The Magazine for Underwater Professionals

Sep/Oct 2017

BOOK REVIEWS

Long-awaited salvage story is a 'must read'

The Sunken Gold: A Story of World War I Espionage and the Greatest Treasure Salvage in History


This is the long-awaited, definitive story of the salvage of 44 tons of gold from the wreck of HMS Laurentic. More importantly, it also tells the story of Captain Guybon Damant CBE RN, his life and career and how it was inextricably enmeshed in the historic salvage operation.


The author, Joseph A Williams, deputy director of Greenwich Library, Connecticut, USA, first skilfully interweaves Damant’s developing career with the wartime events leading up to the sinking of the Laurentic off Northern Ireland in 1917. The book then charts the tenacious search and recovery operations through to completion in 1924 by which time some 99.9% of the gold had been recovered.


The Sunken Gold is a masterclass in how to research a subject and write about it.

 

VIVID
The saga of the salvage operations, the heroism of the Royal Navy divers and the sheer tenacity of Captain Damant are brought to life in vivid and authentic detail. The author, an accomplished writer, has successfully got under Damant’s skin through painstaking research and reveals his complex character. A naval officer, gunner, boxer, diver, pioneering physiologist and a natural historian who once researched the speed of snails and the ecology of fleas.


Nowhere else will you find such a detailed insight into the personalities involved and their roles in the biggest gold bullion salvage ever carried out in the world; all this against a backdrop of threatening German U-boats, mines, Atlantic gales and the physiological limits of deep diving. Damant even faced off an impending IRA robbery wielding a Lewis machine gun.


Just as your appetite for sunken treasure is thoroughly whetted, the author reveals that 20 bars of gold remain, glistening tantalisingly on the seabed only 125 feet (38 metres) from the surface, awaiting recovery …


This is a ‘must read’.


The Sunken Gold: A Story of World War I Espionage and the Greatest Treasure Salvage in History; Indexed, b/w photographs; Joseph A Williams; Chicago Review Press, Inc., 2017; ISBN 978-1-61373-758-3; distributed by IPG, www.ipgbook.com; US$26.99.


John Bevan

'Delightful volume' sets the record straight

Operation Tadpole – The Royal Navy’s Underwater Diving Operations Gibraltar 1940-1945


I have long been familiar with the exploits of the late Lt ‘Bill’ Bailey GM DSC RNVR in Gibraltar and elsewhere during the Second World War and count his son Andrew among my friends.


However, it took author John Bevan’s revelations in this informative book to make me appreciate just how comprehensively Bailey’s achievements have been wrongly credited to the much better known Cdr Lionel ‘Buster’ Crabb OBE GM RNVR, who would later be lost in mysterious circumstances while diving underneath a Russian cruiser visiting Portsmouth at the height of the Cold War.


As with many others of my generation, my misconceptions stemmed mainly from watching The Silent Enemy starring Laurence Harvey in the glamourised role of Crabb as OIC of the Royal Navy’s UWWP (Under Water Working Party) in Gibraltar. Bailey, played by Terence Longden, only makes a fleeting appearance. Several events in the film are fictitious but close enough to the truth to be convincing. Moreover, most of the central characters portrayed in the film actually existed.

 

John Bevan’s Operation Tadpole is a credible and much-needed attempt to set the record straight. It describes the critical role of Gibraltar as a staging post for Allied shipping transiting the Mediterranean, particularly convoys bound for the besieged island fortress of Malta. Gibraltar was also the base of the formidable ‘Force H’ tasked with protecting the vital convoys. The Italians were determined to diminish this thorn in their side, mainly by employing Decima MAS frogmen riding human torpedoes to fix explosive devices to the hulls of ships assembled in the Bay of Gibraltar and inside the harbour. Initially, their principal targets were warships but they were soon forced to resort to attacking more easily accessible and vulnerable merchant ships. Despite some successes, most of their victims were soon repaired and their cargoes salved. The attackers also suffered several equipment malfunctions and human casualties while conducting their hazardous operations.

 

SECRET
This book provides an easily readable and entertaining account of each of the nine attacks made by Italian divers, sometimes delivered with their ‘Maiale’ (pig) human torpedoes by submarine but more often launched from a secret compartment in the oil tanker Olterra, interned by the Spanish in Algeciras across the bay from Gibraltar. The level of detail is impressive, particularly for such a relatively slim volume. The book identifies each participant in the Italian attacks and describes their British counterparts and the often desperate defensive measures they had to adopt. It is richly illustrated with contemporary photos, sketches and diagrams as well as recent photos taken by the author to put significant locations in perspective. The events recounted constituted the genesis of practicable self-contained diving and it is telling that this occurred, like so many other technological advances, in a military context.


As the author points out towards the end of his well-researched and historically objective work, wholly contrary to popular belief: (a) Crabb didn’t lead the diving team at Gibraltar during any of the nine attempted Italian attacks; (b) Italy had already capitulated by the time Crabb took over the UWWP; (c) Crabb was an assistant to Bailey during the last three attacks only; and (d) Crabb, unlike Bailey, was never involved in an underwater altercation with an Italian frogman.


Please read this delightful volume to learn the truth in greater detail. I promise that you won’t be disappointed.


Rob Hoole

Rob Hoole is vice chairman and webmaster of the Minewarfare & Clearance Diving Officers’ Association, www.mcdoa.org.uk

 

 

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