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In Search of Warship Gold: By Neville Hodgkinson- Daily Mail Worldwide


Report By Neville Hodgkinson

British divers are on the trail of what must be the ultimate in sunken treasure: gold bullion with £100 million which went down with one of Britain's warships. The wreck of HMS Edinburgh, a 100,000ton cruiser torpedoed by a U-boat while escorting a convoy from Russia to Britain in 1942, lies 1000 ft down in the Barents Sea, in the Arctic Circle. Two thirds of the gold belongs to Russia and one third to Britain, according to the Department of Trade yesterday. The Edinburgh was torpedoed twice. The first blast wrecked her steering gear and tore away 30 or 40 feet of the stern. With the Help of two Soviet destroyers, she struggled on for two more days.

Then she was torpedoed again and had to be scuttled in icy waters north of Norway. Why the gold was not transferred to other vessels in the convoy is a mystery – there is some suggestion that commanders on the spot had not been told what was aboard. Now at least two salvage operators are standing by, awaiting the go ahead for what could become a tremendous race – against each other and against time before the weather makes a recovery attempt this year impossible. About 50 of the crew were killed and the bodies of at least 30 are believed to be still in the wreckage.

'We want to ensure that the sanctity of the ship as a war grave is properly considered in any salvage operations,’ said a spokesman for the Defence Ministry, ‘We are usually against diving operations in circumstances of this kind. But in the case of any wreck containing a valuable cargo, it is better to allow an operation while imposing strict safeguards.'

For the present the Navy has given two firms – Risdon-Beasley Marine, of Southampton, and Stolt-Nelson, of Norway – permission only to locate, sight and perhaps film the outside of the vessel on condition that no attempt is made to land her. Risdon-Beazley’s cargo recovery manager, Mr Fergus Hinds, said last night that the company had considered attempting to recover the gold in 1953. But the company decided not to because at that time their divers had not gone so deep. It was also not known for certain whether the gold was still there. And there were political considerations.

'Now a number of changes have come about,’ he said – ‘we have since worked in this depth of water and that makes it worth another look.’ He refused to comment on whether or not the wreck had been located.

But a member of a third, Yorkshire, Salvage Company that is interested in the gold said the wreck had been seen. Teams of men are on a 24-hour standby, he says, awaiting confirmation that salvage terms have been agreed with Russia and that the recovery attempt can go ahead. The gold originally belonged to a Russian trade delegation in Britain and was ultimately destined to go to the U.S. as payment for arms. Under a war risks insurance scheme, Britain paid out a third of its value and so still has a large stake in it.

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Attempt to Save £50m Bullion From Wreck: Daily Telegraph June 1st 1981

Attempts to retrieve gold bullion valued at about £50 million from the wreck of the British cruiser Edinburgh, 10,000 tons, sunk off Northern Russia during the 1939-45 war, are to begin this summer. Britain and Russia which own the gold, have signed a contract with the Yorkshire based salvage company Jessop Marine Recoveries, to bring the gold to the surface. The company will take half of the five-ton cargo of Russian gold if the operation succeeds. Edinburgh, sister ship to the 10000 ton Belfast, which is now red on the Thames, was scuttled in 1942 in the Barents Sea, after being torpedoed by German submarines. The ship was carrying gold from Murmansk to Britain as payment for British weapons and equipment. The gold was worth about £1 million, in 1942.

War Grave

Under the insurance terms, the Soviet Union has claimed two-thirds of the value of the cargo. But under the terms of the Contract drawn up between the British and Russian governments and Jessop Marine, the company will take half the gold with the remainder being divided between London and Moscow. The wreck is classed as a British war grave, and a Ministry of Defence observer will watch the salvage operation to ensure there is no unnecessary disturbance. The, cruiser lies in 900 feet of water, 170 miles north of Murmansk and is believed to contain 30 bodies.

An official at the Department of Trade, which was responsible for drawing up the contract, said: "It is the deepest salvage operation ever undertaken. The Royal Navy does not have the equipment to mount its owned operation.”

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Russia May Have War Gold

More than £50 million of gold bullion lost with a British warship in the last war may now be in Russian hands.

Despite the wreck of the 12,000 ton Edinburgh being an official war grave which should not be disturbed it is now considered highly possible by salvage experts that the Russians have already raised the gold.

It was loaded in a Russian port and was to help pay for Western arms supplies. The entire consignment, of more than five tons, went down in 1942 when the Edinburgh was torpedoed in the Barents Sea north of Norway. It was then reckoned to be worth £1 1/2 million.

In 1953 the Anglo-Dutch salvage company Risdon Beazley Marine mad a search for the wreck but reckoned the sea and weather conditions in the area were too bad and the depth at which the Edinburgh was believed to be lying, 800 – 900 feet, too great.

But shortly after their search a team of Russian experts went to Britain to examine equipment and techniques and in 1956 the Russians bought a deep diving observation chamber. Under the insurance arrangements for the gold, one third would now belong to Britain and the rest to Russia if it is salvaged.

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