The prolific U-boat UB40 holed this cargo steamer with its unusual engine configuration off the Dorset coast in 1917. JOHN LIDDIARD leads the dive, with iIlustration drawn by MAX ELLIS
THIS MONTH’S TOUR is the 5704-ton Aparima, one of a cluster of World War One U-boat victims off Anvil Point. Coastal geography has resulted in several such clusters of wrecks along England’s south coast, with this cargo liner being the largest wreck in this particular group.
On bigger wrecks at depth I find that it helps if the shot can be placed towards one end. This way, most of the wreck can be seen by swimming a single length of it, and popping a delayed SMB to ascend on reaching the other end.
For the Aparima, skipper Bryan Jones managed to place the shot conveniently at the stern, conveniently next to the gun-mount (1).
The stern and most of the wreck is broken to port, so heading downhill from the gun-mount takes us past a cargo-winch (2) and a reel of mooring cable to pairs of bollards that are pretty much level with the seabed, and a section of collapsed railing.
Turning aft, a big steel lozenge (3) is part of the steering mechanism. Next to this, the Aparima’s 4.7in stern gun (4) lies on the sand at 42m, with the breech towards the hull and the barrel pointing almost directly out from the wreck.
The steel lozenge (3) from the steering would have been located on the top of the rudder-post (5), now twisted away from vertical by the collapse of the stern.
The post leads through the stern to the rudder (6), pushed offline towards the starboard propeller-shaft (7). The propeller has been salvaged. The port shaft is buried beneath the stern.
The starboard shaft and the remains of the shaft tunnel (8) lead forward, visible beneath the collapsed starboard side of the hull. While the wreck has collapsed, the main deck and hold-coamings are pretty much intact.
Between the aft holds are four big cargo-winches (9). On the lower port side of the deck the railings have fallen outwards, and a section of hull shows empty portholes (10). Between the winches is the mast-foot, with the lower steel section of the mast fallen to port and slightly forwards (11).
The upper part of the mast and derricks would probably have been wooden and therefore decayed.
Continuing forward past the next hold, we come to the Aparima’s two triple-expansion engines, both fallen to port with the crankshaft from the port engine (12) covered by the starboard engine (13). In classic steamship terminology, you may find this type of configuration described as “six cylinders of triple-expansion engine on two shafts”.
Steam for the engines was provided by three boilers: a pair (14) with the furnaces pointing forwards into the stoke hold, then a single boiler (15) with the furnaces pointing aft. The hull and decks above have collapsed, with the exception of a single ladder (16) that stands on the starboard side.
In addition to cargo the Aparima carried passengers, and was also a training ship for the Union Steamship Company’s cadets. So there would originally have been a fair amount of accommodation in the superstructure above the boilers and engines.
Heading on past the forward holds, the main deck and coamings are as intact as the aft holds, with a similar arrangement of fittings. Four big cargo-winches (17) are arranged about a mast-foot.
Next to the mast-foot, a spare anchor (18) is folded and secured to the deck.
The lower section of the mast (19) has similarly fallen to port and slightly forwards.
While the bow has fallen to port, the deck has collapsed within it, so that the anchor-winch (20) is almost level. The port anchor (21) hangs from its hawse-pipe beneath the bow.
On the higher starboard side, the hawse-pipe (22) is empty. The point at which the starboard side of the bow rises a few metres above the general level of the wreck provides a good location for releasing a delayed SMB for a drifting decompression.
HOLLOWED BY TORPEDO
THE APARIMA, cargo steamer. BUILT 1902, SUNK 1917
BUILT BY WILLIAM DENNY & BROS LTD of Dumbarton in 1902, the 5704-ton Aparima was owned and operated by the Union Steamship Company of New Zealand. In Maori the name means “hollowed place of the hand”.
The ship was fitted to carry 12 First Class passengers and 40 passengers in other classes. The Aparima also served as the Union Steamship Company’s training ship, with an additional 30 young officer-cadets on board.
In addition to general cargo, the Aparima’s main and shelter decks were fitted out to carry 700 horses, a notoriously fickle live cargo that required specialised care and crew.
World War One interrupted the Aparima’s regular role, and she was refitted to transport 1000 troops at a time from New Zealand to Egypt and France.
However, while speedier than the average steamship, the Aparima was not as fast as the liners preferred as troop-carriers, so was returned to cargo use. After delivering one cargo of foodstuffs from Panama to London, she was directed to proceed to Barry to load a cargo of coal.
Despite her zig-zag course down the channel, Oberleutnant Hans Howaldt of UB40 managed to line up his sights on the ship some seven miles off Anvil Point. The torpedo struck port and aft at 12.52am on 19 November, 1917, with the ship sinking in just eight minutes.
Only half of her 112 crew and cadets were saved. One lucky cadet was forced up through a ventilator by the rising water to land on a life-raft.
In his time commanding UB40, Oberleutnant Howaldt was also responsible for creating a number of other wrecks now popular with divers. The Salsette (Wreck Tour 11), Glocliffe (WT 75), Gefion (WT 83), Rosehill (WT 96), Cairndhu (WT 103), Lafranc, Cuba, Chateau Yquem, Greleen and Raadas were among his victims.
GETTING THERE: Follow the A351 past Corfe Castle to Swanage, and follow the signs for the town centre and pier. Parking on the pier is limited, so be prepared to drop divers and kit and use the car park further up the hill.
HOW TO FIND IT: The GPS co-ordinates are 50 29.407N, 001 55.110W (degrees, minutes and decimals). The wreck lies with its bow to the west.
TIDES: Slack water occurs 20 minutes before and 5 hours 40 minutes after high water Dover. Visibility is usually best at high water slack.
DIVING & AIR: Mary-Jo from Swanage Boat Charters, 01929 427064. Air and nitrox are available on Swanage Pier from Divers Down, 01929 423565.
ACCOMMODATION: There are many B&Bs, small hotels and campsites in the area. Contact Swanage Tourist Information, 01929 422885.
LAUNCHING: There is a slip at the Swanage boat park, close to the lifeboat station.
QUALIFICATIONS: BSAC Dive Leader or PADI equivalent with deep speciality, especially at high water. Depth well suited to nitrox.
FURTHER INFORMATION: Admiralty Chart 2615, Bill of Portland to the Needles. Ordnance Survey Map 195, Bournemouth, Purbeck and Surrounding Area. Dive Dorset, by John & Vicki Hinchcliffe. South Coast Shipwrecks of East Dorset and Wight, by Dave Wendes.
PROS: Unusual twin shafts for a cargo ship.
CONS: Visibility can be poor on low water slack
DEPTH: 35 m – 45 m
Appeared in DIVER May 2012