Gairsoppa gives up bullion
70 years after sinking

GairsoppaWar Roebuck was a small cargo vessel built at Palmers, Jarrow in 1918. With the end of the Great War she was acquired by British India and was completed as Gairsoppa. Taken over at the outbreak of World War II, she sailed in several convoys before joining Convoy SL64 in February 1941, sailing from Calcutta, India to Liverpool, UK. Running low on coal while off the coast of Ireland, Gairsoppa separated from the convoy and headed for Galway, some 300 miles away, for more fuel. She was attacked and torpedoed by U-101 in the early hours of 17th February 1941, and sank within 20 minutes. Although 3 lifeboats got away, only one person survived, Second Officer Ayres; 83 others were lost.

Gairsoppa silver barsWhat made her of special interest was that she was carrying some 7 million ounces (200 tons) of silver, worth at that time over £600,000. In 2010 the UK government awarded a salvage contract to Odyssey to find the wreck and salvage the bullion. The company quickly found the wreck and began operations, and by July 2013 had recovered over110 tons, estimated at £137 million ($210 million) at current value.

17th February 1917 –
SS Athos sunk, 754 lost

athosAthos was a two-funnelled cargo-passenger ship being built at Dunkirk for Messageries Maritimes when the Great War erupted. Once launched, she was towed to St Nazaire, where she was completed in November 1915 for use as a troopship. She was 513 feet long, and displaced 12,644grt. Her maiden voyage was to China, sailing on 28th November 1915, with a second voyage from Marseilles to Yokohama and back in late 1916.

525On 17th February 1917, while some 200 miles ESE of Malta, on her third voyage, she was torpedoed by German submarine U-65, commanded by Hermann von Fischel. She was carrying 1,950 people, including a large contingent of Senegalese soldiers, civilian passengers, 1,000 Chinese labourers and the crew. Athos sank in just 14 minutes, with the loss of 754 aboard, including the captain. The survivors were quickly picked up by  escorting vessels.