During 2003 Adina Ochert and Nick Gilbert put together a Starfish Enterprise expedition to locate and positively identify a submarine, HMS Vandal. This was after consultation with the Ministry of Defence and the Submariners association. She was thought to have sunk North of Inchmarnock, Isle of Arran in deep water. Our specific task was to bring back photographic and video evidence to try and unravel the mystery. Vandal never saw a day of action as she was lost during 3 days of exercises prior to deployment. She was last seen slipping her moorings at Lochranza but, as it wasn’t planned for her to make any communication while on exercise, the alarm wasn’t raised for another three days.
Accompanying the expedition was Sandy Young and Brian Thomas of the Submariners Association and Vandal crewman Larry Gains. Larry was unable to join Vandal on it’s fateful exercise as he had an ear infection. Ever since, Larry has felt responsible for the loss of the Vandal, as his replacement was younger and less experienced (Larry was 22). Before submerging, the last action was to secure the aft hatch, this was Larry’s responsibility and he feared his inexperienced replacement made an error.
Diving HMS Vandal
We made sounder contact with an object on the 100m seabed which the Royal Navy had first located during 1995. At the time, poor quality ROV footage confirmed it was a submarine and further evidence suggested it could be HMS Vandal. It was our job to make a positive identification.
We were diving in the firth of Clyde which we knew would be cold and have poor visibility. However, the conditions were far worse than expected. It was pitch black, very silty and an old trawl net hung all around the wreck turning the viz to zero if you accidentally touched it. Had this been a dive on any other submarine we would have called the dive and never returned. As it was, we made three 20 minute dives on Vandal. The video will give you a better idea of the conditions, which made it one of the most challenging wrecks we have ever dived.
Our first point of contact with Vandal was the retracted periscope. Near by were the snorkel and retractable aerial housing. Dropping down we could see that most of the conning tower secondary structure had dropped away leaving the main pressure structure of the tower. We started three days of diving by trying to avoid nets and orientate ourselves with the wreck. Vandal lies on a muddy slope and leans to port.
On this first dive Leigh Bishop found part of the conning tower structure lying at an angle on the seabed. On it could be seen the name Vandal. We had achieved one of the major aims of the expedition on day one!
Over the next two days we explored the whole of the wreck. It was particularly sad to see things like the damaged propeller tips. One can imagine desperate attempts to propel the submarine off the seabed to safety. We found that the rear fairing, aft of the rudder was missing and thought it might be significant. Further investigation found the pressure bulkhead intact so this was discounted.
The rear hatch was secure, which was a great relief to Larry Gaines. After 61 years of concern, he could now sleep easy knowing that his absence from the submarines crew had not contributed to the disaster. Close by were mooring bollards complete with wraps of rope. The significance of this would not be apparent until the film was shown to experts at the submarine museum in Gosport, UK. Submariners always stow mooring lines below deck before submerging. The fact that the lines were still topside suggests Vandals’ problems started on the surface.
Another significant find was the open forward hatch. Was this an attempt to escape the stricken vessel or was it the cause of the submarines sad loss?
At the end of the expedition we visited the HMS Vandal memorial at Inchmarnock. Sandy Young of the Submariners Association said a few prayers and we drank a toast to the crew of Vandal and all submariners still on patrol.
Vandal Expedition 2003
A three minute film taken from an hours footage of Vandal
Inchmarnock, Isle of Arrun