I will begin on the starboard engine (1) at 38m. This is one of a pair of 1100hp MAN diesel engines.
Just aft of the engine and still towards the starboard side of the wreck, a large box (2) contains batteries. Inside the wreck and immediately behind this are some long gas cylinders (3), with another such cylinder (4) fallen off the starboard side of the wreck.
The aft deck is flat, with a pair of bollards towards the starboard side and linkage for the steering mechanism (5).
Beneath the stern at 41m the starboard propeller (6) is exposed while the port propeller is visible, but partly buried and obscured by debris. These are three-bladed propellers designed for high-speed operation.
Also off the stern is a small depth charge (7), a curved boat derrick and the pintle for mounting an anti-aircraft gun (8). I suspect that this was from one of the four 20mm guns fitted, although this Chasseur may also have had a larger AA gun added to the aft deck, like the two-pounder pom-pom fitted to the Carantan.
All of this is draped with a heavy cable, possibly part of mine-hunting equipment. Tucked in tight against the stern and fallen to port is the rudder-post and more of the steering mechanism (9).
Now heading forward along the port side, the bollards from this side of the deck have fallen clear of the wreck and are a little out on the gravel seabed (10).
Just inside the hull is a tiled shower-tray (11), then against the bulkhead behind the port engine is the associated hot-water tank (12).
The port engine (13) is, understandably, identical to the starboard engine (1). However, for those who want a closer look it is the other side of the engine that is revealed, where the hull has decayed.
Forward of the engine is a diesel generator (14). The forward bulkhead of the engine-room then crosses the wreck and marks a point where it is worth making a short diversion off the port side again.
A couple of metres out is another pair of the 20mm anti-aircraft gun-mounts (15), then the top part of a porcelain toilet (16) and, more interestingly, the helm (17).
Back inside the hull, the bathroom floor (18) is nicely decorated with small blue and white tiles. Against the aft bulkhead is the wash-basin (19), then forwards is the lower part to the toilet (20).
Starting from the centre-line and tipped to port is the mounting pillar (21) for the 75mm gun (22).
The pillar seems way oversized for a ship as small as this Chasseur, and would have mounted the gun solidly right down to the keel.
We are now in the area of the bow with the usual bow fittings. A small anchor-winch (23) is tipped on end and tucked in just forward of the gun pillar. The corresponding chain (24) lies almost neatly piled just inside the hull. The stem (25) is partly separated and projects upright from the seabed.
Heading aft again round the starboard side of the bow, a little off the wreck and almost level with the pillar for the main gun is a gun-mount at the opposite end of the scale and easy to miss, from one of the machine-guns (26).
Some ammunition from this gun is scattered inside the hull (27).
Finally, just before we get back to our starting point, we pass the starboard generator (28).
To ascend, after a short dive there may be enough slack water remaining to decompress on the shotline.
After a longer dive a delayed SMB will be the best option, in which case it is probably best to head out cross-current for 20m or more to make sure it doesn’t foul the shotline when you release it.
CAUGHT BETWEEN DESTROYERS
CHASSEUR 6, submarine chaser. BUILT 1938, SUNK 1940
THE FRENCH CH5 class of Chasseurs (submarine chasers) were laid down in 1938 to 1939 and began entering service from 1940 onwards. The 17 ships in the class were numbered from Chasseur 5 (Carantan) through to 21. Chasseurs 1-4 were a preceding class of ship.
Following the fall of France, Chasseurs 5 through to 15 were listed as captured and taken over by the Royal Navy on 3 July, 1940.
A lesser-known twist is that Chasseurs 17 and 18 entered service in the German Kriegsmarine as RA3 and RA4.
The Royal Navy used the Chasseurs for the task for which they were designed, patrolling for submarines and as light escorts in the English Channel.
The demise of Chasseur 6 began with the German 5th Destroyer Flotilla setting forth on night patrol from Cherbourg at 7.30pm on 11 October, 1940.
Heading north, the flotilla’s first contact was at 10.30pm to the south of the Isle of Wight, where it opened fire on the armed trawler Warwick Deeping (Wreck Tour 56) and the former French auxiliary patrol vessel L’Istrac. Both British vessels were soon sunk, and the German destroyers turned west.
Just after midnight the flotilla was south of St Alban’s Head, and the destroyer Greif opened fire on Chasseurs 6 and 7. Equipped with World War One vintage 75mm guns, the Chasseurs were completely outclassed, and soon sunk.
Both Chasseurs carried Royal Navy crews of 19, with eight being lost from Chasseur 6 and 12 lost from Chasseur 7. The survivors were taken prisoner on board the Greif to finish the war interred in PoW camps.
The German destroyer flotilla was by now running low on ammunition and turned south for home. With the Royal Navy alerted to its presence, at 3.25am the German flotilla was intercepted by the bigger and better-armed British 5th Destroyer Flotilla.
A pursuit followed, with the German destroyers raising a smokescreen. Several shells landed among the German ships, but none was hit.
The Greif was to be sunk only when torpedoed by aircraft later in the war, on 24 May, 1944.
As Free French forces became organised, some of the Chasseurs in the Royal Navy were given French crews, although others were given Polish crews.
Of the ships to survive the war, several were sold to Syria in 1949.
GETTING THERE: Follow the M4 and A40 to Fishguard and on to Goodwick (where the ferry terminal is). Celtic Diving picks up from the dockside behind the ferry terminal.
HOW TO FIND IT: The wreck lies in two parts, with the bow part further west. GPS co-ordinates for the bow are 51 54.613N, 005 17.954W; for the stern 51 54.587N, 005 18.081W (degrees, minutes and decimals).
TIDES: Slack occurs approximately three hours before and after high water Milford Haven, though it can vary considerably from neap to spring tides. Some shelter is offered from the headland on a flood tide to give a slightly longer slack.
DIVING & AIR: Celtic Diving.
ACCOMMODATION: Celtic Diving can put you in touch with local guest-houses and hostels
LAUNCHING: The closest slip is located in Porthgain. It dries for a few hours either side of low tide.
QUALIFICATIONS: Pushing the limits of PADI Advanced Open Water, a deep speciality is advised for the bow section. It is comfortably within the range of a BSAC Sports Diver.
FURTHER INFORMATION: Admiralty Charts 1973 Cardigan Bay – Southern Part; 1482, Plans in South West Wales. Ordnance Survey Map 157, St David’s & Haverfordwest Area. Shipwrecks Around Wales Volume 2, by Tom Bennett. Fishguard tourist information, 01348 872037.
PROS A chance to see some really early 1840s steamship engineering.
CONS: Could be crowded with a full boat-load, but perhaps the divers could be split between the bow and stern parts of the wreck.
DEPTH: 35m – 45m
Thanks to Pete Williams, Pat Collins, Graham Brown.
Appeared in DIVER June 2013