The SS Gairsoppa, British Merchant Ship
We have ploughed the vast ocean in a fragile bark
Towards the end of World War I, work began on a steel-hulled steamship, the War Roebuck. At 412 feet long and weighing over 5,200 tons, the vessel was completed for the British India Steam Navigation Company in October 1919 and renamed Gairsoppa in honor of a stunning waterfall in southwest India. Those letters, painted on her hull some 94 years ago, can still be read; nearly three miles below the surface of the Atlantic
In the early 1930s, with war looming in Europe, the call went out to merchant vessels to join British naval forces should the need arise. By 1940, the entire fleet of 103 British India Steam Navigation Company ships was under control by the Ministry of War. By the end of the war, 1083 of their sailors and 51 of their ships, including the SS Gairsoppa were lost.
Sailing from Calcutta in the final days of 1940, she was loaded with 7000 tons of iron, tea and silver. After rounding the Cape of Good Hope she made way to Freetown, Sierra Leone where she joined convoy SL64. They had had intended to rendezvous with convoy HG 63 under the protection of two warships, but it was not to be. Before the Gairsoppa could reach them, HG 63 was attacked by a German U-Boat and lost seven ships. Unable to defend even their own convoy, the military escort would be of no use to Gairsoppa and the ships sailing with her.
Unprotected, loaded down with cargo and low on coal, the SS Gairsoppa battled high winds and swells as she tried desperately to keep up with the rest of the convoy. On February 14, 1941, she broke away and headed for Galway in western Ireland. Three days later and 300 nautical miles off the coast of Ireland, German Captain Ernst Mengersen submerged U-101 and positioned his submarine for the attack.
The torpedo that sank the SS Gairsoppa struck her no. 2 hold at approximately 22:30 that evening. With her radio antenna destroyed, she made no distress call. Not twenty minutes later, Gairsoppa’s stern slid quickly into the depths of the North Atlantic. Only one of the 85 men aboard survived.
Timeline of Major Events for SS Gairsoppa
Palmer’s Co, Newcastle began building the steel-hulled steamship originally named War Roebuck
The War Roebuck was renamed Gairsoppa in honor of the stunning waterfalls in southwest India
The UK Director of Sea Transport of the Admiralty approached the British India Steam Navigation Company to request passenger vessels to join the British naval fleet
The entire fleet of 103 British India Steam Navigation Company ships was under the orders of the UK Admiralty and the Ministry of War transport
Final voyage began in Calcutta, India
Joined convoy SL 64 in Freetown, Sierra Leone (West Africa) and departed for Liverpool, UK
The SS Gairsoppa was hit by a torpedo fired from a German U-boat and sank
The shipwreck’s only survivor, Second Officer Richard Ayers, was rescued from the waters off the coast of Cornwall, 300 miles from where the SS Gairsoppa sank
The UK Department for Transport awarded Odyssey the contract for the SS Gairsoppa
The discovery of the SS Gairsoppa was confirmed and announced
1,218 bars weighing approximately 48 tons were recovered from the SS Gairsoppa
Odyssey pulled up the remaining silver bullion, bringing the grand total of silver recovered to 2,792 silver bars, or 110 tons
|The steamship War Roebuck was first put to sea for the British Indian Steam Navigation Company1919
|The War Roebuck was renamed Gairsoppa in honor of the stunning waterfalls in southwest India1919
|The UK Director of Sea Transport of the Admiralty approached the British India Steam Navigation Company to request passenger vessels to join the British naval fleet1931
|The entire fleet
of 103 British India Steam Navigation Company ships was under the orders of the UK Admiralty and the Ministry of War transport1940
|Final voyage began in Calcutta, India1940
|Joined convoy SL 64 in Freetown, Sierra Leone (West Africa) and departed for Liverpool, UK1941
|The SS Gairsoppa was hit by a torpedo fired from a German U-boat and sank1941
only survivor, Second Officer Richard Ayers, was rescued from the waters off the coast of Cornwall, 300 miles from where the SS Gairsoppa sank1941
|The UK Department for Transport awarded Odyssey the contract for the SS Gairsoppa 2010
|The discovery of the SS Gairsoppa was confirmed and announced2011
|1,218 bars weighing approximately 48 tons were recovered from the SS Gairsoppa 2012
2013 Gairsoppa Silver Recovery
They that go down to the sea in ships, that do business in great waters; these see the works of the Lord and His wonders in the deep.
- Psalms 107:23-24
For thousands of years, people have gazed across oceans wondering what secrets lay beneath the dark waters. The people at Odyssey Marine Exploration have made it their life’s work to find out.
Armed with extensive research and other historical documents, Odyssey began its thousand-square-mile search. Their best estimates at the ship’s location put her final resting place a staggering 4700 meters, or nearly three miles, below the North Atlantic. No precious metals recovery had ever been completed at such a depth.
Using advanced sonar and remotely operated vehicles, the wreck was located in the summer of 2011. After comparing what they saw to records of the ship’s design and what’s known about her sinking, Odyssey confirmed in September, 2011 that it was indeed the Gairsoppa that they had found.
With the assistance of the 88 meter support vessel Seabed Worker, the Odyssey crew began their round-the-clock recovery attempt. Like military drone pilots, they operated a small fleet of advanced ROVs (remotely operated vehicles). The recovery involved cutting through the Gairsoppa’s steel deck plates using specialized tools before the silver could be located and removed. Odyssey’s team skillfully wove history, technology, and seamanship together to successfully complete what is perhaps the most audacious maritime precious metals recovery in history.
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the SS Gairsoppa
Quick Facts about the Recovery
- The wreck is 4700 meters, or nearly three miles, below the North Atlantic Sea, 1 whole mile deeper than the Titanic
- The SS Gairsoppa sank approximately 300 miles off the coast of Ireland in international waters
- The UK Department for Transport awarded Odyssey the contract for the SS Gairsoppa in 2010
- Odyssey conducted ROV (remotely operated vehicle) operations from the RV Odyssey Explorer to inspect the location believed to be the Gairsoppa shipwreck
- Video and photographs acquired during the exploration were reviewed and analyzed, confirming the location and identity of the SS Gairsoppa
- The discovery of the SS Gairsoppa was confirmed and announced in September 2011
- Odyssey chartered Swire Seabed’s 291-foot Seabed Worker to assist with the recovery
- The Seabed Worker is equipped with advanced deep-ocean capabilities necessary to salvage modern steel wrecks including the specialized tools such as redundant deep ROV systems and a 100-ton active heave compensated crane
- To recover the silver bars, they had to pick them up one at a time with a manipulator and put them into the small basket
- 2,792 silver bars weighing over 110 ton total were recovered from the Gairsoppa site during the 2012 and 2013 operations