TOO OFTEN BOOKS ABOUT SHIPWRECKS turn out to be all pre-sinking, and if we’re lucky we get a bit of diving tagged on as an afterthought.
The history may be compelling or otherwise, but inevitably divers want to know about the vessels’ afterlives, not just their glory days.
Sam Warwick and Mike Roussel have managed to avoid this trap, producing a book that will interest divers as well as maritime historians, and quite possibly general readers as well.
Warwick is a technical wreck-diver whose interest in the subject has been nourished by his father and grandfather both having been Cunard Line commodores. Roussel is the prime researcher, and on this evidence a painstaking one at that.
They have achieved a good pre-/post-sinking balance in this study of big passenger vessels that met a violent end – and if it’s mildly shocking that so many Cunard ships did strike out the way they did, we have to remember that they have had more than 170 years and two world wars in which to do so.
The book focuses on 18 major losses in individual chapters, most of the wrecks diveable, with a round-up section covering a further 66.
The earliest featured casualty was the Columbia out of Boston in 1843, and the most recent the Atlantic Conveyor, sunk by Exocets during the Falklands War.
The round-up chapter contains wrecks that were lost, scrapped, lie beyond conventional diving depths or are otherwise undiveable.
If some of the vessels here seem familiar – Transylvania, for example, gets three paragraphs, but then, it’s not the celebrated wreck off Ireland – it’s worth remembering that similar names have been used freely by different shipping lines.
But there is plenty of meat among the wrecks that get chapters to themselves, which include famous names such as the Lusitania, Carpathia and Alaunia.
Well-illustrated both with historic and underwater images, the back-stories are brought alive with the help of quotes and anecdotes, while the underwater sections show that Sam Warwick knows his stuff.
And where he hasn’t dived a wreck himself, he has enlisted the help of those who have.
Some of these wrecks are accessible to non-technical divers, too, such as the 92m Malta, sunk in 1889 in just 15m off Land’s End. Whatever your diving level, expect your interest in liner wrecks to be piqued by
this book.
Review by Steve Weinman

The History Press
ISBN: 9780752465784
Hardback, 168pp, £20