During WWI German coastal submarines preyed on British shipping operating along the north east coast of Scotland – sinking steam trawlers, supply steamships carrying coal and the raw materials of war, and tankers carrying vital oil supplies

In WWII, between 9 April and 10 June 1940 the Nazis seized control of Denmark and Norway to give the German navy control of the local seas, to protect iron ore supplies on which she was dependant and to provide advance bases for future operations against Britain itself.

Allied supply shipping arriving from the Empire and America could not safely pass through the English Channel to ports such as London and Newcastle. Instead vital war shipping gathered in deep water anchorages on the west coast of Scotland such as the Oban Roads and then formed up in convoy to pass around the north of Britain and then move down the east coast to the major east coast ports down south.

The convoys were very vulnerable to attack by German aircraft operating from these Norwegian bases – and had to fight their way south. Witnesses in my own town Stonehaven spoke of convoys 5 miles out to sea that stretched as far as the eye could see to the north and to the south – and of the sky being lit up at night by flashes of explosions as attacks went in.

The escorted convoys operated in the ‘swept channel’ which lay 5-10 miles offshore and was protected by the east coast barrier mine barrage. It was marked with bouys every half mile and was regularly swept for mines.

Today the wreck legacy of this almost forgotten chapter of WWII lie offshore NE Scotland in the silent depths. In the days of dead reckoning, the positions of vessels sunk were often off by several miles and identities of wrecks became jumbled and mixed up over time. Many ships were sunk without trace and simply marked as ‘Missing’. Other ships believed lost in the Moray Firth have turned up off our own coast near Aberdeen.

For the last 20 years or so our small team of divers has sought out these lost shipwrecks, finding and identifying them and adding to the historical narrative of the Battle of the East Coast. You can read about some of our finds in my diving Trilogy, Into the Abyss – Diving to Adventure in the Liquid World (2003), The Darkness Below (2012) and Deeper into the Darkness (2017)

Here are some videos from our adventures off NE Scotland:

A WWII casualty that was lost without trace in April 1941 on a voyage from London to Invergordon with a cargo of cement in bags. There was no distress call, no survivors and no wreckage ever found. She was marked as Missing by the Admiralty and although she was believed possibly bombed in the Moray Firth there had been no trace of her until this dive in 2006
The German coastal submarine U 12 was patrolling the east coast of Scotland in March 1915. After sinking a 1000-ton British steamship carrying a cargo of coal she was hunted down by three British destroyers the following day, Aerial, Acheron and Attack who sighted her on the surface and attacked. 
As she made to dive she was rammed near the bow. 
She then resurfaced and was engaged by British guns.
She sank with the loss of 20 crew and her wreck now rests upright in 50 metres in the Firth of Forth, North Sea. 
Here’s a video of a dive on her in May 2019
The small SS Fernside was built in 1921. By WWII she was involved in the transport of precious war coal cargoes up the east coast. She set off on a voyage from Hartlepool to Wick in February 1942 – scheduled to arrive at Wick on 27 February. She never arrived and was listed as missing, presumed bombed, in the Moray Firth. Whilst shotting a local wreck 5 miles off Stonehaven, the SS Gowrie, we snagged our line about 50 metres away from our usual spot. When we descended expecting to see the Gowrie we found we were snagged on a totally different unknown wreck sitting just out of sight. Deeside BSAC found the bell, which confirmed the identity – we hadn’t expected the Fernside to turn up here – so far from where she was presumed lost in the Moray Firth.
The steam tanker Baku Standard was built in 1893 and torpedoed and sunk 5 miles off Inverbervie in north-east Scotland on 11 February 1918 by UC-58. The wreck now sits upright in 58 metres of water. This is a short clip of the stern defensive gun – used to fire on U-boats as she used her greater speed to escape the threat. The water was thick the day this was shot – a lot of particles in suspension but still worth putting it up as part of the historical record. Some of the casualties are buried in Gourdon cemetery, the headstone being paid for by local Gourdon folk.