This WW2 armed trawler off the Isle of Wight makes a perfect club dive – small enough to see in one go but with plenty to hold the interest, says JOHN LIDDIARD. Illustration by MAX ELLIS
I always enjoy diving wrecks of armed trawlers. They are a convenient size to get round in one dive without too much decompression, whatever the depth. They have a nice variety of machinery and armament to look at. All the bits are small enough to fit into a photograph.
They are such sturdy little ships, designed to fair storms in the worst of weather, so the wrecks remain intact. And I have yet to find one that sank upside-down.
The Warwick Deeping off the back of the Isle of Wight is an excellent example. Sunk by gunfire in a night action with German E-boats on 11 October 1940, the wreck is upright and pretty much intact, lying along the tide in 34m.
The difficult bit is getting a shot onto it. To quote Lymington skipper Dave Wendes: “It can be a pig to shot accurately as it lies with the tide, is narrow in the beam and is so intact that there is virtually no scattered wreckage to hook onto.“
Save for the mast, the highest point of the wreck is the roof of the deckhouse (1) at just past 30m, so that is where we will begin. This was a platform for a twin 0.5in machine gun. Railings are intact on the port and aft sides, broken on the starboard side, but more of that later.
Dropping aft to main deck level, the walls of the deckhouse are decayed, the inside filled with debris. As on most Channel wrecks, you'll find a fair few bib swimming about inside. Behind the deckhouse, the entire ventilation hatch structure for the engine-room has fallen onto the top of the engine (2). One of the hatches is broken to give a limited view inside.
On either side of the deck are depth-charge catapults, canted pillars with cups on top and pistons on the side (3), (4). These are sometimes referred to as Y guns, because of the angle of the pillars when viewed from along the ship.
On the starboard side (3), a depth-charge rests ready for loading against the railing. A spigot projecting from the otherwise cylindrical charge would have been used to locate it accurately on the catapult.
Moving aft, the steering chains run along the side of the deck to the steering mechanism (5), a simple set of bars with chains attached to either side. In the wheelhouse the chains would have been pulled either way by turning the ship’s wheel, in turn pulling one or other of the bars on the steering mechanism to turn the rudder below.
Round the stern on the port side, a small engine of some kind rests at the edge of the deck (6). It’s not easy to work out what this is – my best guess is a pump.
Over the stern the general level of the seabed is 34m, with a 3m scour under the stern leaving the propeller and rudder exposed (7). It just shows how strong the tide can be here. The propeller is iron with four blades. A small hole in the keel just forward of the prop is home to a conger eel.
Back on the deck and moving forward along the port side, another pair of depth-charges are secured against the side of the wheelhouse (8). Just forward of these is the remains of the twin 0.5in machine-gun mount (9), fallen from the roof of the deckhouse. The mount is complete, though the guns are gone.
Next forward is the base of the wheelhouse (10). The wheelhouse itself was wooden and has completely decayed, debris blocking the flue to the boiler below. The reason for the survival of the deckhouse behind (1) is that it was built up with steel to take the machine-gun mount.
In front of the wheelhouse, an outline on the deck marks the point at which the trawl-winch would have been located, presumably removed when the Warwick Deeping was converted for Admiralty use in 1939.
Next forward is the hold, with cover still intact, though it does sag a little in places. On the port side of the hold coaming rests another depth-charge (11), then about halfway forward along the hold is a small winch (12), also on the port side.
Be very cautious from here forward, because a net is draped across the wreck (13) just aft of the mast. An open hatch leading into the hold is partially blocked by the net.
The main 4.7in gun lies intact on one side, the barrel projecting over the port side of the bow (14). It’s a nice example, complete with mounting, pintle and all the main parts, though there are no wheels on it.
The Warwick Deeping has a covered weather bow (15), just a pair of bollards set into the otherwise smooth cover on either side. The anchor-winch can be seen inside the sheltered area below.
The port hawse-pipe (16) is empty, though an anchor is still held firmly in the starboard hawse-pipe (17). Unlike the stern, the seabed at the bow is at 34m, with virtually no scour.
With a short slack water and the tide by now picking up, there is little point ascending the shotline. The mast (18) reaches a few metres up to 29m, and from there it is best to ascend on a delayed SMB.
HUNTING BIGGER FISH
There was nothing ‘HMS’ about Warwick Deeping when this 545-ton trawler was built by Cochrane Shipbuilders of Selby in 1934 for the Newington Steam Trawler Company of Hull. It was intended strictly for peaceful fishing, writes Kendall McDonald.
And that’s what it did until September 1939, when the 47m-long trawler, with a beam of 8m, was bought by the Admiralty and converted for war.
That conversion consisted of fitting a 4.7in gun on the bow, and a machine-gun on the stern, adding depth-charge racks and submarine detection gear, and calling it HMS Warwick Deeping.
In the early evening of 11 October, 1940, Warwick Deeping and L'Istrac, a former French auxiliary patrol vessel that had escaped from France and been taken over by the Royal Navy, were patrolling to the south of St Catherine’s Point, Isle of Wight.
Here they ran into five German E-boats of the 5th Torpedo Boat Flotilla, based at Cherbourg.
The crew of L'Istrac thought the boats approaching at speed were British MTBs and turned on their identification lights. The Germans immediately opened up with their deck-guns. Badly damaged and wallowing, L'Istrac was quickly finished off by a torpedo from the E-boat Greif.
At first Warwick Deeping was luckier. Despite having taken several hits, it ran for the Isle of Wight. Two torpedoes followed. One went beneath the vessel and the other failed to explode. But the earlier shells had holed it, and when water rose over the engines it slid to a stop and began heeling to port.
The E-boats obviously thought it was not worth wasting any more torpedoes on the boat and raced off to the south. It had been a good sweep for the E-boats. Later on in the same mission they sank two Free French submarine-chasers, CH6 and CH7.
The 22 crew of the Warwick Deeping took to the boats as it sank and reached shore safely. The crew of L'Istrac were picked up without loss at dawn.
GETTING THERE: From the roundabout at the M27 J1, turn south on the A337 through Lyndhurst and continue on to Lymington. Head towards the town centre until the road takes a sharp right and turn uphill to the high street. Rather than go up the high street, go straight on and follow the road downhill to the river and marinas.
TIDES: Slack water is essential and occurs 10 minutes after high water or 45 minutes before low water Dover.
HOW TO FIND IT: The GPS co-ordinates are 50 34.260N, 001 27.824W (degrees, minutes and decimals).
LAUNCHING: There is a slip in the marina at Lymington. It is tidal and dries towards low water.
ACCOMMODATION: The New Forest is a popular tourist area with all levels of accommodation from camping to hotels readily available.
QUALIFICATIONS: Suitable for reasonably experienced sports divers. Average depth of 33m makes the Warwick Deeping ideal for nitrox, though beware of the scour under the stern.
FURTHER INFORMATION: Admiralty Chart 2045, Approaches to the Solent. Ordnance Survey Map 196, The Solent & the Isle of Wight. Dive Wight and Hampshire, by Martin Pritchard & Kendall McDonald.
PROS: An ideal dive for the usual mix of club experience. Small enough that a quick tour can be achieved within a no-stop dive, yet plenty of detail to interest those who want to stay longer.
CONS: A small wreck lying along the tide, so very tricky to shot.
Thanks to Dave Wendes and members of the Hampshire Police diving club.
Appeared in Diver, October 2003