On this day in history : 2nd May 1942 – HMS Edinburgh is sunk in the Barents Sea off the Norwegian coast….with a cargo of gold bars, which lay un-salvaged until 1981….
Under the command of Rear-Admiral Stuart Bonham-Carter HMS Edinburgh was acting as flag-ship escorting a convoy of 17 ships departing from Murmansk, Norway on the 28th of April 1942 bound for Britain…. On the 30th of April a torpedo hit the Town-class Light Cruiser and she began to list…. Quick acting crew managed to close the watertight bulkheads at the front to prevent her from sinking….
Shortly after another torpedo was to hit Edinburgh’s stern, crippling her…. It was decided to try and attempt to tow her back to Murmansk; two destroyers – Foresight and Forester – along with four minesweepers – Niger, Hussar, Gossamer and Harrier – were despatched to accompany her….
Progress was slow but on the 2nd of May the small convoy and stricken Edinburgh reached Bear Island, the most southernmost Norwegian Svalbard Archipelago island – but then she was attacked by three large German destroyers….
Edinburgh cast off her tow and started to sail in circles, at the same time firing her guns…. One of the German destroyers was so badly damaged its crew scuttled it….
Edinburgh took another torpedo hit and her crew were forced to abandon…. Gossamer and Harrier took the crew onboard; 58 men had lost their lives….
Harrier then attempted to scuttle Edinburgh using gunfire….although 20 shells were fired she remained afloat…. Even after depth charges were used she refused to sink…. Eventually Forester used her last torpedo to sink HMS Edinburgh….
4.5 long tons of gold bullion went down with Edinburgh….465 gold ingots in 93 wooden boxes, which were stored in the bomb room at the front of the ship…. She was carrying the gold back to the UK; it was part of a payment from Russia for war equipment received from the Western Allies…. In 1942 the bullion was worth £1.5 million, equating to nearly £70m today….
In 1954 the British government offered the salvage rights to a British salvage company….but because by then the relationship had become strained with Russia plans were put on hold…. In 1957 the wreck became a designated war grave making any further thoughts of retrieving the gold improbable….
However, in the late 1970s the government became increasingly worried that Russian salvagers were going to attempt to recover it…. In the early 80s a contract was awarded to a leading global diving company…. Experienced divers from Jessop Marine, under the guidance of Wharton Williams Ltd were to attempt to cut into the wreck – far more sensitive and appropriate for the situation as opposed to the normal explosive methods usually employed….
In April 1981 survey ship Dammtor began to search for Edinburgh in the Barents Sea – in less than 48 hours it had found her….in 800ft of water…. Using detailed film footage the team were able to evaluate the recovery project…. Edinburgh’s sister ship HMS Belfast, moored in the Thames, was also invaluable to the planning of the operation…. The divers were able to gather vital information and knowledge as to the layout and interior of the ship especially around the bomb room area….
The diving operation began on the 30th of August 1981, under the leadership of Mike Stewart, a former Royal Navy clearance diving officer. On the 15th of September diver John Rossier found the first gold bar….by the 7th of October 431 of the 465 gold ingots had been recovered….but then bad weather forced the operation to stop…. However, it was a bullion recovery project in deep water diving that set a world record – a record that still stands today….
In 1986 a further 29 bars of gold were brought up….that means there’s still five bars down there…!