A recent email from Donie Brazil with an image from Dunmore of a steamship caused a fair amount of research on my part. Donie had an image from his aunt’s collection of a ship tied up at the East Pier in Dunmore, which could have easily been dismissed as a large fishing boat, but the date gave me a smile of delight. For it was from 1936, a time when an Italian salvage company was busy in the village and it was more probably the Artiglio of the Società Ricuperi Marittim, founded in 1926 in Genoa Italy, and at the time one of the leading underwater salvage operations worldwide.
Artiglio and her crew was world-renowned at the time following the successful salvage of gold coin and bullion from the sunken SS Egypt, a P&O ocean liner that sank after a collision in 1922. The Artiglio, or more accurately the Artiglio II, had successfully retrieved the treasure (after the original Artiglio had discovered the ship in 1930 but was blown up after being moved to deal with another salvage operation) but the work had taken from 1930 to 1935. The wreck of the Egypt lay in 170metres of water after all!
Società Ricuperi Marittim, or SO.RI.MA. (Society for Maritime Recovery) of Genoa was founded in 1926 by Commendatore Giovanni Quaglia. The ships of the company were all named based on their propensity to snatch objects from the bottom of the sea and included: Artiglio, Rostro and Raffio were the first of the company, followed by Rampino, Rastrello, and Arpione. These were all bought second-hand and modified as needed which included winches, electromagnets, and support equipment for divers.
The first mention of the company I could find in Ireland was off the Cork coast in 1934, where the Arpione was salvaging copper from the SS Spectator off Galley Head. It would appear the company was also looking for the Lusitania at the time.[i] In September 1935 both the Artiglio and Rampino were reported as being exempted from pilot dues by Waterford port until such time as they were successful in finding and retrieving salvage from the wreck of the SS Lincolnshire off Hook Head.[ii]
SS Lincolnshire was reported at the time as a “freighter of 3,695 tons…commanded by Captain Harte, and had onboard crew of thirty-one and the Captain’s wife, when, in March 1917, she encountered a German submarine…she was torpedoed, and sank almost immediately, those on board just managing to take to the boats before she went. No lives were lost. They were shortly afterward picked up by a patrol vessel and brought to Dunmore, whence they were sent to their homes through the Shipwrecked Mariners’ Agency, of which Mr. W. E. Jacob is the local agent”[iii]
Lincolnshire was one of two ships attacked and sunk that same day and by the same U-Boat U57 a sub which was one of those rarities, a sub that survived the war. The other was the SS Crispin, 2483 tons, carrying freight, passengers and almost 700 horses for the war effort. Those aboard the Crispin were not as fortunate, out of a complement of crew and passengers of 112, 8 died and of course, all the horses perished too. SS Lincolnshire was the prize the Italians were seeking however, as she was carrying copper ingots, brass bar/rod/sheet, zinc and other metals, which had a huge value at the time.
In October it was reported that they had “…located the SS Antony, a cargo vessel of Liverpool origin, which was also sunk by a submarine. A large number of automobile spares were found in the holds, while four motor cars, almost intact, were also discovered, as well as a large quantity of bones…”[iv] I couldn’t locate any details on the Antony up to the time of writing but I;m speculating the bones were of animals, and probably horses. Either way , it wasn’t the exact prize the Italians were after, but does highlight how littered the area is with wrecks.
Finally in November news broke that the “Copper Ship” had been found. Although from the report it sounds like the discovery was made a few weeks earlier. “…after many months of patient search, [Lincolnshire has] been at last located by the Italian salvage vessel, Arliglio (Capt. Bruno). The Lincolnshire, which was torpedoed by a German submarine, carried a valuable cargo of copper. The divers of the Artiglio who discovered her, estimate her cargo at eighteen hundred tons of copper and about 1,000 tons of zinc. She was found lying on a bed of mud on the ocean floor about 12 miles south-west of Dunmore Harbour. Already about 50 tons of copper has been salvaged and put aboard the Artiglio’s sister ship Rampino. The crews and divers are awaiting favourable weather to make a further trip to the Lincolnshire. It stated that when the Rampino has her full cargo she will proceed immediately to France. The Lincolnshire was found in thirty fathoms of water, and owing to obscurity, caused by the disturbed mud, the work of salvage was considerably impeded by poor visibility…”[v]
The work of the crew of these ships was incredibly dangerous and it must surely have taken nerves of steel to go down beneath the surface in what could only be described as iron coffins. From what I have read I can only try describe the activities, and these are largely based on what happened with the salvage of the Egypt, so I may be inaccurate in this. Once a likely wreck was identified, a diver was suited up and hoisted up and over the side, to go down and identify the wreck. The company used what was called atmospheric diving suits built by German firm Neufeldt and Kuhnke and later modified and enhanced this. They also used what was called a butoscopic turret as an observation chamber. Communcation with the surface was via wireless and once a wreck was identified, salvage could begin. It would appear that if needed, the divers would set explosives to create a hole to allow access to the ships hold. They would then direct operations observing the mechanical and magnetic grabs which were lowered from the surface ship. As the grabs descended, the diver operated like a conductor, issuing instructions to the surface which had to be acted on by the men operating the winches far above.
