A submarine wreck near the coast of Malta has been officially confirmed as the British U-class submarine HMS Urge, which was lost in 1942. Since then, the reason for her loss and even the location of her wreckage have been a mystery.
In 2015, a Belgian diver claimed to have located the wreckage near the coast of Libya, but conflicts within the nation at the time prevented further investigation. This 2015 report aligned with decades-long speculation that the Urge was sunk by dive-bombing. We reported on this information at the time, but this has now been proven to be incorrect.
The Urge was a small submarine of the Royal Navy and was commissioned in 1940. She operated in the Mediterranean and sank a number of Italian war and merchant ships under the command of Lieutenant-Commander Edward Philip Tomkinson. Tomkinson was a well-regarded man, having received the Distinguished Service Order, and was believed by some to have been worthy of the Victoria Cross.
Part of the funding for the Urge was raised by the Welsh town Bridgend, which adopted her during the national ‘warship week’ in 1941.
On April 27, 1942, the HMS Urge left from Malta, with a course set for Alexandria. On top of her usual 32 crew, the Urge also carried 11 Navy passengers and Bernard Gray, a war correspondent. She would never arrive at Alexandria, and the fate of the submarine and all 44 onboard would elude historians and relatives for decades.
Her name would crop up in 2015 when, as mentioned, a Belgian diver Jean-Pierre Misson believed he had discovered the wreck. Misson’s supposed wreck location near the Libyan coast raised some controversy at the time, as it suggested the commander had disobeyed his orders and took the submarine off course.
In 2017, the grandson of the Urge‘s commander contacted the University of Malta to speak about the university’s mapping of the seabed around Malta. Timmy Gambin, a professor at the university and part of the team hunting for the Urge, said the university had spent the past 20 years mapping 1,200 square kilometers of the ocean floor.
This sparked the hunt for the Urge, which culminated in the discovery of a submarine lying about 400 feet under the surface in the summer of 2019. News of the discovery was withheld until they had conclusive evidence that the submarine was indeed the HMS Urge.
A 3D scan of the wreckage showed its proportions and features matched that of the U-class submarine, which was confirmed by the UK Ministry of Defence to almost certainly be the HMS Urge. The scans proved that the submarine must have hit a German naval mine, which blew a hole in the bow, causing her to sink. Once the vessel hit the seabed, the bow broke off.
Despite the strong evidence and location that aligns with historical records, some still believed the Urge was on the seabed near Libya, with Jean-Pierre Misson suggesting there has been a cover-up of the submarine’s secret mission that led it off course. The COVID-19 pandemic slowed the investigation.
Gambin and five others took high-resolution images of the wreck, which lies 360 feet down. These photos enabled detailed inspection of the wreck that was previously impossible with 3D scans alone. They revealed that the wreck was in “fantastic condition.”
Photos of the submarine’s nameplate were hard to image, thanks to a decades-old coral growing in the way of the best angle to photograph it.
Gambin said, “We abide by international standards where we don’t touch the wreck, so I’m not going to go and just shove it out of the way.” However, they were obtained and used to now officially confirm that the wreck is definitely the HMS Urge.
“It is now 100 percent confirmed,” Said Gambin. “We got some good images of the name that will hopefully do away with the absurd claim that she was lost off North Africa.”