RFA Darkdale: Mystery of the torpedo that failed to explode

The German submarine U-68 fired off four torpedoes at the RFA Darkdale, then sped quickly away to escape the attention of the gun crews positioned above Jamestown.

The logbook recorded that all four struck home. But investigators from the Ministry of Defence say their examination of the wreck casts a new light on the historical accounts of the wrecking.

And that leaves an intriguing question for St Helena.

Kaptain Karl-Freidrich Merten’s account has been translated into English as follows:

00h15 ready for action – approach on surface

01h43 4 single shots – 4 hits

Enormous thin flame. Ship is illuminated as by day, the whole coast, harbour, barracks and batteries are lighted up in red glow.

But the December 2013 report into the state of the wreck, 73 years on, says the commander may have miscounted the number of torpedoes that struck home.

“There remains the likelihood that one may have missed its target or not exploded on impact,” it says. “This was a known problem with some types of German torpedo.

“This is supported by the evidence in the Harbour Master’s report of the Darkdale loss. He noted only three loud explosions.”

And when the investigators examined the wreck, they found evidence of only three hits, to the stern and midships.

“The only report that notes the explosion of all four torpedoes is the Torpedo Officer’s log. It would be in his interest to declare all four torpedoes as confirmed explosions but the damage to the ship does not support this statement.

“If a torpedo missed or failed to detonate there is a possibility that it may have come to rest on the surrounding seabed. The wider bay area was surveyed using side scan sonar and no evidence of a torpedo was found.

“The fate of the fourth torpedo remains unknown.”

COMMENT:

“If a torpedo missed or failed to detonate there is a possibility that it may have come to rest on the surrounding seabed. The wider bay area was surveyed using side scan sonar and no evidence of a torpedo was found.”

Simon, I know you didn’t write this but these were probably contact torpedoes, not
magnetic.  So it it missed it would have hit the coast and there would likely have
been a fourth, delayed explosion.

Side scan sonar picks up objects that are visually sticking up above the seabed.
James Bay is mostly deep sand.  The likelihood of a very heavy, long, tubular
object still sitting on top of the sand after nearly 70 years approaches zero.

They looked like these:
http://historianbook.com/german-torpedo-in-italy-shores/

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