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E18 Arriving off Dagerort, 12-9-1915. Photo: Royal Navy Submarine Museum
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HMS E18 as she lies at the bottom of the Baltic Sea. Photo: MMT AB
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The hatch of E18 as it rests on the bottom of the Baltic Sea. Photo: MMT AB

WW1 Submarine Found in Baltic

More than 90 years ago, the British submarine HMS E18 sank with her crew of 33 men without a trace. She left Reval [Tallinn] in late May 1916 on assignment in a joint effort with the Russians against the Germans in World War I.

Last week historians and divers announced that they had found and identified the HMS E18, part of the Royal Navy Submarine Squadron, in international waters near Estonia.

"I got word that they had found a submarine and very quickly we realized that it was the E18," says Carl Douglas, historian and diver, specialized in wrecks and the Baltic Sea.

"It was an emotional discovery for me," Douglas adds, and explains that he has visited the memorial at a British submarine museum, where the names of the lost submariners are listed.

The discovery was possible thanks to a joint effort by Douglas and fellow divers, together with a relative of an original E18 crew member and a maritime survey company. On site, an underwater robot was sent down from M/V Triad, to take pictures. Photographs were sent to experts in Britain, who confirmed that it was an E-Class submarine and with a high level of certainty, the long-lost E18.

"It has been one of the top-three wrecks we wanted to find," Douglas says. He and fellow divers have discovered more than 150 wrecks in the Baltic Sea, which they consider one of the best places around the world for wreck-finders. He heard the story of the E18 about 10 years ago. When they met Darren Brown, a great-grandson of a crew member of the E18, they got even more inspired.

Brown learned of the ill-fated E18 about five years ago. As he visited his grandmother, who had lost her short term memory, untold stories about his great-grandfather, signalman A. Robinson, surfaced.

"He was on submarines, he was in Russia, he became a good luck charm," he tells from his home in Australia. Brown's great-grandfather had been scheduled to leave with the E18, but fell ill and had to stay behind. His survival made him popular among captains, who wanted him on their submarines as they thought he brought good luck. His great-grandfather on the other hand, didn’t feel as lucky and spent his life with so-called "survival guilt" and eventually moved to Australia. Brown's grandmother remembered him avoiding talk of his time on submarines.

"Finding the answer to what happened to his shipmates became my quest," says

Brown, has since spent much of his spare time researching archives in Russia, Estonia, Germany and Great Britain to find out more.

"Discoveries like these are very important," says Eric Grove, a British naval historian at the University of Salford in the UK. "It solves yet another piece of the puzzle." Grove says that the role of submarines in the Baltic Sea during World War I is largely forgotten. At the time, in 1914 and 1915, Russia only had one submarine, letting the Germans control the Baltic, an important commercial route. With the assistance of British submarines, German actions could be disturbed, something called sea-denial. At the time, Sweden supplied iron ore to both Germany and the allies.

The Germans also used the Baltic as a practicing ground. The E18, along with five other submarines of the Royal Navy Submarine Squadron, sent out by Winston Churchill, then Minister of Naval Affairs, managed to sink a large number of German battleships, before she vanished.

"She was probably spotted by the Germans and probably fired at a German vessel, but we will probably never know exactly what happened to her," Douglas says.

Footage from the underwater robot shows that the 56-meter long submarine had major damage mid-ships and the hatchway was open. This, Douglas says, suggests that the E18 was hit by a mine while at sea level.

Grove says he is thrilled at the news that the exact location of the HMS E18 has been found. All along, it’s been known that the E18 had sunk somewhere in the Baltic Sea, but not exactly where. But the exact position of the wreck will not be released to the general public, because of the fear of looting, Douglas explains.

"We never give exact locations," he says. "Some who have followed us to sites, have published locations and those ships have been plundered." Grove supports that decision.

"It is a British war grave and we hope that people will respect that and those who lay dead down there," he says.

For Brown’s part, his quest is finished.

"I wanted to find out what had happened. Now we know and those men can rest in peace," he says.

Our journalism is based on credibility and impartiality. Swedish Radio is independent and not affiliated to any political, religious, financial, public or private interests.
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