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Author & photographer Leigh Bishop imaging the 13.5inch guns with the use of a tripod,  image courtesy of Italian photographer Antonello Paone
Richard Stevenson on the forward bollards of the bow section

'Audacious Aftermath-
A Contract with Embarrassment'

Returning to Donegal armed with a rebreather, tripod and a shed load of Blk& White film Leigh Bishop was destined to capture the big awesome images of 'HMS Audacious'.

Of all the naval weapons of World War 1, perhaps the most diabolical by far was the mine! Floating silent and invisible beneath the ocean surface, these marine bombs, each carrying 350-pounds or more of high explosives could rip open the underside of any vessel afloat. Laid in fields of 25-100 mines, they were employed to turn wide stretches of strategic sea-lane into hideous death-traps. On October 27th 1914, the spanking-new 23,000-ton dreadnought 'Audacious' struck such a mine! Her embarrassing and so early loss triggered a panic of "mine-itis" among the Grand Fleets staff. Wrote Jellicoe: "It will be pure suicide taking the fleet out without sweeping, and I simply have nothing with which to sweep"

The famous photograph of Audacious sinking

Eighty-eight years on and an overcast day here off Malin head North west Ireland puts doubt in my mind as to whether I will succeed in capturing ambient light images of this awesome battleship 65m below. I was here last year with my old mate Rich Stevenson, back then we finned around these amazing wrecks off North West Ireland like excited school-kids on day one of summer holidays. Indeed this was some of the best wreckin we had done in the British Isles and remains so to this day. Back then one thing stood clear in my mind, the brilliant light levels and clear waters suggested this was no territory for strobe assisted images, No this was ambient light city and gagging for the big time exposure shots. Agreed the colour images you see in this feature add a nice spark in their own way. Indeed they gave us a kick last year, but having said that they don't emphasize the true story of a shipwreck, especially one like 'Audacious' with mother guns and turrets like you've never seen before!

The divers Materialize.
With so many conflicting reports as to the quality of wreck dive this site offers the only way to find out for sure was to make the drop myself. One of the Irish lads that originally investigated the wreck spoke highly of her, I took his word, after all, the dives these guys were pulling off in the mid nineties were indeed way ahead of their time. On the other hand I had heard others turn their nose up " Not

The Italians finally emerge into my viewfinder

interested in an upside-down wreck" was a frequent phrase when 'Audacious' talk cropped up. For sure as with most battleships 'Audacious' is yet another upside-down wreck but as with other wrecks in the area she still makes for a cracking dive, take my word for it! And besides were else do you go local to see a fine example of a British Dreadnought? There are several key features on this site and unless you have come armed with propulsion your skippers shot depends on what your dive will encounter. On this particular overcast day I find my dive amidships, which in turn is a result as I intend to photograph her 13.5inch guns, the visibility well lets just say the turrets are so big here you can see them on your way down the shot line. A few moments later my tripod & camera is set up across a rocky seabed with those guns framed up just nice, all I have to do now is wait for the odd diver to arrive inside the viewfinder, a little scale will be required. Edoardo Pavia and his merry men have made the journey from Rome to dive these wonderful wrecks, but where on earth are these pasta connoisseurs when you need them? No it isn't long before an intrigued quartet can be seen sniffing around the turret in the background while my friend Carl Spencer adds to the foreground. Now its time to work overtime and I'm right to do so a few frames later and they've all moved on to other parts of the wreck.


Early grave to the bold & daring
Unknown to the German command the British Grand Fleet was using Loch Swilly as a base whilst the main base at Scapa Flow in the Orkney Islands was having its feeble defences against submarine attack improved. On 27 October 1914 Vice Admiral Warrender took the Second Battle Squadron, consisting of the "super-dreadnoughts" Centurion (flagship), Ajax, Audacious, King GeorgeV, Orion, Monarch and Thunderer, out of port on a gunnery exercise. Two weeks earlier the German converted liner 'Berlin' had been active in the area. Navigation problems meant she would not reach her target area so reverted to

RMS Olympic the passing ship that took Audacious into tow

lying her 200 or so mines in the nearest shipping lane which just happened to be near Tory Island and of course Loch Swilly. Just before 9am Audacious turned for a new course and struck one of 'Berlins' mines on her portside just forward of the after engine room bulkhead. At first it was not clear what had happened but as she stopped turning without righting correctly the order to close watertight doors was given. As the flooding spread, the central bulkhead, which at first had contained the flooding, began leaking, water was now spreading into the ships central compartments and by 10am the central engine room was 5 foot deep in water. In fear of possible torpedo attack on the other ships Jellicoe ordered the fleet to leave the area leaving the light cruiser HMS Liverpool and a number of small vessels to assist the damaged ship. At 10.30am 'Titanic's' sister ship the White Star lines SS 'Olympic' was sighted and ordered to assist in the evacuation of the crew aboard 'Audacious'. By midday all but 250 essential crew were taken off and arrangements made to try to tow the damaged ship to safety. HMS Fury succeeded in attaching a cable between Audacious & Olympic and by 2pm encouraging progress was made westward and then SSE for Lough Swilly. Almost a hour later the situation began to deteriorate somewhat, the steering gear aboard Audacious had failed, and in the rising seas the ship became increasingly unmanageable, eventually shearing off into the wind and parting tow-line with Olympic.

