For a steam trawler, this German wreck parked in the Channel was armed to the teeth. JOHN LIDDIARD finds that all those guns can be a distraction. Illustration by MAX ELLIS
You need to travel a little bit out of the way for this month’s wreck, a World War Two German armed trawler. The V210 Hinrich Hey is located between Jersey in the Channel Islands and St Malo on the north coast of Brittany, comfortably within dayboat range of Jersey, though I dived it from the liveaboard Maureen of Dartmouth.
Skipper Mike Rowley had shotted the wreck across the stern, with the grapnel hooked onto a plate next to the large stern trawl-winch (1). There is an enormous tidal range in this part of the world. The depth to the seabed can be as deep as 36m, or as shallow as 26m, depending on high or low-water slack and spring or neap tides. My dive was on highwater slack, but just off springs to give a maximum depth of 35m.
The remains of the stern rest on the port side with propeller and rudder in place (2). There is only a small section of stern and propeller-shaft before the wreckage breaks where the engine would have been located (3).
With typically good visibility, the rest of the wreck should be easily visible from the break unless, as happened to me, an enormous shoal of bib gets in the way. Following the line of the stern along the seabed, the funnel (4) marks the point at which to turn right for the boiler and the forward part of the wreck (5).
When torpedoed, the Hinrich Hey was broken in two at the engine-room. As already mentioned the stern settled to port, and the forward part settled almost at right angles to the stern on its starboard side.
The strange thing is that, among all this destruction, the boiler (5) rotated upright, perhaps almost floating upright because of trapped air. I get the impression that the Hinrich Hey was literally blown apart and sank very quickly.
To the starboard side of the boiler is a small pile of ammunition and a gun-platform that would have been raised above it (6). Staying on the seabed on this side of the wreck, you can see a small pile of chain, then two small gun-pintles fallen on their sides (7) before a larger gun-platform and pintle (8), again resting on its side perpendicular to the wreck.
Near the base of this platform is a case of ammunition, and just forward another small gun pintle. The Hinrich Hey must have been bristling with anti-aircraft guns.
Next comes a pair of drums (9). At the time I thought they were cable-drums, but on reflection they could easily have been small depth-charges. I can’t tell one way or the other from a photograph I took, and now kick myself for not having looked closer when I was diving. I was too caught up in the excitement of all the guns.
Just in front of these are the breech, barrel and gun-shield of a 20mm gun, with a scattering of yet more ammunition (10).
Further forward, debris on the seabed becomes more random, and it is worth moving up to the centre-line of the wreck. Now getting close to the bow, there is first an anchor-winch (11), followed by an intact 88mm gun (12) pointing slightly towards the surface.
The ‘88’ was one of the more notorious German guns, serving very successfully as both an anti-aircraft and anti-tank gun. Allied forces didn't really have a weapon to match it, though it is a bit small compared to big naval guns and was obviously found lacking as an anti-MTB weapon.
At the bow the wooden deck has rotted through, leaving the hawse-pipes exposed (13), with neither anchor in place. One of the anchors is down below the keel (14), though the larger anchor and chain hooked along the keel is clearly one that has fouled against the wreck and been lost from a larger ship at a later date.
Back on deck, it is possible to get inside the bow (15), though I couldn’t see a clear way back through the deck. Behind the anchor-winch the hull is opened out (16), with a gun-platform tipped upside-down in the opening. Looking forward under the bow deck, 88mm ammunition is scattered about the small hold.
The main deck resumes just forward of the boiler, where a solid steel section would have supported the wheelhouse, itself wooden and rotted away, though the foundations can still be made out on the deck (17).
That sums up the main part of the wreck, although there is one thing left to see. It is well off the stern (18), so even in good visibility it might be wise to attach a reel to co-ordinate a pendulum search and later find the way back to the wreck.
About 25-30m off the stern is the remains of the engine (19). It is partly submerged in the sand, and I suspect that it just fell through the gap as the Hinrich Hey was blown apart by the Canadian torpedo – the rest of the wreck sinking fast, but not fast enough to avoid drifting a few metres with the current rather than sinking on top of the engine.
The V210 Hinrich Hey was not the only escort to be sunk when the convoy was attacked by Canadian torpedo boats, Mike Rowley has recently located the wreck of the V208 Walter Darre only 350m away (see history panel).
CANADIANS SPRING DEATH TRAP
Surprisingly, it took only four minutes to sink the sturdy 55m steam trawler Hinrich Hey. She had been specially built in Hamburg in 1934 to stand the shocks of fishing amid the ice of Arctic waters, with strengthened hull and an ice-breaker bow, but could not stand up to torpedoes, writes Kendall McDonald.
When WW2 broke out, her fishing days were over and she was commandeered by the German Navy, converted into an armed patrol vessel by the addition of an 88mm and 20mm guns, and numbered V210. Based at Saint Malo with the 2nd Patrol Boat Flotilla, she was used mainly as an escort for merchant shipping.
By the end of June 1944, all German shipping along the coast of northern France had orders to sail under cover of darkness because of ever-increasing air attacks. It was a ruling that had the full support of the old reservists and even older fishermen who made up the crews of the German patrol vessels.
On 5 July, 1944, following those orders, a convoy of five small ships left Jersey shortly before midnight and headed for St Malo. Hinrich Hey led the way, her sister patrol ship Walter Darre bringing up the rear.
Of the five boats, the Minotaure was carrying 468 slave labourers, mostly Russians, who were forced to work for the Nazis and had been building fortifications in the Channel Islands. Also aboard were some children and a group of French prostitutes. At 1am, when the convoy was some eight miles from St Malo, all hell broke loose.
The German ships had been ambushed by five motor torpedo boats of the 65th Canadian Flotilla, which fired flares to light up the convoy and then launched almost every torpedo they carried. The torpedo explosions were followed by accurate gunfire.
The Hinrich Hey sank immediately. Two minutes later the Walter Darre hit the seabed only 350m away. The fire of the MTBs then concentrated on the Minotaure, which received three direct hits. Her bow was almost blown off, but her captain managed to keep her afloat by going full astern.
Even so, many of those aboard the Minotaure had been killed by the time the Canadians broke off the action and disappeared back into the darkness. In total, more than 250 people had died in just four minutes of action.
GETTING THERE: From the end of the M5, continue south on the A38. Turn left on the A384 for Totnes, then the A3122 for Dartmouth, where Maureen picks up from the floating jetty just into the one-way system. Having unloaded, the nearest long-stay car park is the park-and-ride at the top of the hill, though you might be lucky enough to find a closer space on a side street.
TIDES: With a 10m tidal range, slack is essential and begins 20 minutes after high water and 30 minutes after low water St Helier. On springs, the tide does not go dead slack at high water and slack lasts for less than 15 minutes at low water.
HOW TO FIND IT: The GPS position is 48 45.639N, 002 01.856W, about 6 miles NNE of St Malo
DIVING AND AIR & ACCOMMODATION: mv Maureen, Mike Rowley.
QUALIFICATIONS: Suitable for any sport diver, at a depth well-suited to making the most of nitrox.
FURTHER INFORMATION: Admiralty Chart 3659, Cap Frehel to Iles Chausey.
PROS: It must have been a veritable hedgehog of anti-aircraft guns. A very good excuse to visit the Channel Islands or St Malo.
CONS: Strong tides and short slack water.
Thanks to Mike, Penny and Giles Rowley and the assorted BSAC instructors on the boat for the week.
Appeared in Diver, April 2003