The English Channel has hundreds of wrecks. Many of these foundered within sight of the shore, but in terrible weather conditions.
A particularly large concentration of wrecks lay in the Downs, historically, an important area of safe anchorage situated just off the coast of Deal and Walmer to the north east of Dover. The Downs is bordered to the east and north east by the infamous Goodwin Sands or "Great Ship Swallower" as i has become known over the centuries. Many ships have foundered in this area which, in fair weather provides a realitively calm and safe anchorage, but when the weather changes, as it often does with alarming speed and ferocity, many ships have been driven onto the sands. Ships unfortunate to have run aground here often broke their backs and were consumed by the sands over successive high tides and are now entombed many feet below the surface of the sands which dry out at low tide and may be seen from the coast in clear weather conditions. One of the most famous protected wrecks to be found here is the timber warship or ship of the line, Stirling Castle.
Another area which has proved a hazard to shipping over the centuries is the Varne Bank, a rocky outcropping ridge that borders the channel separation zone approximately midway in the English Channel. The separation zone was set up to prevent channel collisions which occurred at an unacceptably high frequencyright up until the late 1960s and early 1970s. An example of one of the more bizarre events was the collision on the 11th January 1971 between the tanker Texaco Caribbean and the cargo vessel Paracas. The follwing day the cargo vessel Brandeburg collided with the wreckage and also sank. Despite the wreck site being clearly marked and buoyed, on the 27th February the cargo vessel Nikki went to the bottom with her entire crew after also fouling the wreckage. Although mus of the wreckage was subsequently removed, there ar still the remains of these vessels on the seabed. The Texaco Caribbean being a dive site for some of the more intrepid local divers.
Many other wrecks litter the Dover Strait including both aircraft and submarines from both wars. Some of these are protected and designated as war graves.
Fortunately, today collisions are rare but do still occur on occasion. The development of an efficient traffic separation system incorporating the use of radar and automatic identification systems (AIS) ensures safe passage for all vessels transiting or crossing these treacherous waters. The traffic separation system (TSS) is rigorously enforced by Dover Coastguard at Langdon Cliffs and their colleagues at Cap Gris Nez in France just twenty or so miles across the channel.
Diving on the wrecks can be extremely hazadous due to the large tidal range, swift currents and restricted visibility under the surface. Sand and sediment is frequently stirred up making conditions less than perfect for diving to say the least. The window of opportunity for diving on these wrecks is brief, at slack water, either on the top or bottom of the tide, for maybe just forty minutes or so. However, diving is carried out by various groups whenever conditions allow. The items shown here have all been recovered from local wrecks by local divers.
For further information, two very active local dive groups can be contacted below.
Ego Divers via their Facebook page
Mutiny Diving at www.mutiny-diving.com
All images on this page and elsewhere on the website are subject to copyright. This requires you to obtain permission to reproduce them before doing so.
This functional but beautiful lead encased ceramic toilet was recovered from a wreck in the channel some years ago. It would have been enclosed in a hardwood case when sited on board. If the Gentleman, named Barry, who loaned it to me, would like it returned at any point, please contact me on 07703659747.
Three blue and white china mugs recovered from an unknown timber wreck that foundered on the Varne. The wreck is known locally as the "Plate Wreck" and is laying in approximately 34 metres of water in position 51 01.142 North, 001 24.387 East. The cup has been dated circa 1830 and from the markings was made by the Belgian company Bosch Frear.
The Toward was a steel steamship built in 1899 at Glasgow. she was owned by the Clyde Shipping Company.
On October 31st 1915, she was sailing with a generaL cargo from London to Belfast when she struck one of four mines that had been laid parallel off the southern entrance to the Downs by Oberleutnant Count Von Schmettow in command of the German submarine UC6. The mine exploded under number two hatch just forward of the bridge which resulted in the ship rapidly catching alight. With the fire spreading and there being little prospect of saving the vessel, the crew abandoned ship and all were rescued including five that had all ready jumped into the sea.
Today the wreck lies in around thirty one metres of water in approximate position 51 07 44N, 01 25 02E. Her bow section has been completely blown off and is laying ten metres away. Her decks are open along virtually her entire length with good visibility into her interior.
The recovered artefact shown here is a Clyde Shipping Company crew mug bearing the company crest.
The wreck is owned by Tony Goodfellow, Sid Meadows and Dave Knight who do not mind people dving on her but object strongly to any interference with, or removal of items from the wreck.
This German central citadel ironclad warship was completed on the 6th May 1878. Just twenty five days later on the 31st May, whilst on her maiden voyage, she was exercising in company with her sister vessel the Friedrich de Grosser and the larger Konig Wilhelm off the coast near Folkestone.
