Family’s 100-Year-Old Mystery Solved As Lost First World War Submarine Wreck Is Found

Submarine HMS E5. <a href=>Photo Credit</a>
Submarine HMS E5. Photo Credit

British divers discovered the British submarine E5’s intact hull recently off the Netherland coast following an agreement that temporarily suspended the shipping lane under which it’s nestled.

HMS E5 disappeared in 1916, three years after its was commissioned, and was thought to have hit a mine during a rescue operation near Heligoland in March of that year.

The location was determined by a team of amateur maritime archaeologists who were given the approval to inspect a wreck near the German border off Schiermonnikoog.  Open hatches indicated the crew of 29 attempted to escape. Its conning tower lay close by on the ocean bottom, but there was no indication the vessel fell to enemy fire.

Zeester team leader, Remy Luttik, said the find offers hope for relatives who searched for their loved ones.

Among the missing was Stoker Petty Officer Francis Garratt Cowburn.  His grandson, 80-year-old Malcolm Eckersley and his family mark the sinking of E5 annually.  His son, Richard, SPO Cowburn’s great-grandson, learned of the wreck’s discovery in a conversation with a colleague.

He couldn’t believe his family a century later would learn of his relative’s fate.  A source of intrigue and mystery to the family has been solved, he said.

Also among those killed was Engine Room Artificer Cecil Rice, a 28-year-old father of two from Peterborough.  His daughter, now 104, lives in the United States.

The daughter of his son Norman, Wendy Christensen, 82, said up until now, his only grave was the sea.  She’s been to Chatham where his name is listed on the naval memorial and considers finding the submarine as fantastic, Mail Online reported.

Stocker Cowburn, born in 1885, enlisted in the Navy in 1905, becoming a pioneering submariner in 1909.

With 17 years’ service in the Navy, Leading Seaman John ‘Tommy’ Bassett, 33, was employed as a postman when he was summoned as a reservist just six weeks after his wedding.

Ian Harvey

Ian Harvey is one of the authors writing for WAR HISTORY ONLINE