As you might well imagine, when these lads came ashore they must have wanted to enjoy themselves, and I’m sure the pubs and hotels must have done well from them. The Gossip of the Week column in the Standard of June 1936 describes the Italians as frequently in harbour where they have made many friends ashore. The previous weekend an imposing figure of one of the company’s directors Count Boraiggi was seen in the village. All was not plain sailing, however. A large French steamer the SS Sussien 848 tons was in harbour and her crew had given the harbour a “distinctive polyglot tinge”. The French are loading the salvage and returning to their home country where the material is being smelted down for use in the armaments industry. A major controversy was averted in the harbour during the week, thanks to the harbour master Major Lloyd when apparently his use of French managed to resolve a major logjam. At issue was the harbour blocked up when a new steel grab arrived by truck for the Artiglio which was at sea. Major Lloyd swung into action as it were, got the French steamer to hoist the grab onto her deck and get the truck on her way, although “the language, all French, was searing”![vi]
In August the Artiglio was ashore to enjoy the festivities associated with the annual Dunmore East regatta. A wonderful days weather ensured a great turnout, and it was remarked that a large number of cars were in evidence, parked along the pier. “The environs of the harbour were gaily bedecked with flags and bunting. The Italian salvage vessel, which has made its base at Dunmore East, was decorated with the ship’s flags, and the Captain and members of the crew were equally decorated with medals and ribbons.”[vii]
The Gods seem to have been looking kindly on the Italians it seems. For later that August four of the crew had a lucky escape in a traffic accident. Captain Ernesto Bruno, Cesari Albavera (chief engineer), Bonucelli Catena (diver), and Giovanni Titinini (wireless operator), were proceeding to Waterford in a taxi, driven Mr. Joe (Bunny) Murphy, when the accident occurred. The car had just passed the shop of Messrs. Harney, at the junction of the roads leading to upper and lower Dunmore, when the steering rod broke, leaving the driver without control. Swerving to the right along the upper Dunmore Road, the car dashed against the parapet, the wall gave way with the force of the impact and the car did a somersault before landing back on its wheels on the lower village road. To the astonishment of onlookers, who presumed they must all be dead, all five walked freely from the wrecked car, although Captain Bruno sustained a broken nose and required some stitches! [viii] A later report stated that the men were all improving, so perhaps they were not as unscathed as the first report suggests. [Following publication Kathleen O’Driscoll contacted me to state that her family had owned the Strand Hotel at the time. Her American relatives have a letter written by her mother from this time. In it she explained that both she and her two sisters were nursing the Artiglio’s Captain and Engineer who remained in the hotel for several weeks after the crash]
The work of the salvors was weather dependant and it would appear that they could be called away for other jobs, or return home for leave ( I found one report from April of 1937 stating that two ships were returning to complete the salvage after the winter storms). The work continued on the Lincolnshire until July 1937. The Waterford Standard of Saturday 10th July describes their departure. “The Italian salvage vessel, Artiglio, left Dunmore East on Thursday night, having completed the work of salvaging the wreck of the SS Lincolnshire. Crowds gathered on the pier to give the crew a truly Irish send-off. There is no doubt that the Italians made themselves very popular with the villagers, and from an economic point of view, too, their departure will be a loss, for nearly all the traders derived some benefit… There was much hand-shaking and leave taking before the hawsers were cast off and the Artiglio steamed out into the murky night, she sounded her siren in farewell and flashed morse signals to the waving crowd on the shore bidding them good-bye.”[ix]
War had created much of the wealth that the SO.RI.MA had salvaged, and it’s ironic to think that the metals salvaged went to creating more weapons for another war to come. But for the men of the Artiglio the work was their job, a difficult, hazardous and dangerous job for which it seems they were not very well rewarded. They did however brighten the scene at Dunmore East for the time that they stayed and their work was truly innovative. My thanks to David Carroll for assistance with this mornings piece and to Donie Brazil who asked the question that got me started.
[i] Aberdeen Press and Journal. Tuesday 1st May 1934
[ii] Waterford Standard – Saturday 14 September 1935; page 7
[iii] Waterford Standard – Saturday 14 September 1935; page 8
[iv] New Ross Standard – Friday 04 October 1935; page 5
[v] Waterford Standard – Saturday 02 November 1935; page 6
[vi] Waterford Standard – Saturday 20 June 1936, page 3
[vii] Waterford Standard – Saturday 22 August 1936; page 6
[viii] New Ross Standard – Friday 04 September 1936, page 11
[ix] Waterford Standard – Saturday 10 July 1937; page 3