Full Circle: Listen to The Bell Island Shipwrecks Story at DIVE.2011

If you’re a passionate temperate water diver looking for an exciting and different destination, check out Ocean Quest Newfoundland (www.oceanquestadventures.com).  For centuries vessels have run aground on Newfoundland’s seductive coastline with one of the most interesting sites and stories being that of the Bell Island Wrecks. 

Bell Island is one of the few locations in North America that German forces directly attacked in the Second World War.  For in 1942 four Allied iron-ore carriers, moored in Conception Bay, were torpedoed by German U-Boats.  Before WWII the Germans had regularly bought the iron mined from Bell Island.  Once war had been declared this relationship ceased and the Bell Island ore was now being shipped to Britain.  Germany understandably wasn’t happy and two daring raids were hatched.  On 5th September Fregattenkapitän Rolf Rüggeberg of U-513 successfully torpedoed the Canadian ship SS Lord Strathconca and the British SS Saganaga. They sunk in a couple of minutes.  Then just under two months later on 2nd November, U-518 under the command of Kapitänleutnant Friedrich-Wilhelm Wissmann, sunk the Rose Castle and PLM-27.  Today the Bell Island Wrecks sit upright and intact in mouthwateringly clear Canadian waters and covered in star fish, anemones, sea urchins, mussels and crabs.  Lying in 18 – 48 metres, they’re a Mecca for all temperate water wreck divers.

The story of the Bell Island Wrecks doesn’t finish here though.  In the mid 2000’s Marita, daughter of Captain Rüggeberg, was clearing out her mother’s house when she discovered a small box.  Inside were military documents, slide photos of icebergs and two Iron Crosses that Rüggeberg had received for sinking the SS Lord Strathconca and the SS Saganaga.  Her husband (Barry) started researching, “it was like a jigsaw.  Once we got hold of a copy of the logbook and started to work on the logbook, it all started to come together.  The pictures matched some of the positions of the boat and the story began to unfold”.

The story took on a new twist when Captain Rüggeberg’s son-in-law attended one of the UK Dive Shows.  Barry stumbled across Ocean Quest Newfoundland, who run trips to dive the wrecks that Rüggeberg torpedoed.  As a direct result, in July 2010 Marita and Barry visited Bell Island and donated Rüggeberg’s artifacts (including the two Iron Crosses) to the Bell Island Museum.

To hear more of this exciting story, come and listen to Rick Stanley talk at 2pm in Room 23 this weekend at DIVE.2011, Birmingham.  And if wrecks aren’t your thing, then you can also find out more about diving with majestic Humpback Whales, breathtaking icebergs or abandoned whaling stations.

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