Historic diagram showing the cost implements involved in building a dreanought around the turn of the century

Not quick to accept defeat a least another two attempts were made to attach cables to the rescue ships both giving way for several reasons, Olympic stood by in ready for another attempt but time was running out. By 5pm the quarterdeck of Audacious was awash and a decision was made to evacuate the crew still remaining on board. With the heavy weather and deteriorating conditions Audacious was abandoned altogether & by 6.30pm the entire crew had been taken aboard Olympic & Liverpool. As fortunate a decision as this was at 9pm there was a massive explosion aboard 'Audacious' in the vicinity of the forward magazines serving A&B turrets, within moments the great battleship capsized and sank stern first.

Recalling the sleeping Dreadnought
Today Audacious lies with her bows south-east & stern north-west 17 miles north-east of Tory Island, and a relatively short 13-mile steam from the nearby shelter of Lough Swilly. Audacious was first investigated believe it or not as a result of a group of birdwatchers! The birdwatchers who had chartered Salutay in the late summer of 1994 were seeking out oceanic birds, which lived offshore; this gave skipper & diver Al Wright the perfect chance to "ping" some offshore marks. Al contacted his friend Simon Bamford who owned a 7.5m Rib and needed a little persuading to go wreck hunting.

One of Leigh Bishops ambient light images of the rudders

The small team consisting of Al & Simon accompanied by Oliver McElroy, Dave Rigg & Stuart Adams set off to dive what was then an unknown site on the 9th April 1995. Al Wright takes up the story;
" We managed to fit all our kit on the RIB we had 21 tanks and 2 Aquazepps.Simon and I dived together, my first impressions of the wreck was it was upside down and HUGE! We followed a propeller shaft aft and were confronted by four huge high-speed props and a double rudder (definitely Dreadnought like).Dave and Ollie had swam forward and found a huge gun turret with two 13.5 inch guns, after that we had a definite ID it was HMS Audacious. This was veryinteresting, as the official Admiralty position was fifteen miles further northwest."

The English dictionary describes the word Audacious as bold and daring, seeing this monster you can see why the admiralty appropriately named her so. Due to the explosion in a magazine the engine room has blown wide open, it is here that the visiting diver can see huge steam Parsons turbine engines and machinery of all manor. Infact as you swim across the upturned very top section of this wreck you can quickly become disorientated if only by the immense devastation caused by the explosions. Quite possibly further non documented damage occurred once she disappeared below the surface, there's that much debris and damage here that the likely hood of depth charge destruction during WW2 cannot be ruled out. There has certainly been no salvage of such kind as all of her screws remain in situe items that would have certainly long since gone had the commercial companies been here. This is also a wreck where you are able to swim with that comfortable feeling that some vicar isn't waving his finger in a fit of rage, no all of the crew of Audacious were taken off safely prior to her sinking.

War poster encouraging civilians to invest in war bonds

This isn't a war grave nor is it a site for the dieing breed of souvenir hunters unless of course your happy to take the Belfast ferry home with a 13.5-inch projectile strapped to your roof rack! Another result of the explosions has left munitions and projectiles quite literally scattered around the seabed as well as amongst damaged wreckage. So far I've mentioned that the wreck is upside down spidge-less and heavily damaged at the shallow levels, so why have I also added that this is a cracking dive? There are as I say several distinguishable features of note that will always remain in the mind of anyone who visits this site, everything here is on a huge scale, the projectiles themselves are some sight not to mention the guns & stern section of the wreck. Swim north-west and you will eventually arrive at the stern, rest yourself on the seabed to the very stern port side and take on the breathtaking view of her props in situe. This section of the wreck is intact other than the very stern tail that has simply broken off either due to its own weight or a result of seabed impact as she sank stern first. Have a look at this tail while you're down here, her unusual design and twin rudders still pointing towards the surface. There are four props attached to exposed shafts that can be followed along her keel the starboard side shafts extremely bent, the port props in remarkable condition, use the midday sun and high ambient light to silhouette these magnificent props against the wreck itself.

