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!”