Shiptime Maritime Archaeology Project Orkney – HMS Royal Oak Steam Pinnace Located

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The HMS Royal Oak pinnace

The tragic story of the loss of HMS Royal Oak in the first weeks of the Second World War is well known in Orkney and further afield, but there has always been mystery surrounding the location of one of the small vessels that was used by sailors attempting to escape from the sinking battleship.

Orkney Research Centre for Archaeology (ORCA), the University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute and SULA Diving can now confirm the position of the missing HMS Royal Oak steam pinnace.

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Multi beam showing position of HMS Royal Oak and the pinnace

HMS Royal Oak was a Royal Navy battleship which was moored in Scapa Bay as an anti-aircraft platform to help defend a vital radar station on the cliffs. On the night of 13 October German submarine, U-47 manoeuvred into Scapa Flow and finding the Royal Oak at anchor fired torpedoes which led to the sinking of the huge ship. 834 men were lost of the 1,200 crew on-board with the few survivors struggling in the cold oil-covered water.

Research shows that two 50-foot picket boats were on onboard HMS Royal Oak when she was torpedoed. Number 749 was built by J Samuel White of the Isle of Wight and number 752 built by Rowhedge Ironworks, Wivenhoe Shipyard, Essex.

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HMS Royal Oak pinnace steering helm

Documentary evidence indicates that around 100 crew members abandoned ship via her port side pinnace, which had a lifesaving capacity of 59. The Starboard side pinnace  went down with Royal Oak and can be seen on the seabed a short distance from the wreck. The small pinnace had not got up steam so boards were used to paddle the vessel away from the sinking Royal Oak.  The pinnace began to rock due to being overloaded and the chief buffer tried to counter the movement by shouting instructions ‘’Lean to starboard, lean to port’. Some on deck were ordered below to make more room as more men tried to climb on board.

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HMS Royal Oak pinnace boiler

Dick Kerr who was hanging on the side of the small vessel says, he heard someone start singing ‘Down Mexico way, south of the border’’ and a few others joined in. A short while later the pinnace capsized throwing those on deck into the water and trapping those who had gone below. Some crew scrambled onto the upturned hull but many were lost. The vessel then righted herself, capsized once more and then sank.

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HMS Royal Oak pinnace compass

The location of this little ship was not known – until last month when the Shiptime Maritime Archaeology Project pinpointed the shipwreck on multibeam sonar, 300 metres from the main wreck site. The site was surveyed by Triscom Enterprise as part of the Shiptime Maritime Archaeology Project. The site had been previously side scanned by SULA Diving as part of a survey for OIC Harbours, but the identity of the craft had not then been established. As part of the project, a dive survey was conducted by SULA Diving of Stromness on the contact to establish that this was the missing port side pinnace.

Diver, Wayne Allen, of Wayne Allen Technical said, “It was a privilege to be able to assist SULA Diving in recording these historically important sites.”

Alistair Coutts, Business Development Manager, Seatronics, said: “Seatronics were delighted to have the opportunity to work with the collected specialists on this exciting project, providing ROV, positioning and 3D modelling and spatially cross referenced video inspection equipment”.

Pete Higgins, Senior Project Manager, Orkney Research Centre for Archaeology commented that, “ It is a great privilege to be involved with the monitoring of such an important wreck site as HMS Royal Oak and in the finding of the missing pinnace. The site will now be recorded and will add to our knowledge surrounding the sinking of HMS Royal Oak.”

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HMS Royal Oak pinnace propeller

This exciting project is led by Sandra Henry of UHI Archaeology Institute, ORCA (Orkney Research Centre for Archaeology), the University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute and Kevin Heath of SULA Diving who have brought together universities, commercial companies and government bodies including Historic Environment Scotland, Marine Scotland, Ulster University, Heriot-Watt University, University of Dundee, and Seatronics – an Acteon company.

The dive video clip above is also available from sean.page@uhi.ac.uk

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HMS Royal Oak pinnace forward cabin

 

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Side Scan Sonar Image of the HMS Royal Oak Pinnace
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Side Scan Sonar Image of the HMS Royal Oak Pinnace showing an overlay plan of the actual pinnace.