The warships encountered a group of sail fishing vessels and whilst altering course the Grosser Kurfurst inadvertently crossed too close to the Konig Wilhelm. The resulting collision caused the Kurfurst to sink in around eight minutes after sustaining severe damage to her port side amidships from the Wilhelm's ram bow. Of 497 officers and crew 284 were lost. Those that perished in the sinking were interred in a communal grave in the Cheriton Road Cemetery, Folkestone, where a memorial still stands as a poignant reminder to the appalling loss of life.
The Konig Wilhelm was the flagship of Rear Admiral von Batsch who, upon returning to Germany was court martialled and sentenced to sixmonths imprisonment for culpable neglect but was pardoned after serving just fourteen days.
Shown here are some of the spoons recovered from the galley area recovered some one hundrd and thirty two years later by local diver "Woody".
Strathclyde, iron steamship, Glasgow registered, UK flag owned by Burell & Co. 1951 grt, built in 1871 by Blackwood of Port Glasgow. Single screw, 180hp two cylinder compound engine with two boilers.
LEFT: Franconia backing away after the collision
The steamship Strathclyde, under the command of Captain J D Easton, bound from London to Bombay, India, departed Dover on Thursday February 17th 1876. On board were forty seven crew and twenty three first class passengers. The ship was about two and a half miles from Dover proceeding at nine knots when she was overtaken by the German steamer Franconia. Captain Easton turned his ship to starboard but at the same moment the Franconia turned to Port and a collision became inevitable. Despite the fact that the two vessels met between four and five pm in clear conditions, the German vessel struck the Strathclyde between her funnel and mainmast cutting into her to a depth of four feet. The Franconia immediately went astern only to rebound and strike a second time making another deep gash abreast of the mainmast into which the sea began to pour.
The Strathclyde was settling rapidly by the stern as the first lifeboat was lowered with fifteen female passengers aboard. The lifeboat was swamped by the swell and capsized, drowning most of the occupants. A second lifeboat was lowered without mishap and managed to save two of the drowning women. By this point the seas were breaking over the Strathclyde as high as the bridge and washed overboard many of those on the deck. The Captain, Second Engineer and a Fireman jumped overboard and were the last to leave. Of those on board, thirty eight were drowned amid a tragic scene that lasted a little over ten minutes.
Today the wreck sits on a stoney and chalky seabed in approximately eight metres of water. She is remarkably intact for a vessel of her age, with her engine room and boilers still interred within the wreckage. Her bows have collapsed onto the seabed leaving an avalanche of champagne bottles scattered in this area. Swimming from the bows to midships ara it is possible to pass over cases of condiments and pickle jars, perfume bottles, port, cider and stone appolinaris bottles, still containing their genever contents. Wooden boxes of window glass and packing cases of Bryant & May matchboxes can be found, tucked into the rear of the forward hold beneath the area of the ship's bridge. The central section of the wreck is largely intact and it is here that one can find hand painted cups and saucers. On the seabed either side of the wreck are literally thousands of bottles which have spilled outh of her holds and splits in her gaping hull plates. Astern of the midships section can be found the remains of her steering gear and more cargo of glass lamp chimneys, pontilled marbles, brass wheels from toys, gold chains and ink bottles. Also, well hidden in the wreck, are free blown pontilled baby feeder bottles and blue glass barrel and bracelet ink bottles much sought after by collectors.
The items shown here were recovered during May and June 2012 by intrepid local divers, Steve, Phil, Woody and Grouty.
The Hundvaag was a small steam collier of 686 gross tons, constructed in 1908 and owned by Peder Smedvig of Norway. On the 1st November 1940 she was sailing loaded with coal from Immingham to Dover under the command of Captain Otto Sigurd Hansen, when at 19:50 she struck a mine and quickly foundered, sustaining one casualty, a stoker named Sigurd Moen.
The mine had probably been laid by either the Iltis or Jaguar during Operation Alfred during the night of October 29th-30th 1940. The ship's lifeboat was seen drifting past the Southern Breakwater at Dover and a tug was sent to the rescue the crew who were subsequently landed th th Submarine Basin in the Eastern Docks.
Many colliers ran the gauntlet through the Dover Strait during the second world war delivering coal by sea to the power stations and ports around the United Kingdom to keep pace with the demands that wartime industry placed upon the service. Although road and rail links were constantly targeted by the Luftwaffe, it was impossible to bomb, torpedo, shell or mine all the ships engaged in this busy task. The English Channel and Dover Strait eventually became known as the "indestrctible highway" in acknowledgement of this fact.
The items shown here from the wreck comprise two of the electrical fittings, an oil lamp collar and the end cap from one of the handrails, all items were recovered by diver Chris Mulligan
More information about the vessel and her wartime service may be found at
For more general information, track down a copy of the fascinating HMSO publication "The Indestructible Highway, the story of Britain's coasters at war" published in 1947.