Ken Sullivan is a top banana especially when it comes to camera hardware and it just so happens he lives round the corner from me, Cool! He's machined up an adapter that allows me to fix my camera & housing to a heavy duty tripod, with a long exposure and some serious depth of field I am now able to bring some real images of Audacious to the homes of you 990 readers. There are two massive gun

Richard Stevenson puting scale to the huge anchor still within its hawser

turrets visible on Audacious forward of amidships one to the side of the wreck with her barrels pointing at right angles to the hull the other within visible distance more into the wreckage itself. These guns have got to be seen to be belived and it's the special 30+m visibility here that really sets the scene, check em out twin 13.5inch barrels resting upside down out across the seabed with the turrets themselves shadowing like houses in the background. In a position facing down the barrels a short swim to your right brings you across another smaller 4inch gun again on the seabed. From here there appears a small break although still within visible distance before the obvious bow section of the wreck is met. Twin anchors still remain as they would naturally have been, within their hawsers and big enough to dwarf even the likes of Ron Mahoney! The bow tip as with the stern is broken clean off and is sharp in design, there is also an immense pile of chain here and mooring cleats twice the size of any other wreck.

I've come to Ireland once again with Deep Blues Loyal Watcher and of course loyal skipper Steve Wright who's getting a dab hand at placing a shot on Audacious these days. Challenge him to shot your chosen

The very shattered keel of the upturned hull, damage possibly due to WW2 depth charges

section of wreck if he fails Steve claims the Guinness all round is on him. Richie himself has decided to do his homework this summer holiday. He's stayed at home filling tanks at mount batten and givin it the family large un, this for me quite a result for he has lent me his rebreather, which in turn has saved me building some ridiculous gas bill up.A Question of cover-up The sinking of Audacious became quite a controversial issue and an embarrassing loss to the admiralty. Olympic disembarked the rescued Audacious crew at Lough Swilly although for security reasons was ordered to remain out of sight of the Grand Fleet so that any passengers with any pro- German sympathies would not be able to observe military activities. In fact there were quite a number of German born Americans on board who witnessed the demise of the battleship, and it was clear that they could not be relied upon to keep their silence. It was not possible to arrest them as they were now American citizens, but if nothing else they could at least be detained for questioning. Needless to say the interrogations were not at all rushed. Despite the Admiralty's best attempts at a cover up, speculation into the sinking of Audacious would not die down. The authorities had gone out of their way to assist in the deception by even modifying the SS Mountclan to resemble the lost battleship, but the large number of witnesses to the event made the task of keeping the secret all but impossible. It was difficult enough to persuade the neutral passengers who had been aboard the Olympic during the

Loyal Watcher heads out from Lough Swilly  on route to HMS Audacious

abortive rescue mission to remain silent, but even some of the crew who should have been more reliable were being somewhat less discreet. Matters came to a head when the editor of the Daily mail published a letter from one of his readers complaining that a masseur from the Olympic had openly boasted to his barber of seeing Audacious sinking and that he was ordered to remain silent. Needless to say it would not be long before anxious relatives to the crew of Audacious would flood the admiralty with enquires, who were at the time understandably worried. As luck would have it none of the crew of Audacious had actually been lost during the sinking, so whenever an enquiry was received the Admiralty could reply with a reasonable degree of truth. "According to the latest information,………… Is well and serving with the fleet." Captain Dampier of Audacious latter assumed command of the battleship HMS Superb while his crew were transferred to the newly commissioned battleship HMS Queen Elizabeth.

Theres plenty to see on a dive to Audacious and although a single descent will never be enough a

Italian Technical diving instructor Edoardo-Pavia climbs the ladder of Loyal Watcher after a dive on Audacious

liveaboard charter will squeeze in a couple of visits during a single week, the site also makes for a classic scooter ride, but she's not a dive to be taken lightly. Atlantic swells and the depth mean that experienced divers only should undertake this wreck, preferable using Tri-Mix. You too can dive HMS Audacious as part of a liveaboard holiday along the North West Irish coastline, at present only two charters visit the wreck.
I went with Deep Blue diving who plan to return to the area during the English summer of 2004, check out their details and contacts on their website Alternatively you could join Alan Wright aboard Salutay; Al himself is an experienced diver and authority on local wrecks along this coastline not to mention one of the original divers to investigate Audacious itself. Check out his website at

Thanks go to Simon Mills of Governcheck UK responsible for the ownership of 'HMHS Britannic'; his assistance with historic material is appreciated.

Authors Footnote: -
Spidge is slang terminology coined by UK wreckers meaning 'shipwreck artifacts'.



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