Notes for Editors

  • The project lead is Orkney Research Centre for Archaeology (ORCA), University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute.
  • http://www.suladiving.com Provided the diving services. Side scan data acquisition and research for the project.
  • Marine Scotland vessel MV Scotia was the work platform for data collection. Data collection involved Marine Scotland undertaking MBES survey, providing calibrated unprocessed raw data and camera equipment for the acquisition of data.
  • Seatronics – an Acteon Company provided ROV, positioning and 3D modelling and spatially cross referenced video inspection equipment.
  • Historic Environment Scotland provided funding, guidance on marine historic assets, survey targets and specialist knowledge on the wreck sites.
  • Ulster University provided input into the specifications for data acquisition for the geophysical and ROV surveys and will provide input into maritime archaeological assessment and analysis.
  • Heriot-Watt University provided input into the specifications for data acquisition for the ROV survey and undertook marine biological studies on the submerged cultural heritage assets.
  • Ministry of Defence provided input into the specifications for data acquisition for the geophysical and ROV surveys, and specialist knowledge on the wreck sites being investigated and environmental studies of the wreck sites.
  • The University of Dundee will process MBES and ROV survey data and work to produce visualisations based on the collected data. This will involve the production of 3D models of the wreck sites from the multibeam echosounder and photogrammetric data.
  • The project was conducted under licence from the Ministry of Defence.
  • Thanks to Triscom Enterprises Limited. Triscom operates its own multibeam echo-sounder which is an advanced sonar system able to provide full-coverage seafloor mapping, which is mainly used in the nearshore construction & cable industry. We were delighted to be given the opportunity to provide our 3D mapping service in the recent marine archaeology project in collaboration with ORCA and Sula diving. The larger vessel involved in the project, the Scotia, was unwilling to risk close proximity with the wreck of the Royal Oak which rises to about 6m below the surface, but Triscom were able to rapidly mobilise a multibeam aboard Sula’s small workboat Challenger, and this gave us the opportunity to do a 3D scan of the newly discovered wreck of the Royal Oak’s steam pinnace.

 

WW1 Destroyer Position Confirmed by Maritime Archaeology Project

HMS Pheasant- Multibeam Echosound Image. Copyright ORCA
Multibeam Echosound Image of HMS Pheasant. Copyright: ORCA

First World War Destroyer Position Confirmed by Maritime Archaeology Project in Orkney.

Most people probably do not realise that when they take the ferry from Scrabster bound for Orkney, that they will be passing over a shipwreck from the First World War – a shipwreck that up until now has been shrouded in mystery and tragedy.

Orkney Research Centre for Archaeology (ORCA), the University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute and SULA Diving can now confirm that the archaeological maritime survey conducted last month from the decks of the Marine Scotland vessel MV Scotia has located the site of the First World War destroyer HMS Pheasant and for the first time the wreck can be viewed through the use of Multibeam Sonar technology. The wreck itself is protected as a designated vessel under the Protection of Military Remains Act 1986 which means that it can be dived but not entered or disturbed without permission from the Ministry of Defence.

HMS Pheasant was an M class destroyer built by Fairfield Shipyard on the Clyde and launched on 23rd October 1916. At 0.15 on the morning of 1st March 1917 the ship left Stromness to patrol the waters to the west of Orkney. Steaming down the west side of Hoy at full speed she most likely struck a mine off Rora Head close to the Old Man of Hoy that had been laid on the 21st January 1917 by German submarine U 80.

The Trawler HMT Grouse was at anchor under Rora Head due to the heavy sea prevailing at the time and two deck hands on watch reported an explosion and smoke at 06.00 but tragically the skipper was not informed till 08.00 when she proceeded to the area. The Trawler HMT Cairo which was patrolling in the Hoy Sound heard a faint explosion at 06.00 but took it to be gunfire and so remained on station off Stromness. The first reports only started coming in two hours after HMS Pheasant struck the mine when at 08.15 the trawler HMT Oropesa reported finding  ‘’ Large quantities of oil and some wreckage one mile west of Old Man of Hoy.” The crew also picked up a life buoy marked HMS ‘Pheasant’.’

Eighty nine crew were aboard HMS Pheasant when she was lost. Only one body was recovered: that of Midshipman Reginald Campbell Cotter RNR. He was 20 years old and he is buried in the military cemetery at Lyness, Hoy, Orkney.

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Marine Scotland vessel: MV Scotia

This year marks the centenary of the loss of HMS Pheasant and there is an initiative underway to develop a memorial on Hoy, Orkney to commemorate all those who lost their lives aboard. This is being led by Kinlay Francis, Orkney Uncovered and Kevin Heath, SULA Diving.

