Since we found this sub a month ago we have been waiting for the USN to make an official press release but they are dragging their heals (despite us having positive ID as you will see) I had really hoped we could let the survivors know before Christmas as I’m sure the photos and find would have been of interest to them.
Anyway for those interested heres my trip diary entry for the find and a few pics. The rest will go up on my website when I have a spare moment:
Divers using; MK15.5, Boris & Meg
The sound of our engines slowing instantly drew everyone’s attention – all conversation and activity stopped. Without prompt or word everyone automatically congregated in the wheel house where we joined the captain to stare at the image slowly developing on the computer screen. At the top of the side-scan screen highlighted in glowing white against what had until now been largely background featureless seabed colour of black was a new intriguing form taking shape. As the sidescan we were towing behind us passed over the unknown object 60m below us on the seabed the reflected image continued to develop on the screen in silence until almost simultaneously a cheer went up as we could all see the image on the screen was of something unmistakably man made –Its linear lines clearly differentiating it from the natural forms such as the reef or rock we often pick up.This was no rock or reef. We could all clearly see the image on the screen was some form of a ship.
The scale on the sidescan indicated that this object was around 300 feet in length so immediately we knew it wasn’t our primary target, she was around 600feet long. The depth finder indicated she stood around 10m off the seabed. As the captain swung the boat around for another pass people started speculating as to what we had found. We knew there were some submarines lost in the area and some destroyers. The Pope was 270feet long but is thought to have been sunk further north, It could be the U-183 who was 300feet long, or it could be one of the destroyers. The image on the screen showed the object was thin and long – it could be any of these ships – or perhaps a larger ship laying on her side partially buried in the seabed. There was only one way to be certain – and we didn’t need prompting, we were already checking over our equipment and preparing to dive.
Simultaneously divers were busy checking their rebreathers, setting their dive computers and beginning to quietly visualize the dive ahead of them. The Capt spend a few minutes studying the currents and wind over the site in order to enable him to perfectly drop anchor in just the right position. The boat crew were busy getting the deco platform ready to drop as we heard the familiar sound of the anchor chain clattering through the rollers – our call to arms. The air was thick with anticipation. The Capt soon emerged from the wheelhouse and after characteristically clearing several pints of mucus from his sinuses he effortlessly threw on his twin 20L tanks filled with air, donned his impossibly long freedivers fins and in one seamless motion that comes from years of practice rolled over the side of the boat with the end of the down line in his hand. We all knew the routine well. He would swim down the anchor line pulling the end of the down line with him as a crew member fed it out from the deck of the boat. 27 years of practice would mean the anchor would be in precisely the right position a small swim down current to the wreck. He would drag the line across and tie it off in exactly the best position. After all this was just another a day at the office for him.
Once the crew member who is feeding the downline feels the pull on the line end he waits a few moments before taking up the slack. Once taken in he ties off the line and the shout goes out “were tied in!”
The excitement level increases a notch as divers, aware that this is what is know as a ‘virgin’ wreck, compete to be the first in the water and down to the wreck. In the background we hear the winch dropping the deco platform into the water as other crew are busy assisting divers clipping on their stage tanks, handing them their cameras and scooters.
Jumping in I am immediately cooled from the heat and stress of gearing up by the 26 degrees C water. A fair current is blowing so you hit the water swimming kicking as hard as one can to grab the trail line. Swinging on this line like a rag doll I take my camera from the outstretched arm of one of the crew members before kicking down to the downline that I can see snaking below me pulled into a big arch by the raging current. My arms burning with the effort of pulling my ungainly bulk down the line I was glad I was using plenty of helium in my breathing gas to stave off narcosis. The large rebreather two AL80 tanks and camera offering considerable resistance to the water. Passing thorough the thermo cline at 40m the visibility and temperature drops. Above the thermo cline we enjoyed blue waters below visibility turned to a murky 5m. As I continued down the outline of the wreck began to take shape. This was the magic moment I enjoy the most when diving virgin wrecks. The moment when you start to realize what you have found. What I saw was a conning tower. We had found another submarine.
I swam along the length of the sub toward the stern taking a few moments to study the singe rear facing gun just behind the conning tower. In many places the outer skin of the hull had rusted through exposing the pressure hull and equipment beneath yet there didn’t seem to be any obvious damage to the pressure hull and all hatches were closed. Swimming around the stern I could see the characteristic prop protectors jutting out from the beautifully curved stern. I checked my depth and time. 60m 20mins – I had time. I picked up the pace on the swim back to the conning tower as I wanted to visit the bow. I found no forward gun but there was a large rangefinder just forward of the tower. Dropping over the side and coming back from the bow I swam over the dive plane. Back at the coning tower I had a little time to explore around. I could see the instruments, compass, helm – everything in place. On this first dive I had spent 50 mins at 60m so it was time to ascend and begin my deco. I would have to save a more detailed exploration of the conning tower for the next dive 3 hours and a celebratory Gin and Tonic later.
