The HMS Southwold was probably my favorite dive in Malta. However, I missed four days of diving due to Covid so my data set isn’t as large as I would have liked.
I will do two separate posts for the Southwold : this post for the Stern section dive and then a separate post for the Bow section which was a separate dive.
The HMS Southwold was a British Type II Hunt class destroyer that was launched on 29 May 1941 and completed on 9 Oct 1941. The Type II Hunt class destroyer was equivalent to what we would call a “Destroyer Escort” similar to the USS Vammen and was designed to be a fast escort vessel and not as well armed as a larger destroyer. She had a length of 280 feet and a beam of 32 feet (as a comparison, the Vammen was 306 feet long and had a beam of 37 feet).
Given her role as an escort to protect agains airplanes and submarines, armament consisted of 10 anti-aircraft guns, two 20mm cannons and had 110 depth charges.
After completing some sea trials at Scapa Flow, she was deployed to the Mediterranean Fleet and joined the 5th Destroyer Flotilla in January 1942. On March 21, 1942 she departed from the Egyptian port of Alexandria and was part of an escort for four merchant ships bound for Malta. On the 22nd, the convoy came under attack from the Italian Navy with a battleship, ten destroyers, and two heavy cruisers. The battle raged on for two days and then the Italian Navy retreated and German bombers continued the attack.
The Italians and Germans has caused some serious damage to both the escorts and their four cargo ships. Two of the four cargo ships made it to Malta but a third was sunk. The fourth cargo ship, the oil tanker Breconshire, was hit by German bombs a few miles out from Malta. The HMS Southwold was attempting to pass a line to tow the Breconshire to port when she hit a mine that exploded under her engine room. One officer and four crewman were killed.
The paddlewheel tug (I didn’t even know those existed) Ancient then tried to tow the Southwold to Valetta harbor but the damage was too great and the hull split in tow and she sank outside Marsaskala Bay. She was active in service for less than a year.
As noted above, the HMS Southwold split in two and the two sections lie about 300/ 1,000 feet apart so it really requires two dives. Even with a scooter, you would spend about 10 minutes getting between them at a depth of 230-ish feet deep. The stern section is smaller at about 90 feet long and slightly deeper at 240 feet so we did that dive first. The bow section is larger at about 130 feet long and is lying on her starboard side about 215 feet deep.
There is a LOT to see on either section of the wreck. Highlights include the anti-aircraft guns, the Southwold name on the back of the stern, the depth charge racks, etc.
The Underwater Malta site has great photogrammetry models of both the stern and the bow sections and also has a composite picture which shows how they “fit together.” A screenshot of the composite graphic is below. I highly recommend looking at the models on their site as they are well done and give a good overview of both sites.
We dove the stern section first so I’ll post those photos first. As reference for the photos, here is a screenshot of the photogrammetry model posted by the Department of Classics and Archaeology Malta.
Photo 1 : 2 x QF-4inch Mk XVI guns in a twin mounting. This was one of three twin QF-4inch guns.
Photo 2 : Gun mount for the above gun
When I was diving the wreck, I noticed this circular object with “rollers” and thought that it looked likely to be used for a gun mount. Later when looking through the photos I realized that the gun in photo 1 goes on this mount in photo 2. Looking at the diagram below, it becomes obvious that is is indeed the “middle aft” gun mount and gun.
Photo 3: Massive amounts of debris from amidships where the explosion hit
Photo 4: Marine heads with cool flushing buttons
Photo 5 : Looking towards the stern from the QF gun mounting station
Photo 6 : Stern 2 x QF-2 pounder MkVIII guns — also known as “pom-pom” guns. 40mm canons uses for anti-aircraft defense.
Photo 7 : Depth charge racks & Southwold Sign. Note the “Southwold” sign at the stern. Very cool sight. I also noticed another Southwold sign inside the stern area (middle right photo below). It also looks like there is a shell sitting on top of one of the depth charge racks.
Photo 8 : John taking pictures of the prop (I’m at the top of the deck at the depth charge racks pictured above.