Jonie and Richard Guest search for underwater remains from the last war – by Richard Guest (NOSAS).
We had it on good authority – a record of an eye witness – that at the end of the last war the 6” artillery which had been positioned at Rubha nan Sasan on the west side of the entrance to Loch Ewe was dumped over the cliffs. We had also variously heard that it had been seen previously by divers but also that it may have been salvaged. We decided to look for ourselves.
We launched our Rigid Inflatable Boat (RIB) from the community slip at Inverasdale and headed out to the mouth of the Loch in good weather and calm sea. The gun emplacements are easy to see on shore and were visible from the boat so there was no problem in deciding where to dive.
The first dive was made from a point just North of the northern gun emplacement, with the intention of working south past it. Immediately on descending it was obvious that there was a serious obstacle to the search – dense kelp! The seabed was not visible from above the kelp and could only be seen by putting your head into the seaweed, which allowed you to see about one square metre at a time. Even vertical surfaces were kelp-covered so even if the guns stood proud of the seabed they would themselves be covered in kelp. You could only see whether the kelp was attached to archaeology or bedrock from within touching distance.
Things got a little better very close under the cliffs because on descending it was found that there was a deep gully parallel to the cliffs. Had such heavy items as artillery fallen over the cliff they would undoubtedly have ended up in the gully and stayed there, which drastically reduced the area to be searched. Even so, there was no sign of the guns. After 40 minutes it was time to surface and we found the area covered had taken us to the southern gun emplacement.
The next day we returned and dived at the point where the first dive had been terminated. This time there was a geo to search, running inland just south of the southern gun emplacement, but the seabed directly under the emplacement was gently sloping bedrock, still kelp-covered. There was no way of knowing how far an item could have slid down the slope and with the very restricted visibility it was not possible to find anything. That doesn’t mean there was nothing there, just that nothing was seen.
The only way to conduct a more thorough search would be to return at the end of the winter before the kelp (which regenerates annually) returns.
The following day we decided to see if we could find any evidence underwater of the convoys which had assembled in Loch prior to heading for Arctic Russia. The anchorage positions were shown on a map displayed in an exhibition in the Inverasdale Primary School and we dived an area off Midtown at a depth of about 15m. The dive plan was to swim North for 10 minutes, West for 3 minutes, South for 10 minutes, West for 3 minutes and finally North again for another 10 minutes, taking 4 minutes to surface. The 40 minute dive would thus cover three parallel lines roughly parallel to the shore about 100m out. Visibility was about 6m, fairly typical for the area and the seabed was light grey sand with very little weed, so anything lying on the sand would be easily spotted. The only artefact found was a single wellington boot and whether it dated from 1944, 1984 or 2014 is impossible to say. This was a disappointment. Either the fleet didn’t anchor there or the sailors took all their rubbish home! By contrast, diving the anchorages of Scapa Flow is a goldmine of wartime bottles and other debris jettisoned by the crews.