The big Dutch cargo ship, sunk in World War II, is Scotland’s most popular wreck. That means it can get crowded, but JOHN LIDDIARD’s guide will give you a headstart. Illustration by MAX ELLIS
The Breda easily qualifies as Scotland’s most-dived wreck, and it is not hard to see why. It is reasonably intact, conveniently located near Oban and sheltered from most bad weather. The wreck is so popular that local dive centres maintain up to three buoys on the Breda, one at the bows, one amidships, and one at the stern.
I like to begin a dive at the stern (1), enabling the deepest point in the dive to be made right at the start. The buoy line is tied to a ceiling beam in the middle of the aft accommodation block.
The ceilings have long since rusted and rotted away, providing easy access to the cabins (2). Odd bits of mast and railings are home to some fairly large but thin and delicate plumose anemones.
At 30m the seabed at the stern is the deepest part of the wreck, so a quick diversion to the rudder (3) is best made now, at the start of the dive. The propeller was excavated from the silt and salvaged in 1968, earning the salvors £2,500.
The hull is covered with more long and delicate plumose anemones, some large white tunicates and forests of featherworms projecting into the negligible current on their long stalks. On the way back to the deck you will pass a row of empty portholes (4). For a diver more interested in marine life than wreckage, the hull of the Breda is a dive by itself.
With most of the deck 8m or more shallower than the seabed, this is an ideal wreck on which to take advantage of a dive computer to use your time to best advantage.
The entire length of the deck is covered in collapsed masts and associated winches, but unlike many wrecks, where the main interest is the structure of the ship, the Breda has some interesting cargo remaining. The aft hold (5) has a stacked wall of solid cement bags at the front of it, providing some interesting crevices in which conger eels have set up home. This hold also originally carried spare parts for trucks, so you might find some interesting bits of suspension in the silt at the bottom.
Back at deck level, a pair of cabins are located on either side of the deck between the holds (6). Like the stern accommodation, the ceilings have gone but the walls are partially intact, with circular openings left where portholes have been removed.
Number 4 hold (7) is also half-full of solid cement bags, but this time more jumbled up with other scraps of cargo.
Continuing forwards, extensive salvaging has left the remains of the engine room (8) a tangled mess of girders, plates and machinery. Access is possible from above, or through a hole in the port side (9). Be careful exploring too far inside here; divers have died inside the Breda when the way out has become silted or blocked by falling wreckage.
No matter how careful you are, there is always the risk that one of the many other divers that descend on the Breda could unwittingly stir it up for you.
In front of the engine room is another hold (10). Among the debris of cargo here you might be lucky enough to find the odd aircraft part.
The forward superstructure (11) was cleared completely when the wreck was wire-swept. Nothing remains but a few girders which run across the wreck and have almost collapsed down to deck level. The remains of the superstructure can be found on the seabed off the port side.
Number 2 hold (12) is probably the most interesting. At the bottom are the remains of a 4×4 truck chassis, and on the shelf at the side are some fragile-looking metal skeletons, the remains of Tiger Moth aircraft.
Rather than ascending to deck level to cross the superstructure from the previous hold (10), there is also an easy route under the remains of the forward superstructure between these holds.
On the starboard deck above the hold lie the remains of another 4×4 chassis. In addition to the odd tyres remaining scattered about the floor, you could once find boots and sandals in this hold.
Last time I dived the Breda all I could find was the remains of one sandal on the deck above, the discarded trophy of another diver. I can’t see any fascination in taking such items home as trophies, but still find it interesting to rummage for these oddities while diving.
The forward hold (13) is incomplete, its front half swept clear with the raised bows. In front of the hold the bow has been swept clear to one deck below the main deck level (14). Most of the debris lies just off the port side of the bow (15).
On the starboard side a collapsed mast (16) rests on the seabed at 24m and points the way to some further debris from the bow (17). Although tilted on one side, the deck is recognisable from bollards and railings. Other debris off the starboard side of the bow includes truck tyres and the remains of a winch (18).
