Search Begins for Famous World War II Submarine

One of the most celebrated submarines of World War II may about to be located 70 years after she was scuttled to avoid falling into enemy hands.

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Imperial War Museum

The HMS Saracen on the River Mersey, U.K., in July 1942.

One of the most celebrated submarines of World War II could soon be located 70 years after she was scuttled to avoid falling into enemy hands.

On Aug. 14, 1943, the H.M.S. Saracen was deliberately sunk by her crew near the town of Bastia, on the northern coast of the French island of Corsica, after being damaged in a clash with Italian warships. She has lain undisturbed at the bottom of the Mediterranean ever since, but now a new operation to find her wreck is under way.

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The André Malraux, a state-of-the-art, $13 million research vessel, departed from the French port of Marseille on Monday and is now combing the ocean floor in search of the lost British sub. France’s underwater archaeological unit (DRASSM) is using side-scan sonar to locate the remains and will then deploy a robotic camera to examine her down in the depths.

“A copy of the resulting pictures and film will be sent to the Royal Navy Submarine Museum in Gosport for their archives,” Terry Hodgkinson, a British author who has written extensively about the ill-fated vessel, told the U.K. Telegraph. “Some will also be sent to the family members of HMS Saracen’s crew.”

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The 217-foot Saracen was one of the most successful Allied submarines marauding the seas of Europe. She torpedoed the Italian submarine Granito, the auxiliary submarine chaser Maria Angelette, the Vichy French tugs Provincale II and Marseillaise V, the Italian merchant ships Tagliamento and Tripoli and the German merchant vessel Tell, according to official records.

But on Aug. 13, 1943, she was mortally wounded by depth charges launched from the Italian corvettes Minerva and Euterpe; her superstitious captain, Lieut. Michael Lumby, insisted on waiting for a day to pass in order to avoid scuttling the ship on the unlucky Friday the 13th.

Two of the  Saracen’s 48 crewmembers died while attempting to flee the wreckage, meaning that her wreck is classed as an official war grave. Should the DRASSM find the submarine as expected, a bronze badge will be placed on top that bears the inscription: ‘In memory of H.M.S. Saracen and her Crew who played a vital role in the Liberation of Corsica. Sank 14th August 1943.’

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One sailor who managed to escape with his life was William T. H. Morris, who was captured and eventually moved to the infamous prisoner of war camp at Marlag und Milag Nord in Germany.

Morris was incredibly proud to serve on the Saracen and kept a fascinating logbook. One of his poems, called Here’s to Us, includes the lines: “Here’s to the gallant submariners;
The boys with their torpedoes, by gad;
Those cool, imperturbable, calm, indisputable;
Nervy, inquisitive lads!”

6 comments
redsailor07
redsailor07

WWII submarines were rated by the amount of enemy tonnage that they sank or permanently disabled. For instance, HMS Upholder, serving with the 10th Submarine Flotilla out of Malta sank 135,000 tons of Axis shipping making her the top scoring Royal Navy submarine of WWII. Upholder was eventually sunk in the Mediterranean by the Italian Destroyer ‘Pegaso’ 14th of April 1942.

This may not sound a lot today in an age when one super-tanker can have a GRT (gross registered tonnage) of in excess of 200,000 tons. But it was impressive back then when the average GRT of individual merchant and military vessels were in the 3,000 – 8,000 ton weight ranges. Naturally, battle ships and aircraft carriers were far heavier targets but they were few and far between when it came to being confirmed kills.

The boats of the RN Submarine Service sank approx 1.5 million tons of enemy shipping during that war. 82 submarines were lost 1939-45 and 5,000 submariners lost their lives in those actions.

CamilleMseikeh
CamilleMseikeh

"now combing the ocean floor". May I, it is not an ocean, it is a sea; the Mediterranean... 

jslashk
jslashk

Please stop calling ships "she"!! It's not a woman, it's a machine!!

BobjustBob
BobjustBob like.author.displayName 1 Like

@jslashk @jslashk Technically, when they referred to the sub as "she", they were referring to a  "boat", not a "ship".  Subs are boats.  Also, the sailors on this British sub would have been referred to as "submariners" with "mariner" pronounced like the Seattle baseball team, while American "submariners" pronounce it like "mahreeners" with the accent on the "e".Called "she" because of long history of naming vessels women's names and/or at one time in evolution of English language the word for boat carried a gender association as do the Romantic languages (masculine in Spanish now).  Trivial?  Maybe, but somebody has to keep them honest because most of the submariners are dying off and can't do it for us.

DanP
DanP

@BobjustBob @jslashk 

You are quite right Bob.... submarines are BOATS.  I serviced on two WWII subs,  USS Caiman and USS Catfish in the late 1960s. 

JaySchuls
JaySchuls

so why is it famous by comparison to the other WWII subs???