Echoes From The Deep by Selcuk Kolay, with Okan Taktak, Savas Karakas & Mithat Atabay
A MATTER OF DAYS before a heavy-handed police response to an environmental protest in Istanbul sparked off violent riots in Turkey, a book launch was held at one of the capital’s tourist landmarks, the opulent Four Seasons Bosphorus.
It’s safe to say that I have never seen what we fondly term a “diving book” brought into the world in quite such a cradle of luxury before.
Hundreds of revellers enjoyed fine wines and piled their plates with delicacies in the open air as music played and night fell over the straits that separate Europe from Asia.
In Turkey, it seems, the wealthy don’t just play golf – they go diving. And it’s anything but easy diving.
Chatting to hosts and guests, a who’s who of a Turkish diving scene underwritten by industrialists passionate about their pastime, there was an air of quiet confidence about the future.
This was a country going places fast.
A new airport was to be opened, a new bridge was being constructed across the Bosphorus, and who needed to join the creaking European Union anyway
The street demonstrations that made international headlines for the wrong reasons would be a reminder that even in a tiger economy, everything comes at a price.
So what’s so special about the book that prompted the lavish celebration at the Four Seasons Well, it’s a powerful reminder of what determined divers can achieve.
Echoes From The Deep is a heavy, beautifully produced volume but a comparatively quick and easy read. And scuba-diving barely gets a mention in it.
What makes it significant for us is that it is a distillation of intensive work carried
out by Selcuk Kolay and his team of 10 other divers plus technicians and researchers that, over a period of 20 years, eventually extended to 68 people.
It’s all about the 31 known Great War wrecks of the Dardanelles Straits (and Aegean and Marmara Seas), with a couple of later Turkish submarine casualties included for good measure. And many of these wrecks the team discovered themselves in the course of the project.
Generously illustrated with the help of multibeam sonar scans, period photos – some previously unpublished – and a wealth of underwater pictures, the pleasure is as much in the carefully blended images as in the well-crafted words.
If you’re into shipwrecks and the history of warfare you’ll find this book of considerable interest, but beware – if reading it makes you want to go diving in these Turkish waters, you might want to think again.
The Straits are not generally open to divers for a variety of reasons, as Kolay makes clear from the start. Many of the wrecks lie inside prohibited shipping lanes and military zones, often deeper than 50m, and the currents are invariably strong and can whip up to 6 knots.
Tourist diving infrastructure barely exists in the Dardanelles for these reasons, so you would need to be part of a club set-up and have all the right permissions.
“All these factors made both diving and research from the surface very difficult; in fact, sometimes impossible,” says Kolay – and that’s exactly what makes this book such a significant achievement.
In 1996 Kolay was venturing as deep as 86m on air, though 70% of the dives have been on mixed-gas. Five of the team now dive on rebreathers. Since late 2011 they have been fortunate to have the use of the Beluga, said to be the most advanced research ship in Turkey, and access to the latest in 3D scanning equipment.
The Ottoman Empire, as the book points out, entered World War One when Britain reneged on delivering two Dreadnoughts that the Turks had already paid for, preferring to retain the warships for its own war effort.
Germany, sensing an opportunity, stepped into the breach and supplied its own ships, in the process dragging the reluctant Turks into the war as allies.
2015 will mark the centenary of the Dardanelles naval attacks, designed by the British and French coalition forces to soften up Ottoman defences in the form of mines, patrol boats, coastal artillery and anti-submarine nets, and followed by the carnage of the infamous Gallipoli landings.
This was one of the most costly campaigns of World War One in terms of lost ships, submarines and lives.
Had the Allied navies succeeded in winning control of the 40-mile-long Dardanelles Straits, there would have been no need to land troops in pursuit of their quest to reach Istanbul.
However, seven of 18 battleships were lost as their bid ended in disarray, and the remainder of the campaign at sea revolved around submarine warfare.
Because ANZAC troops bore the brunt of the ensuing casualties at Gallipoli this is a period well-remembered in Australia and New Zealand, and the book is likely to arouse considerable interest there.
Selcuk Kolay was palpably relieved after the launch speeches to have got the book off his chest. Between 1993 and 2011, when he eased up on diving to start writing, he had discovered no fewer than nine wrecks, including the Australian submarine AE2 which, unlike those recent Istanbul street protests, prompted international headlines for all the right reasons.
AE2 was one of the most modern, biggest and fastest submarines of its time. With its British and Australian crew it became the first to penetrate the Dardanelles defences and reach the Sea of Marmara, a great feat in submarine history.
But if, as Kolay points out, AE2 hadn’t made it and delivered a huge morale boost for the deflated Allies, the Gallipoli landings might never have been given the green light. Many lives could have been spared.
The British submarine E14 also made it through the Turkish defences. Unlike AE2
it got back safely, though without sinking anything, but did enough to earn Commander Edward Courtney Boyle a VC.
The first underwater films of the AE2 and E14 wrecks were produced as a result of the diving project.
Also featured is E7, the only sub in the Dardanelles to be put out of action by anti-submarine nets, remains of which can still be seen; and E11, with its record of sinking the most enemy ships under its impressive commander Martin Naismith.
The light cruiser Midilli makes for another fascinating chapter. This was one of the ships supplied by Germany (as the Breslau) to bring the Ottoman Empire into the war, along with the Yavuz (originally Goeben). However, the pair’s subsequent wartime exploits were no less significant.
Throughout history no other two ships have had such an immense influence on politics... the day the two ships escaped from Messina signifies our greatest mistake, ran a Times editorial in January 1918. Midilli now lies upright in 74m.
Youll find chapters on 12 British, eight Ottoman, five Australian and five French vessels in Echoes From The Deep, along with three unknown craft. Because the histories of the vessels are discussed in the order of their sinking, the background story of the conflict emerges gradually but effectively.
Accompanying the book is a 47-minute DVD directed by a key member of the dive team, film-maker Savas Karakas.
Whereas the book sticks dispassionately to the history of the 33 ships and how they became wrecks, the DVD focuses on the diving and surveying activities that resulted in the end product.
I was glad to see that it brought out the divers’ fervour for the project, as well as their good humour, matters not reflected in the book. Book and DVD make a good complementary package.
Diving footage includes E14, the Carthage, the Bouvet and a barge. The difficulty of the diving conditions in currents of up to 4 knots is plain to see.
Get a flavour of the documentary at vimeo.com/66885636 The divers’ work is not over – it simply reached a natural break as the centenary looms, with publication of the book.
There are vessels yet to be located – Kolay mentions the Arno, Duchess of Richmond, Goissa, Okino, Manx Hero and the Hyte.
It’s hard to believe that he and his deep-diving friends, who also include Mustafa V Koc, head of Turkey’s biggest multinational, with all the resources at their disposal and determination to succeed, won’t manage to track down at least some of these wrecks in the next few years.
Vehbi Koc Foundation & Ayhan Sahenk Foundation
ISBN: 9789756959701, www.denizlerkitabevi.com
Hardback, 284pp + DVD, £54