It almost made it through the Great War, but that was before it encountered a U-boat on a roll. JOHN LIDDIARD takes us around a deeper wreck site off Northern Ireland, with illustration by MAX ELLIS
FOR OUR FINAL TOUR OF 2011, we’re off to Northern Ireland for a dive on one of the last few submarine victims of World War One, the 3821-ton Neotsfield.
To be strictly accurate, the nearby wreck of the Hunsdon (Wreck Tour 102, August 2007), was sunk a month later.
Local divers keep a small buoy tied to the wreck, and when I dived the Neotsfield this was located on the starboard side by the first hold aft (1), so that is where our tour begins. While the seabed is at 48m, the Neotsfield is upright and largely intact, so most of the dive will be at 42m.
Heading aft and staying towards the starboard side of the deck, between the aft holds are the usual pair of cargo- winches (2) and a mast-foot. Tied down next to the mast-foot is an iron spare propeller (3).
Past the next hold, the coaming is intact and some of the cover beams in place. With a cargo of coal, there is no point going inside.
Steps (4) then lead up to a long raised quarterdeck and, between the steps, doorways lead back inside.
Ascending the steps, towards the side of the quarterdeck, some uprights from the railing (5) still stand, though most are gone. On the centre-line there is another mast-foot and winch (6), to serve a final hold (7).
From here our route has an option. The side of the hull has rotted through, with large enough holes to drop through this hold and out through the side.
Those not wanting to venture inside can continue on deck past sets of mooring bollards and over the starboard side to have a look back through the holes rotted in the hull.
There is little point in going all the way to the seabed, but a quick dip below the overhanging stern provides a view of the stub of the propeller-shaft (8) and the broken rudder-post.
Both the propeller and rudder are missing. The propeller would have been made of bronze and salvaged, while the rudder would have been removed to get at the propeller.
Returning to the deck, the Neotsfield’s 4in stern gun (9) has fallen on its side, with the barrel projecting over the stern.
Our return forward follows the port side of the wreck (10), past more bollards and broken railings, then down another set of steps to the main deck.
The mast (11) from between the holds has fallen forwards and out to port to hang over the break in the hull (12) where the torpedo exploded.
This would have immediately flooded at least one hold and the engine-room, sinking the Neotsfield quickly.
Barely discernible remains of steps now lead up to the boat-deck, the aft part of which at 38m is still spanned by a steel-framed deck-house (13), with plenty of room to swim inside and through.
Back in the open, another frame (14) spans the central part of the deck.
Forward of this would have been the funnel and possibly some ventilators from the engine-room, but this has all collapsed to leave a tangle of debris. The boilers would be below this, and the engine further aft beneath the deck-house (13).
Continuing forward along the boat-deck, a cargo-winch (15) serves a deep hold, the hatch going down through the main deck to the hold below.
The wheelhouse must have been of lighter construction than the deck-house we have already passed because it has gone, leaving just a scattering of debris on the deck (16).
Steps now lead down to the main deck and the forward holds. The forward mast (17) has fallen aft and across the port rail.
The base of the mast points on to the usual between-holds fittings of a pair of winches and the mast-foot (18).
On past the forward hold, the forecastle rises above the main deck, with a pair of doorways providing access inside and steps (19) to either side leading up onto the bow deck.
With dive time mounting at depth, rather than ascend those 2m now, staying level with the main deck and swimming around the bow provides a view inside through holes rotted in the hull (20), and the anchors are still tight in their hawse-pipes (21).
Right at the tip of the bow, mounted out from the stem-post is a pulley-wheel (22). I have no idea of its purpose.
Our tour of the Neotsfield ends by following the anchor-chains back from the hawse-pipes to the anchor-winch (23), a suitable spot to release a delayed SMB for a long decompression.
THE NEOTSFIELD, collier. BUILT 1906, SUNK 1918
BUILT IN 1906 BY FURNESS WITHY & CO, with two boilers and a 317hp triple-expansion engine by Richardsons, Westgart & Co of West Hartlepool, this ship was christened Ada by her first owner, before Bell James & Co renamed her Neotsfield.
When she left the Clyde for Naples with a cargo of 4158 tons of coal and 808 tons of coke, the Great War was almost over. Nevertheless, German U-boats remained active, with unrestricted submarine warfare against Allied shipping.
Ernst Krieger was on his first patrol in command of UB64. On 13 September 1918 he had already torpedoed the 286-ton steamship Buffalo, the 691-ton MJ Craig and the 956-ton Setter.
The following day, off the Skulmartin Light, County Down, he torpedoed his largest target to date, the 3,821-ton Neotsfield.
A single torpedo struck the Neotsfield on the port side in the first hold aft. From that point on, the ship was doomed, and she had sunk within 15 minutes.
Captain Mann and his crew took to the boats without loss of life, and without a chance to fire the Neotsfield’s 4in stern gun.
Under her previous commander, Otto von Schrader, UB64’s biggest success was to strike the 32,324-ton troopship Justicia with two torpedoes on 19 July, 1918. Von Schrader didn’t sink the Justicia, but he put her engines out of action and she was sunk a day later by UB124.
UB124 was subsequently forced to the surface by the Justicia’s escorts, and sunk by gunfire. Otto von Schrader went on to become an Admiral in WW2.
UB64 under Ernst Krieger went on to sink several more ships in the Irish Sea, including the 1388-ton Serula on 16 September and the 4952-ton Barrister three days later.
Following the Armistice, UB64 was surrendered to the Allies, and scrapped in 1921.
GETTING THERE: Norfolkline Irish Sea Ferry Services, Liverpool (Birkenhead) to Belfast From Belfast take the A20 to Portaferry.
HOW TO FIND IT: The GPS co-ordinates are 54 31.643N, 005 23.279W (degrees, minutes and decimals). The wreck lies with bow just to west of north, and stands 10m high from a 48m seabed.
TIDES: Slack water coincides roughly with high and low water Belfast.
LAUNCHING The small harbour at Ballywalter provides the closest slip to the wreck.
QUALIFICATIONS: The depth necessitates PADI Dive Master/BSAC Dive Leader or at least an entry-level technical qualification such as Deco Procedures. It’s a good depth for a normoxic trimix blend.
FURTHER INFORMATION: Admiralty Chart 2093, Southern Approaches to North Channel. Shipwrecks of the Ulster Coast by Ian Wilson. Irish Wrecks Online by Randall Armstrong,
PROS: Despite the depth and darkness, the Neotsfield is easy to navigate.
CONS: It’s a big wreck to complete in one dive.
Thanks to David Vincent, Tony Vincent and Steve Phillips.
Appeared in DIVER December 2011