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Lost British Submarine Discovered Off Malta

Photo: A sonar scan of the wreck. (University of Malta/Timothy Gambin)

 

A British submarine that went missing 77 years ago has been found, the Ministry of Defence confirms.

HMS Urge departed Malta for Alexandria, Egypt, on April 27, 1942, as the boats of 10th Submarine Flotilla withdrew from the besieged island. On board were 32 crew, 11 additional naval personnel and a journalist. Urge was supposed to arrive on May 6, but went overdue and was declared missing, becoming one of 19 U-class submarines to be lost during the war. She had close connections to Malta and to Bridgend in Wales, the latter raising funds to build and later ‘adopt’ the vessel.

HMS Urge in 1941. (Official Photograph/Royal Navy)

It is not the first time the submarine is thought to have been discovered. In 2015, it was widely reported that Belgian diver Jean-Pierre Mission had found her wreck off the Libyan coast. His sonar images appeared to support German reports suggesting Urge was bombed by Italian CR.42 Falco fighters on April 29, 1942 as she attacked the San Giusto. However, the security situation in the region hampered efforts to confirm the discovery, and both historians and the families of those lost were sceptical. The Royal Navy also maintained that the submarine was lost off Malta after striking a mine.

This latest discovery, made over the summer by a survey team headed by Professor Timothy Gambin from the University of Malta, concludes the establishment’s two-decade search. Their findings appear to endorse the British version of events and the submarine’s identity has now been confirmed by the Ministry of Defence.

Lieutenant-Commander Edward Tomkinson. (University of Malta/Francis Dickinson)

Francis Dickinson – the grandson of Urge’s captain, the experienced Lieutenant-Commander Edward Tomkinson, DSO and bar – requested that the university used sonar to search an area that was known to have been heavily mined. Professor Gambin told Britain at War the eight-day search was based on wartime maps delineating Italian and German minefields. Assisted by Canadian researcher Platon Alexiades, the search team and Francis Dickinson found a likely contact just two miles off the island’s coast, which was then explored with an ROV.

The wreck is described as being in “fantastic” condition and is positioned upright approximately 360ft (110m) below. The submarine sits along her original course and is believed to have been travelling on the surface before she sank. Professor Gambin believes the damage sustained is consistent with mining, saying: “The damage to the bow shows a very violent explosion… indicating that the ship would have sunk very fast, giving no chance for anybody to survive.”

The wreck compared to a U-class submarine profile. (University of Malta/Timothy Gambin)

The site is to be declared an official war grave in April 2020. The discovery resolves one long-standing maritime mystery, but leaves another: what did Mr Mission uncover in 2015? Speculating, Professor Gambin told Britain at War: “It is very hard to say, [but] what we know for a fact is that U-205 was lost in the generic area of Ras el Hilal, in the vicinity of the claim.” ∎

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