Professor Bob Stone, Director of the School’s Human Interface Technologies Team, presented a paper this week at the Underwater Worlds Interdisciplinary Conference, held at Oxford University. The presentation included the first public showing of the final version of the simulated wrecksite of the ill-fated submarine HMS A7, which sank off the Cornish coast in January 1914 with the loss of all eleven crewmembers onboard. Despite numerous salvage attempts, the A7 refused to move from her unusual situation, with a bow-up angle of around 30° and her stern embedded in over 20ft of soft clay, so it was decided the leave her where she lay.
Listed in 2001 as a “Controlled Site” under the terms of the UK Government’s Protection of Military Remains Act 1986 (a protection conferred on sites containing the remains of service personnel outside of wartime), special permission was required from the Ministry of Defence to dive on the wrecksite. This was granted in 2014 and, in the summer months, a number of dives were made on the submarine by an accomplished dive team from the Promare SHIPS organisation, based in Plymouth. Prior to the dives, the SHIPS team were able to use an early VR model developed by HIT Team PhD student Hossein Moghimi and Research Fellow Dr Robert Guest to plan activities and allocate areas of the vessel to individual divers, thus maximising their short time on the seabed, 135ft down.
The divers brought back a wealth of schematics, images and videos of the wreck which enabled the HIT Team to develop a much more accurate model of the vessel, showing how much decimation has been caused over the years – not only by the harsh subsea conditions, but also as a result of human practices, such as random anchor dropping by fishing vessels and unauthorised dive boats. Now, features such as the bent periscope, the complete destruction of the “flying bridge” aft of the conning tower, damage to the torpedo tube doors, multiple holes across the hull (some containing very large specimens of conger eel!) and the remains of the hawsers used by the Royal Navy in their attempts to raise the submarine can be seen and explored.
Prof. Stone’s conference paper will feature in a forthcoming collection of essays on the topic of Underwater Worlds and he has also contributed to the final project report to the MoD, edited by Promare SHIPS coordinator Peter Holt. Entitled: “HM Submarine A7: An Archaeological Assessment”, the report is now available as a book in the British Archaeological Reports British Series (31 May 2015).