Silver Bullion Recovered from the SS Gairsoppa to be Made into the Britannia Coin

SS Gairsoppa Silver Coin
The traditional Britannia coin, struck from silver bullion recovered from a WWII-era sunken merchant ship

In Llantrisant, the Royal Mint is striking a set of silver coins from recently discovered bullion from a merchant ship which was sunken during the Second World War. The British steam merchant ship, SS Gairsoppa, was struck by a torpedo by a German U-boat in February 1941, not far off the coast of Ireland. The merchant ship was carrying a large shipment of silver bullion bars from India. The bars was being taken to the Royal Mint.

The ship and the silver was discovered in 2011 by the marine exploration company, Odyssey Marine Exploration. The silver bullion was discovered 3 miles below the water’s surface. The company said it was the largest and deepest precious metal recovery from a shipwreck ever recorded in history.

Shane Bissett from the Royal Mint revealed the traditional Britannia coin design will be used to strike the coins and the Royal Mint is quite pleased to be releasing the coins to the public. The story of how Britain acquired so much Indian silver bullion begins in 1940. The Royal Mint ran out of silver due to the war. The country called for additional bullion from India. When the shipment was sent out, it was on the SS Gairsoppa, which also had pig iron and tea in its storage. The SS Gairsoppa was traveling with several naval convoys which were heading toward Britain when the convoy ran into stormy weather off the coast of Southern Ireland. The merchant ship had no other choice but to break free from the protection from their navy escorts in order to seek safety at Galway Harbor.

Because of this, the merchant ship was an easy target and was targeted by a German U-Boat. The ship sank in 20 minutes with only one survivor, Second Officer R.H. Ayres. According to Coin Update, the Royal Mint and the Bank of England exchanged concerned correspondence which detailed the severity of the loss had on the country’s wartime reserves. There was a threat of temporarily suspending production of the Royal Mint if supplies ran out.


Evette Champion

Evette Champion is one of the authors writing for WAR HISTORY ONLINE