THE MOIDART, armed freighter. BUILT 1878, SUNK 1918
SHE WAS BUILT AND LAUNCHED as a 1303-ton, schooner-rigged 243ft long steamer, with a beam of 32ft. Forty years later, the Moidart came to a very sudden end.
They had put a gun on her stern, and given her crew two extra Royal Navy gunners to man it, but it was never fired in anger. Moidart’s last voyage was up-Channel, from Cardiff for Le Havre, a wartime supply run with a cargo of 1550 tons of Welsh coal and another 80 tons of steel plates.
At 2am on 9 June, 1918, her captain George Skea was in the chartroom plotting out where he would turn away from the English coast and head for the French port. He was 14 miles north-west of Portland Bill, and it was nearly time to start turning.
On watch on the bridge was the first mate, William Drever. The sea was calm, the moon out and visibility was good, but Drever got a sudden shock. A large submarine appeared on his starboard side, only 400m away. The look-outs apparently hadn’t seen it.
Drever ordered the helm hard over, to put the submarine directly astern. He then raced to the chartroom to alert the captain.
But in less than a minute a torpedo struck the Moidart to starboard near the stern gun, and she began to settle. Another minute, and she sank by the stern. No boats could be launched, and most of the 21 crew found themselves either in or under the water.
At the height of the struggle to find something that would float, the German submarine glided into the middle of the struggling men and, ignoring their cries for help, demanded to know the name of their ship.
Some of the crew finally found one of the boats floating upside-down, and six men clung to it for six hours until they were picked up by a passing Glasgow steamer, the Clifton Grove. They were the sole survivors.
The U-boat that sank the Moidart was UC77, commanded by Oberleutnant Johannes Ries. He and his crew were all killed just one month later on 10 July, when they were depth-charged by two Royal Navy trawlers in the Dover Straits.
The Moidart is a perfect wreck for those who wish to extend their depth and wreck experience. Standing upright and split in two with a lot of identifiable features. The skippers tend to drop the line in the middle of the wreck. Often near hold two and the bridge.
Swim along the port side and make yourself to the front of the wreck by swimming over Hold 2. Passing Hold 2 a large cargo winch is clearly visible. Just beyond you will find Hold 1. You can swim up to forecastle and have a look at the anchor winch.
The most easily identifiable features are the anchor winch on the bow. Follow the line of the boat back by swimming along the starboard side. You will come back to central section, a large raised box area is the base for the wheelhouse. Just behind it you will find Hold 3 and a large single boiler.
The engine is littered behind the boiler and you will find a lot of debris lying around, leftover from the torpedo that ripped her apart. The stern lies slight off the port side. The easiest way to find it, to follow the boiler and engine of the port side and try to swim straight off the wreck. The floor is littered with hull and steel plates, you will come across a broken winch (likely the rear cargo winch) – just to the right of the cargo winch you will find the rear third of the wreck, lying on its port side. Hold 4 is silted up, but clearly visible. The rear of the wreck has a smoke stack (surprisingly still quite intact). The rudder is visible when you drop over the side.
Recommendation is to ascend from the rear near the smokestack, release your SMB here (it is also the shallowest section of the wreck) and make yourself back to the surface.