This exciting project is led by Sandra Henry of UHI Archaeology Institute, ORCA (Orkney Research Centre for Archaeology), the University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute and Kevin Heath of SULA Diving who have brought together universities, commercial companies and government bodies including Historic Environment Scotland, Marine Scotland, Ulster University, Heriot-Watt University, University of Dundee, and Seatronics – an Acteon company.


Notes

  • The project lead is Orkney Research Centre for Archaeology (ORCA), University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute.
  • Marine Scotland vessel MV Scotia was the work platform for data collection. Data collection involved Marine Scotland undertaking MBES survey, providing calibrated unprocessed raw data and camera equipment for the acquisition of data.
  • Seatronics – an Acteon Company provided ROV, positioning and 3D modelling and spatially cross referenced video inspection equipment.
  • Historic Environment Scotland provided funding, guidance on marine historic assets, survey targets and specialist knowledge on the wreck sites.
  • Ulster University provided input into the specifications for data acquisition for the geophysical and ROV surveys and will provide input into maritime archaeological assessment and analysis.
  • Heriot-Watt University provided input into the specifications for data acquisition for the ROV survey and undertook marine biological studies on the submerged cultural heritage assets.
  • Ministry of Defence provided input into the specifications for data acquisition for the geophysical and ROV surveys, and specialist knowledge on the wreck sites being investigated and environmental studies of the wreck sites.
  • The University of Dundee will process MBES and ROV survey data and work to produce visualisations based on the collected data. This will involve the production of 3D models of the wreck sites from the multibeam echosounder and photogrammetric data.
  • The project was conducted under licence from the Ministry of Defence.

 

 

 

Marine Archaeology Paper to be Presented at CIFA Conference

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Rysa Little Site. SS085: Bridge Cabin Structure. Copyright: UHI Archaeology Institute

Mark Littlewood, Geomatics Officer Orkney Research Centre for Archaeology, will be presenting his paper – Protecting Accessible Marine Tourism Sites: The Case of Scapa Flow – at the Chartered Institute for Archaeologists conference which is being held at Newcastle University on 19th-21st April 2017.

Marks abstract continues….Scapa Flow is one of a number of marine anchorages which possesses a rich palimpsest of twentieth-century shipwrecks. Since the signing of the Armistice on the 11th November 1918, the interned ships of the High Seas Fleet were viewed within the perspective of the military knowledge that they could impart to the Allied powers, a factor that played a key role in the scuttling of the fleet. Following their scuttling the German High Seas Fleet and also the lesser known block ships that protected Scapa Flow during the First and Second World Wars then became a source of direct revenue as they were then subject to partial or full salvage activities.

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Rysa Little Site SS069: Searchlight Control Platform. Copyright: UHI Archaeology Institute.

This paper will examine how attitudes to these wrecks have changed over the years; how the development of marine tourism has both benefited the preservation and investigation of these wrecks, but also poses new challenges. More particularly this paper will compare the palimpsest of Scapa Flow to other similar sites around the world that have undergone salvage activities. Are the wrecks of Scapa Flow perceived differently than other massed wreck sites around the world? Are they seen as more accessible and more well-known and are the levels of protection, both present and proposed, for Scapa Flow necessary or adequate?

The paper will go on to highlight the level of further investigation and dissemination required to protect and make accessible such maritime sites and how the experience protecting wreck sites in Scapa Flow could be applied worldwide.

Thanks to Bob Anderson for underwater photography.


German High Seas Fleet Scrap Site Survey in Scapa Flow

sdrThis weekend, to a wintery backdrop, maritime archaeologists from the Orkney Research Centre for Archaeology (ORCA), the University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute and colleagues from SULA Diving continued a high-resolution side scan sonar survey of Scapa Flow.

The project is designed to showcase the significant wreckage of the scrap sites of the German High Seas Fleet and was conducted on behalf of Historic Environment Scotland.

 

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Mast and searchlight platform from an unknown ship

The salvaging of the German High Seas Fleet in the 1920s-40s raised battleships, battlecruisers and destroyers from the seabed scrapping at dockyard sites further south such as Rosyth. Today the remains of these ships and their associated salvage lie on the seabed, continuing to tell the story of the High Seas Fleet in Scapa Flow, and providing an exciting and interesting heritage resource.

 

Analysis of the sonar data will be undertaken to identify what is present on the seabed and from which ships. Archival research and diver ground truthing are assisting in this phase of the project.


