Thursday, February 19, 2009

Another sunken battleship discovered

The wreck of the French pre-dreadnought battleship Danton, sunk in the Mediterranean Sea in 1917, has been discovered - accidentally - by a team surveying the seabed for a new pipeline. (Click pictures for a larger view.)

According to the BBC:

The Danton, with many of its gun turrets still intact, is sitting upright in over 1,000m of water.

It was found by the Fugro geosciences company during a survey for a gas pipeline between Algeria and Italy.

The Danton, which sank with 296 sailors still onboard, lies 35km southwest of the island of Sardinia.

Naval historians record that the Danton's Captain Delage stood on the bridge with his officers and made no attempt to leave the ship as it went down.

The French government is now keen to see that the site is protected.

"Its condition is extraordinary," said Rob Hawkins, project director with Fugro GeoConsulting Limited.

"After it was hit by the torpedoes, the Danton clearly turned turtle and rotated several times. You can see where it dropped some infrastructure on the way down and then impacted on the seabed.

"You can see where it slid along the seabed before coming to a rest," he told BBC News.

A comparison with the original plans for the battleship - in particular, the position of its 240mm guns - confirms the wreck's identity.

The final resting place is a few kilometres from where people have traditionally thought the ship met its end.

"The French Admiralty did argue with us for a while that it should have been several nautical miles away, but we reminded them that modern GPS methods are more accurate than the sextants they used in those days," said Mr Hawkins.

According to one account of the sinking of the Danton:

At 13h15 on 13 March [1917] the Danton was 28 miles South West of the island of San Pietro, on passage at 14.5 knots on a heading of 140 degrees when she was suddenly attacked. It was the masthead lookout who raised the alarm on sighting a wake, originating close by: between 300 and 600 meters according to witnesses.

The bridge sounded the alert. The guns were made ready, but because no periscope emerged there was no target and the ships artillery could not open fire.

The battleship was struck by two torpedoes in quick succession, forward and mid-ships. She listed 5 to 7 degrees to port, settled by the head and remained in this position. The sailors had the impression that the ship could hold like this. The commander chose to make for Bizerte but, after ten minutes, the list began to increase, slowly at first, then rapidly and the ship capsized after 30-35 minutes. It was impossible to launch the lifeboats, as all electrical equipment was out of action. Rafts and wood stored on the bridge were thrown into the sea.

The last order of the commander, stationed on the bridge, was to signal abandon ship. Then, standing in full view, he uttered the cry "Vive la France". A thousand voices picked up the shout, repeating it three times, each man leaving the ship by jumping into the water either over the side or by sliding down the hull.

The destroyer Massue busied herself picking up the crew. In two hours she was able to save 500 sailors. The trawlers Louise Marguerite and Chauveau arrived on the scene and were also able to save more than 300 men, mostly survivors on rafts.

Captain Delage clung to the bridge until the end and the majority of the officers and marines perished. 296 were recorded dead or missing.

Modern scanning sonar has produced some fascinating images of the wreck.

A long forgotten tragedy of war. May those who died aboard her rest in peace.



Anonymous said...

Great story

Tam said...

I'm surprised at how many turrets remained attached when she capsized.

Those Frog pre-Dreadnoughts always looked real cool and Jules Vernian with their pronounced tumbelhome.