VALLETTA (Reuters) - The wreck of a British submarine, which vanished at the height of World War Two, has been discovered lying at the bottom of the sea off Malta, university marine archaeologists said on Thursday.
HMS Urge had been based with other submarines in Malta and had carried out several deadly missions when the British navy ordered it and rest of the flotilla to redeploy to Egypt because of a relentless German siege of the Mediterranean island.
Urge set sail on April 27, 1942, carrying a 32-strong crew, 11 other naval personnel and a journalist. However, it failed to reach Alexandria on the agreed rendezvous date of May 6 and its fate has always been a mystery - until now.
A team from the University of Malta, which has spent two decades surveying the local seas, said that at the request of the grandson of Urge’s commander, they combed an area this summer that had once been heavily mined by Nazi forces.
A sonar image revealed a submarine-like shape at a depth of 130 meters (425 ft) some two miles (3 km) off the coast and a subsequent search by an unmanned diving craft revealed the U-Class Submarine, with a large chunk of its bow missing.
“The damage to the bow shows a very violent explosion ... indicating that the ship would have sunk very fast giving no chance to anybody to survive from this tragedy,” said professor Timmy Gambin, who led the university mission.
“Besides the damage on the bow, the wreck is in absolutely fantastic condition. It is sitting upright on the seabed, very proud, in the direction that it was ordered to take on its way to Alexandria,” he told Maltese broadcaster PBS.
The university said the British defense ministry had reviewed their material and confirmed it was the wreck of Urge.
Gambin told Reuters that the submarine must have been hit by a mine while it was still sailing on the surface, shortly after leaving Malta under the cover of darkness.
A ceremony is planned for April to declare the site an official war grave at which Gambin said he hoped the daughter of the Urge’s captain, Lieutenant-Commander E.P. Tomkinson, would be present.
In 2015, a Belgian diver claimed to have discovered the submarine off the coast of Libya, but he was never able to provide decisive evidence.
HMS Urge was part of the Royal Navy’s 10th flotilla, known as the fighting 10th, which chalked up numerous successful attacks against enemy shipping in the Mediterranean.
Just days before it vanished, Urge sunk the Italian cruiser Giovanni Delle Bande Nere near Sicily. In a strange coincidence, The Italian military said in March that the lost warship was also discovered this year at a depth of more than 1,400 meters.
Amongst those on board the Urge when it went down was war reporter Bernard Gray - the only British journalist believed to have died on a submarine during World War Two.
Reporting by Crispian Balmer; Editing by Pravin Char