The twin deco bars hanging under the boat with surface supplied O2 provided a comfortable place to deco. As is the norm – to save sorb all three rebreather divers deco on surface supplied O2 on our 6m stop.
We were joined during deco by a swarm of beautiful white jelly fish and a couple of remora that took a fancy to my rebreather. Over 2 hours after jumping in my deco was over all that remained was to swim into the lift on the back of the boat and stand upright. As the lift raised me out of the water I sagged under the weight of the twin stage tanks and rebreather before a crew member took pity on me and unclipped the tanks. I walked duck line still wearing my fins over to the bench where I de rig. Gin and tonics are being passed around even before Im out of my suit and the air is filled with excited conversations about the sub everyone reminiscing about what they saw and speculating on the origin of the sub.
We wanted to identify what sub we had found so the next dives were to get some information on her. The Capt. used a knotted line to measure the length of the sub whilst we looked for something in the conning tower with writing on in. If we found German writing we would know its likely the U183, English would suggest it was the USS Perch. Unfortunately we had no reference materials with us on board about subs showing features which would have made a visual identification easy. Buy we were impatient to know the identity before returning to port. From memory the only thing we could recall of the subs were their lengths. The Capt had used a knotted line and found her to be approx 297feet in length – suggesting she was the German sub U-183 (the USS Perch being as far as we could recall 275fetet long)
Reluctantly we turned our back on the unknown sub and continued our journey south to the 100mile x 100mile primary search area that the extensive research we had carried out had suggested another ship we were looking for might be hiding. Reaching the search area by lunchtime we began ‘mowing the lawn’ towing the sidescan through the water scanning the sea bed back and forth in a spiral pattern from the center of the search area outwards. All day and all through the night and next day we scanned and searched. Each of us taking 2 hour shifts all through the night at the helm. Whilst the others rested. We had drawn straw to decide who would take what shift. My shift was from 6 to 8am – I was the lucky one. I knew from past experience that the two to four am shift was the hardest. During my shift the sun would rise and Id have to turn the navigation screen to daylight mode and increase the brightness of the radar so it could be seen better in daylight. All the next day we scanned and scanned but found nothing save a few old fishing boats. The following day we were all quite fed up with scanning so we decided to take a short respite and head back to do a dive on the sub to try to find something with some writing on that could identify her positively. We reached the sub at around noon and were quickly in the water. It felt great to be back in the water again even thought it was only two days and two nights of searching.
I took my camera and concentrated on trying to get some better pictures that might help ID her later, whilst Kevin took video. Craig just went for a swim around and studied the large rear mounted gun. The Capt (following a dream he had had the night before) headed straight to the front of the subs coning tower where in his dream he had seen a builders plate with the name of the sub emblazon upon it. Sure enough he found a coral incrusted pate attached to the tower right where he had seen it in his dream. We loosened away some of the coral and exposed a letter P. He knew instantly before he even finished off cleaning the rest of the name that the was the USS Perch.
Back on the boat we had received a email via satellite from ‘Bent but happy’ (our resident onshore researcher) he gave us some info on the Perch such as the fact amongst other things that she had a single rear mounted gun, which confirmed (as if the name plate wasn’t conclusive enough) who she was. Along with a description of the sub he included a brief account of her war history . She was apparently badly damaged and unable to submerge or escape so when under fire from the Japanese she was scuttled by her crew to prevent her falling into enemy hands. She went down with no loss of life and the Japanese rescued all her crew (all but 10 survived the war in a POW camp)
The fact that she was scuttled accounted for the lack of damage we had seen to the sub. Sitting perfectly upright the only visible damage being the corroded sway outer skin.
Finding a virgin un-dived wreck is always a joy but being able to put a name to her is the ultimate. A copy of the video and stills we took was sent to the USN as soon as we hit land. They didnt seem to believe us at first...then they got the still of the name plate
Leaving the Perch alone once again we headed off to our next search area and collection of marks to investigate - but thats another story
1) Conning tower
2) KevinD on his MK15.5 examines name plate
3) Name plate after clearing away growth
[No salvage was done on the wreck USN notified of finding]