UK Researchers Find Wreck of a Steamship Sunk by U-Boat in WWI

Sonar grid of SS Hartdale's hull (Courtesy Bangor University)

Published Mar 14, 2024 10:03 PM by The Maritime Executive


Using past sonar data and historical records, scientists at Bangor University have found the wreck of a steamship that was sunk by a U-boat in the Irish Sea in 1915. 

The merchant steamer SS Hartdale was originally laid down as SS Benbrook in 1910. Sold and renamed, Hartdale departed Scotland in March 1915, bound for Eygpt with a load of coal. She was spotted by the crew of the U-boat U-27, and after a chase, the German submarine sank her with one torpedo. Two crewmembers died in the sinking. 

Hartdale remained lost to memory for more than a century, though there were plenty of clues to her whereabouts. The Bangor University team pulled together multiple threads of information to find her, including the accounts of the survivors, the log of the U-27's crew, and sonar survey data. They narrowed down the candidates to one wreck site, some twelve miles off the coast of Northern Ireland in about 80 meters of water.  

U-27 would not be much luckier. On August 19, the sub encountered the Royal Navy Q-ship (undercover warship) HMS Baralong. The crew of the Baralong were already angered by the sinking of an ocean liner by another U-boat that same day, and they took vengeance on the U-27. None of the sub's crew survived. 

"[SS Hartdale] is just one of the many thousands of merchant ships known to have been lost in UK waters that remain listed as missing or have been incorrectly identified due to a lack of high-quality data. We certainly now have the capability and technology to able to rectify this largely overlooked issue," said lead investigator Dr. Michael Roberts. 

SS Hartdale is the first success of Historic England's Unpath'd Waters project, which hopes to use shared archival data to correctly identify wreck sites between the Isle of Man and Northern Ireland. 

“This is one excellent example of the vast, untapped potential waiting to be unleashed through the creation of a linked, accessible and sustainable national collection of the UK’s cultural and heritage archives," said Barney Sloane, the principal investigator of the Unpath'd Waters project.