Traces of History: Exploring the WWI Shipwrecks Along the Irish Coast

These are the long-forgotten shipwrecks of the Atlantic, their history dating back over a century to the First World War.

Scattered just off the Irish coast, these sunken vessels met their fate through torpedoes and mines, now resting on the seabed of the vast ocean.

Within this underwater graveyard lie a variety of wrecks, including merchant vessels, submarines, and ocean liners, with the venerable HMS Audacious claiming the title as the oldest relic among them.image

Titanic-like bow: Among the sunken warships found off the Irish coast is the SS Justicia, a White Star liner built in Belfast which was torpedoed 23 miles south of Skerryvore in Scotland by German Type III Coastal U-boat UB-64
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Exploration: After being torpedoed by the German U-boat, the SS Justicia was then hit three times more
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A diver swims along side the massive starboard anchor of SS Justicia
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Deaths: Sixteen crew members of the SS Justicia were killed when it went down but the rest were evacuated. The ship now lies in 235ft of water in an area off Ireland which has become very popular with divers thanks to the many wrecks there

She sank in October 1914 after hitting a German mine off Tory Island, which is nine miles off the Donegal coast.

Only one person on board died after Titanic’s sister ship, the White Star liner Olympic, came to the rescue.

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Also on the seabed is HMS Viknor, an armed merchant cruiser which sank without sending a distress signal.

All 295 Royal Navy officers on board died in January 1915 and she now rests under almost 300ft of water.

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Cargo steam: The Empire Heritage was torpedoed by U-482 on the way from New York to Liverpool, claiming 113 lives. The attack happened 15 miles north west of Malin Head in County Donegal ¿ and she now rests in 225ft of water
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Astonishing: Sherman tanks can also be found on the seabed from the Second World War wreckage of the cargo steamer
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A diver swims along side the two-storey high engine of HMS Viknor, which is still standing proud on the seabed. The armed merchant cruiser sank in January 1915 without sending a distress signal – and it now rests under almost 300ft of water
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Locations: These are the forgotten shipwrecks off the Irish coast, sunk by torpedoes and mines and now on the seabed

Remarkably, the Viknor’s wreck was only found almost a century later in 2006 by an Irish survey vessel.

Among the other sunken boats found off the Irish coast is the SS Justicia, a White Star liner built in Belfast.

She was torpedoed 23 miles south of Skerryvore in Scotland by German Type III Coastal U-boat UB-64.

The watertight doors were shut, temporarily keeping her afloat, but then she was then hit three times more.

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Enemy boat: Torpedo tubes at the bow of the World War One German submarine U-89, which was sunk when caught off guard on the surface and rammed by the British escort HMS Roxburgh. With all 43 submariners lost she is a war grave
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Down in the deep end: A diver swims alongside the exposed torpedo tubes and bow of U-2511, which was scuttled off Lisahally in Northern Ireland following the end of the war in January 1946 and now lies at a depth of 226ft
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Deliberately sunk: A diver swims to the conning tower of U-2511, which was finished and launched too late to see any combat. The U-boat was one of 116 scuttled at the end of the Second World War as part of Operation Deadlight

The Justicia was then towed before she was found by UB-64 and hit again twice, which eventually sunk her.

Sixteen crew members were killed but the rest were evacuated and the ship now lies in 235ft of water.

Sherman tanks can also be found on the seabed from the Second World War wreckage of a cargo steamer.

The Empire Heritage was torpedoed by U-482 on the way from New York to Liverpool, claiming 112 lives.

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Taking a look around: Diver descending down to the wreck of U-2511, which was put under the command of U-Boat captain Adalbert Schnee, who known for receiving the valour award of the Knight’s Cross of the Iron Cross with Oak Leaves
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The SS Justicia
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The conning tower of the WWI Uboat U89
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Power: The 105mm deck gun of U-89, which was involved in naval warfare and took part in the First Battle of the Atlantic
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Going underwater: Darragh Norton, a chemist from Ireland, was fortunate enough to experience the wrecks on a dive

The attack happened 15 miles north west of Malin Head – and she now rests in 225ft of water.

Darragh Norton, a chemist from Ireland, was fortunate enough to experience the wrecks on a dive.

The 43-year-old said: ‘The seabed is littered with ocean liners, to German World War One and World War Two submarines and numerous merchant vessels.

‘Most of the wrecks lie beyond the reach of recreational divers, requiring specialised equipment and exotic gases associated with technical diving. I dive them every year.’

 

HMS AUDACIOUS (1 DEATH)

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Type of boat: Battleship

Route: Gunnery exercises at Loch na Keal in Ireland

Who sank it: German mine

Where: Off Tory Island, Ireland

When: October 1914

HMS VIKNOR (295 DEATHS)

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Type: Armed merchant cruiser

Route: From Kirkwall in Orkney to Liverpool

Who sank it: German mine

Where: Off Tory Island

When: January 1915

SS JUSTICIA (16 DEATHS)

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Type: Troopship

Route: From Belfast to New York

Who sank it: German Type III Coastal U-boat UB-64

Where: South of Skerryvore, Scotland

When: July 1918

SS EMPIRE HERITAGE (112 DEATHS)

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Type: Steam tanker

Route: From New York to Liverpool

Who sank it: Torpedoed by U-482

Where: North-east of Tory Island

When: September 1944

 

HOW THE NORTH IRISH COAST BECAME A GRAVEYARD FOR SHIPS IN THE WARS

The seas off the North Irish coast are well known as being a mass graveyard for First and Second World War ships and submarines.

During the First World War, the area was a key strategic route for Allied navies and was used to keep important trade routes running, including to America.

The British fleet suffered heavy losses in what became known as the Atlantic U-boat campaign, with nearly half of Britain’s merchant marine fleet destroyed during the course of the war by German torpedoes or mines.

As well as First World War vessels, the seabed to the north of Ireland and west of Scotland is also the resting place of a number of ships sunk during the Second World War.

Allied convoys regularly passed the area on their way to and from the large ports at Glasgow and Liverpool.

During six years of intense action in the Battle of the Atlantic, ships would often be clustered in the coastal waters nearby and as a result of the heavy shipping traffic, the Nazis saw it as a crucial target.

But it also became a deadly place to be for German U-boats which were vulnerable to aircarft near land as well as Royal Navy vessels.

Huy

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