At 6,941 tons, the Breda is a big wreck with lots to see. A good forage-around in the holds is easily enough for one dive. You could either ascend the buoy at the bows or on a delayed SMB or, if you have air and time left, work your way back to the stern.
A HEINKEL’S PREY
It took just over three hours for the fully bombed-up Heinkel 111s to fly from Stavanger in German-occupied Norway to attack shipping waiting for Atlantic convoys in the Firth of Lorne, near Oban, writes Kendall McDonald. On 23 December, 1940, among the many ships gathered there was the 6,941-ton, 19-year-old Dutch cargo ship Breda.
As dusk fell, so did the Heinkels’ bombs. One particular German bomb-aimer paid special attention to the Breda. He was good at his job and a stick of four 500-pounders straddled the Dutch ship.
But not one of the bombs scored a direct hit, though the very-near misses almost shook her to pieces. In the engine room, one blast was so violent that a cooling-water inlet pipe snapped clean away. Seawater poured in, cutting off all electric and steam power. In minutes the Breda started sinking by the stern. In the nick of time a tug got her under tow, pulled her into Ardmucknish Bay and beached her on a shallow shelf.
Salvage started on Christmas Eve on her cargo of 3000 tons of cement, 175 tons of tobacco, three Hawker biplanes, 30 De Havilland Tiger Moths, spare parts for the aircraft, rubber-soled sandals, NAAFI crockery, Army lorry parts and copper ingots. But very little was saved before the 418ft-long Breda gave a lurch and slipped off the shelf into deep water.
TIDES: There are no significant currents on the Breda.
GETTING THERE: Heading into Glasgow from the south, take the M8 west and cross the Erskine bridge. Then follow the A82 along the side of Loch Lomond and the A85 to Oban. To avoid Loch Lomond and summer traffic jams, a longer but sometimes faster route is to follow the A80 east from Glasgow, then the M80 and M9 past Stirling and the A84 through Callander before joining the A85. For Tralee turn right across the Connel bridge just before Oban.
DIVING AND AIR: Alchemy Diving at Tralee operates a RIB shuttle (01631 720337). Air is available from Tralee Dive Centre (01631 720262), Puffin Dive Centre (01631 566088) and Oban Divers (01631 566618). A number of dayboats operate from Oban and the surrounding area. Some can also supply air.
LAUNCHING: The closest slip is at Tralee. It is also possible to launch across the nearby beach. Small inflatables can be launched on the derelict ferry slips either side of the Connel bridge. Further afield, there are a number of slips in Oban.
ACCOMMODATION: Boat skippers and dive centres can provide details of local accommodation. For information on campsites, caravans, B&B and hotels, contact Oban Tourist Information on 01631 563122, or visit its website Oban
QUALIFICATIONS: The Breda has something for divers of all levels of qualification, from beginners making their first boat dives to experienced wreckies.
FURTHER INFORMATION: Admiralty Chart 2378, Loch Linnhe, Southern Part. Ordnance Survey Map 49, Oban & East Mull. Argyll Shipwrecks by Peter Moir & Ian Crawford. The Diver Guide to Scotland Vol 1: Dive West Scotland by Gordon Ridley. Shipwrecks of the West of Scotland by Bob Baird. Dive Scotland’s Greatest Wrecks by Rod Macdonald. Shipwreck Index of the British Isles Vol 4 by Richard & Bridget Larn.
PROS: A reasonably intact wreck with lots to see. Easy to find and in sheltered water.
CONS: Can get crowded, with large numbers of divers stirring up silt and reducing visibility.
Many thanks to Andy Jameson, Alex Poole and Jon Peskett.
HOW TO FIND IT: The charted position for the Breda is 56.28.55N, 5.25.10W (degrees, minutes and decimals). Local dive centres usually maintain up to three large buoys on the wreck, but sometimes the number is reduced. The bows point just north of eastwards towards the shore.
First published in Diver, November 1999