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Mystery solved Wreck that lies in the middle of the Southern Irish Sea identified after 80 years

It had been assumed that the site was the final resting place of a submarine but now researchers have finally been able to tell the true story

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Experts at universities of Bournemouth and Bangor identified the wreck from sonar images. (Bournemouth/Bangor University)

Experts at universities of Bournemouth and Bangor identified the wreck from sonar images. (Bournemouth/Bangor University)

Experts at universities of Bournemouth and Bangor identified the wreck from sonar images. (Bournemouth/Bangor University)

Experts at the universities of Bournemouth and Bangor have solved the 80-year-old mystery of a wreck that lies in the in the middle of the Southern Irish Sea. 

Long thought to have been a submarine, the shipwreck has finally been identified as the paddle steamer HMS Mercury.

The Mercury was built in 1934 and served passenger routes on the Firth of Clyde, Scotland, before being requisitioned by the Admiralty as a minesweeper five years later.

Just one year into her military service a mine she was attempting to clear exploded under her stern and she plunged to the bottom of the sea at 4.32pm on Christmas Day 1940.

For the next 80 years it had been assumed that the wreck site was the final resting place of a submarine but now researchers have finally been able to tell the true story.

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The HMS Mercury (Bournemouth University)

The HMS Mercury (Bournemouth University)

The HMS Mercury (Bournemouth University)

Study leader and archaeologist Innes McCartney of Bournemouth University has been compiling a detailed list of all the vessels recorded lost in the Irish Sea.

He said: “Once the sonar data had been processed, the wreck resembled a paddle wheeled vessel with its paddles boxed into the vessel’s superstructure, rather than the characteristic tube-like profile associated with submarine wrecks.

“Within our database of shipping losses there was only one possible candidate which featured boxed in paddle wheels — the minesweeper HMS Mercury.”

The Mercury is just one of more than 300 shipwrecks in the Irish Sea being surveyed using multi-beam sonar by Bangor University's research vessel, Prince Madog.

“This highly innovative research project has resulted in many discoveries dating from both world wars, of which HMS Mercury is just one example,” said Dr McCartney.

Combining scientific surveys with maritime archives, “can significantly enhance our understanding of the historic maritime environment by allowing us to identify unknown wrecks, refine existing attributes and confirm vessel identities”, he added.

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Marine scientist Michael Roberts of Wales' Bangor University, added: “Use of one of the most advanced multibeam sonar systems available has enabled us to very efficiently and accurately survey almost every wreck site in the central Irish Sea.

“These sunken vessels represent the sacrifices and efforts of citizens who were the key and essential workers of their time and it's important that the final resting place of the vessels they were associated with are identified before it's too late.

“We hope to secure additional funding to expand on this work and examine wrecks in other UK coastal regions before their remnants become unidentifiable due to degradation through natural marine processes.”

As for the captain of the HMS Mercury when she went down there was further bad news.

The vessel stayed afloat for nearly five hours after the explosion, but took on too much water and sank as she was being towed across the sea towards Milford Haven.

And although all hands were rescued, commander, Temporary Lieutenant Bertrand Palmer, was court-martialled in 1941 and reprimanded for disobeying standing orders in stopping the ship when the mine was spotted trapped in the gear.

According to the 1940 Manual of Minesweeping, once a mine is spotted fouling the sweeping gear, the vessel should “go ahead at full speed and endeavour to part the mine moorings”.

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