|The Somali was a big cargo ship, 6809 tons, 459ft long and with a beam of 61ft, with the power to go with it. Quadruple-expansion steam engines with five boilers pushed her along at more than 15 knots on her passenger and cargo voyages for P&O to and from the Far East. |
The Somali was heading for Hong Kong when she fell victim to a squadron of Heinkel 111 bombers on 27 March, 1941. At the time she was carrying 9000 tons of general cargo, including non-ferrous metals, shoes, hay, batteries, medical supplies, bicycles, heavy lorry tyres, several 4x4s, some coin for Hong Kong banks, a small quantity of mercury and tons of toy lead soldiers.
Following unsuccessful attempts to control the fire in her holds, an explosion broke the ship in two off Beadnell.
Lying in 30m of water, and easily accessible from Beadnell and Seahouses, the Somali is today a popular dive site. Local dive boats maintain at least one buoy on the Somali, often two. These are typically tied on close to the boilers near the starboard side of the hull and also at the stern.
Beginning at the starboard side of the boilers (1), the first area of cargo immediately beneath the bulkhead contains the remains of drums of cement (2). The depth here is typically 29 to 30m, depending on the tide. This hold is pretty much flattened (3).
Divers rummaging here have found bottles of cold cream, canisters of celluloid photographic film, silver salt cellars, printing stamps, shaving kits and lead soldiers. Nevertheless, with so much wreck to see, dont spend too long here yet. See as much of the stern section as you can and fill in any spare time at the end of the dive by searching around here.
Forward of this hold, the wreck ends. The Somali split apart when it sank and the forward part is some distance away. The bow section is rumoured still to contain the ships safe. A safe would normally be in the captains cabin or somewhere else close to the wheelhouse, but the Somali was unusual in that its safe was located in the forecastle, so that anyone approaching it would be seen by the officer on watch from the wheelhouse. This has given rise to stories of hidden treasure to be found by any diver managing to locate the bows.
Back at the skeleton of the bulkhead and following it across the ship to the port side, there are three large boilers across the width of the hull. At the port side, a gap between the boiler and the hull and deck above makes a nice swim-through (4).
This comes out next to a second row of two similarly sized boilers, making five overall (5). All this capacity was put to use in one of the largest steam engines I have ever seen on a dive. The four enormous cylinders tower above the wreck, rising as shallow as 23m (6).
Towards the base of the engine the rods and crankshaft are exposed and it is possible to swim though the middle of the engine beneath the pistons. A large shoal of pollack can often be seen swimming above the engine.
Behind the engine and a broken bulkhead is more cement cargo, this time in sacks (7). Past another broken bulkhead and youll see a pile of large truck tyres (8) with the remains of a cargo winch lying on the centre line of the ship among the tyres (9). Behind the winch and tyres are more drums of cement (10).
The final hold was refrigerated. Tubes from the refrigeration system lie clustered like a scouts campfire over a pile of debris (11). To the starboard side lie a large number of empty gas cylinders, all rotted through (12). I suspect that these were used to run the refrigeration machinery.
The large fallen box structure with a post sticking out to starboard is the gun mount. Still attached, the 12-pounder anti-aircraft gun rests on the seabed with its barrel nestling between a pair of bollards (13).
Looking up from the breach of the gun you will see the remains of the stern resting on its starboard side. Even in poor visibility you will be able to pick it out by its shadow. Broken free of the stern and resting on the bottom at either side are the stern anchor chutes (14). A large anchor lies nearby on the port side of the wreckage.
In the centre of the ship, the rudder post sticks out of the debris with small bits of mounting plates attached at intervals along its length (15). Towards the bottom of the rudder post, the outline of the propshaft tunnel can just be picked out among the general debris (16), pointing forward beneath the remains of the refrigerated hold.
Returning towards the boilers along the starboard side, forward of the gas cylinders, you can see the spare propeller (17), partly obscured by a section of a mast. Level with the engines, but off the starboard side of the hull, are the remains of another cargo winch (18).
A bit further forward, roughly level with the boilers, is yet another winch, this time with a large pile of chain just in front of it (19).
Ascending the side of the hull here puts you back at the starting point (1), but if you still have bottom time and air, now is the time to spend a few minutes examining the remains of the forward hold (3) to make up for the cursory visit at the start of the dive.
As mentioned at the start of the tour, this hold is largely flattened, but it is also the one that contained most of the diverse general cargo. With such a selection of trinkets to be found, this must be one of the most rummaged holds on any wreck, but divers still occasionally find something new.
Over the years, the Somali has been worked for salvage a number of times, each time breaking the wreck up further. Even recently the overall structure used to be much more intact, but a smash-and grab-salvage operation in the early 90s reduced the wreck to its current state.
It was only a few years ago that I first dived the Somali. Though it is still a magnificent wreck, I just wish I could have dived it earlier.
Would your club or dive centre like to see its favourite wreck featured here If you would like to help John Liddiard put together the information for a particular wreck, why not invite him to come and dive it with you Write to John c/o Wreck Tour at Diver.
|LEAD SOLDIERS UNDER FIRE || |
|The Heinkel 111 bombers slid out of cloud hanging over the Northumberland coast to score three direct hits on the hay-filled No 3 hold of the Somali. The result, on that afternoon of 25 March, 1941, was a ship on fire, writes Kendall McDonald. |
The two Naval gunners did their best with the old 12-pounder on her stern, but the Heinkels zoomed untouched back into cloud cover. As the Somali drifted, her 72 crew and 38 passengers did their best to fight the fire. An armed trawler called Pelican bravely took her in tow.
At 11 the following night, as the fire gained ground and the weather worsened, the trawler took off all aboard and slipped the tow. The Somali drifted again until, in the early hours of 27 March, a salvage crew from the tug Sea Giant came aboard with the idea of saving her by beaching.
At exactly 1pm, when the ship was about a mile off Beadnell Point, there was a small bang, followed by a colossal explosion which blew off the bow. The salvage crew standing aft were hurled into the air and out over the boats alongside.
Amazingly no one was hurt, though red-hot coins sizzled on the beaches of Beadnell and other debris rained down on a local hotel. Five minutes later the Somali went down upright.