A University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute Side Scan Sonar course is now enrolling for 18th and 19th March. The course is being held in Shetland. More details available from studyarchaeology@uhi.ac.uk

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The Utrecht Wreck: Second Cannon Found

The Third Phase of The Utrecht Community Marine Archaeology Project offers an opportunity to get involved in archive research on this intriguing shipwreck.

The crystal clear waters around Orkney hide many wrecks and one of the most intriguing is the wreck of The Utrecht which lies off the island of Sanday.

Built in Rotterdam as The Irene by Glavimans, The Utrecht was a 38-gun frigate that was owned by the Dutch Navy. Several sources (Canmore; Ferguson, 1988; Larn and Larn, 1998; Whittaker, 1998) offer contradictory information regarding the number of cannon on the vessel with numbers ranging from 32 to 44. The first phase of the project can confirm she had 38 cannon comprising twenty-six 12-pounders, four 6-pounders and eight 20pounder carronades.

One of the 12 pounder iron cannons from The Utrecht’s gun deck was discovered earlier this summer in the second phase of this community led archaeology project.

Diving is progressing on the third phase of the project and, following further site investigation, a second cannon was  discovered two weeks ago. Initial investigation confirmed that the find was in fact a 12 pounder iron cannon which most likely originated from the wreck of The Utrecht.

This phase of the project aims to initially record the site extent and condition, building on earlier phases of work undertaken by the University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute and SULA Diving and offer a platform for community engagement through volunteer programs, displays, talks and online outreach, utilising such mediums as Facebook, Twitter, blogs and YouTube.

image14144The third phase also involves desk research in which the community also have an opportunity to be involved. This will include examining surviving written sources from the late 18th and early 19th Century, The Utrecht’s log book and other sources in order to establish the full story of life on the frigate and fill in the details of the final hours.

If you are interested in being involved with this aspect of the project then please contact Sandra Henry (ORCA Marine Archaeologist and Lecturer) at studyarchaeology@uhi.ac.uk

This community project also aims to involve the local diving community through the delivery of training programs such as the Nautical Archaeology Society courses. The project is led by Sandra Henry of ORCA and Kevin Heath of Sula Diving and is supported by Orkney Islands Council.


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Secrets of the Sea Exhibition

The Secrets of the Sea: Underwater Archaeology Around Orkney 

  • When: From 6 – 27 February 2016.
  • Time: Monday – Saturday, 10.30 am – 12.30 pm, 1.30 – 5.00 pm.
  • Venue: The Orkney Museum ,Tankerness House, Broad Street, Kirkwall, Orkney, KW15 1DH. Tel: 01856 873191.
  • Admission is free.

6th February sees the opening of a new exhibition at the Orkney Museum which gives a glimpse of Orkney’s hidden heritage. ‘The Secrets of the Sea: Underwater Archaeology Around Orkney’ looks at some of the wrecks that are to be found in Orkney waters and some of the artefacts that litter our seabed.

The exhibition is a collaboration between Sula Diving, Seasearch, Orkney Historic Boat Society, ORCA (Orkney Research Centre for Archaeology) through the University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute and the Maritime Studies Department at University of the Highlands and Islands.

Sandra Hendry, Maritime Archaeologist with ORCA, said: “Various facets of Orkney’s rich maritime cultural heritage are represented within this exhibit from the oar to the sail; this exhibition displays the work of a number of groups invested in the recording, protection and promotion of Orkney’s maritime cultural heritage.”

“Orkney’s rich maritime heritage has the ability to tell the stories of the people who first inhabited these islands, to the dramatic events of war represented within the World War I and World War II wrecks around Orkney, whilst still bringing us through to the present day and the way we continue to interact with the maritime space.”

Tom Muir, Exhibitions Officer at the Orkney Museum, said: “I am indebted to Kevin Heath of Sula Diving for first approaching me to put on a display about the shop boat, Lizzie Bain, which was lost in Scapa Flow in tragic circumstances in the 1880s. As well as the story of this wreck there is a chance to find out more about the techniques used to uncover the hidden world of marine archaeology, from the wrecks of the German High Seas Fleet to crashed wartime aircraft that lie hidden on the seabed. ”

Mark Shiner of the Maritime Studies Department – University of the Highlands and Islands, has put together a display on sail making, a course unique in Scotland that the department has offered in the past, to knot-work. The Orkney Historic Boat Society will highlight the work that they have done to preserve traditional boats and save them from being destroyed. It all comes together to create a fascinating insight into Orkney’s maritime history.