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: