SS Isbjorn Wreck in Lyme Bay
The SS Isbjorn is intact and upright on the seabed in 50+m of water. she is a great technical deep dive rated by local divers.
Dive Site Name: Isbjorn Dive Type: Wreck Dive
Max Depth Seabed: 56m Depth to top of Wreck: 48m
Approximate Position: 50 22 40N 003 03 56W
Tonnage: 597tonnes Length: 51m Beam: 8m Cargo: Coal
Date Lost: 17.12.1944 How Lost: Capsized in storm
Minimum Qualification: PADI Tec Trimix / Technical Diver (Or Equivilent)
The Isbjorn was built in 1907 in Jernskibsbyggeri Fevig (Grimstad) – Yard No 63, she had 2 owners, A/S Isbjorn (Wiborg), Kragero and Peder Smedvig, Stavanger.She was a small vessel of 579grt and only 51m long.
The Isbjørn was in service around the coast of the UK. She took part in the Normandy invasions as a support vessel for the landing on Omaha beach, as part of operation neptune. She arrived at Omaha beach on 12 june 1944 and left on June 18th.
The Isbjorn was undergoing a major refit in December 1944 in Swansea. This refit was completed on 14th December 1944 and the Isbjorn sailed from swansea at 18:00hrs with a cargo of Anthracite and Coal bound for poole in Dorset and joined a convoy on the morning of the 14th December 1944.
On the 15th December 1944 the Isbjorn sailed into a storm. She continued to make way and at 00:30hrs on the 17 December 1944 a heavy sea swept over her. THis caused her cargo to shift to port and she began to list. The captain gave orders immediately to heave to and to start filling the starboard #2 ballast tank in an effort to stabilise the Isbjorn. This appeared to work and the list to port decreased. However the storm worsened and the winds increased to reported hurricane force!
At approximately 04:30 the electric supply to the navigation lights and compass failed and the parafin oil lamps were lit.TheIsbjorn was becoming harder to handle and she struggled to hold course. She was now in a following sea with the wind at her aft as well and the list to port began to increase.
The Captain attempted to heave to again and get the ship to turn into the wind and the sea but to no avail. Eventually the Captain had no choice but to order the crew to standby the lifeboats. An SOS signal was sent using the Aldis lamp and rockets were sent up to alert other vessels in the convoy of her stricken situation.Due to the poor conditions it is beleived that the signals and rockets were never seen.The Isbjorn then took 2 heavy waves over her after decks and within seconds she capsized and sank by the stern. The Isbjorn had been listing so sverely that the crew had not been able to launch the lifeboat, howver, fortunately, as the ship sank the lifeboat released from its davit with 1 crew in her, he then immediatley picked up a second survivor from the water.
The 2 crew continued to look for other survivors and eventually picked up a further 6 crew, including the captain. The Captain reported getting his foot trapped and had been pulled down with the stricken vessel before freeing himself and making for the surface.
In the sinking and with the storm the lifeboat itself was severley damaged and was shipping water, fortunately, 6 hours after taking to the lifeboat the y were spotted by the Dutch Vessel MS Osterhaven and in spite of the horrendous weather the captain, H.A.A.Breent, managed to manouver the Osterhaven close enough to the damaged lifeboat to take the survivors onboard!Sadly during this transfer the steward fell overboard and was lost. The Osterhaven then sailed to where the Isbjorn had gone down to look for more survivors and found a further 4 men on 2 rafts. They then had to give up the search and left the scene.
The survivors were landed in Dartmouth and taken care of by the Norwegian consulate and the captain and first mate were admitted to the RN hospital
with minor injuries.
We have very little diving information on this wreck, however the bell has been recovered by Nick Chipchase.The wreck lies intact and upright and is a good deep wreck for local divers.