Marine scientists have discovered the wreckage of a World War II landing craft that solves a 77-year-old mystery.
LCT 326, a Landing Craft Tank – the type widely used to unload tanks on the Normandy beaches during the D-Day landings – disappeared without a trace while en route from Scotland to Devon in February 1943 with the loss of 14 crew members.
Admiralty heads believed the vessel had sunk in a storm or hit a landmine off the Isle of Man in the Irish Sea.
The Landing Class Tank 326 sank while it was part of a fleet sailing from Troon in Scotland to Appledore, Devon. The ship was believed to have been lost off the coast of the Isle of Man, but the wreck was found 100 miles further south of North Wales
Designed to carry tanks during amphibious assaults, the ship was divided in two, with both ends spaced approximately 133 meters apart in 90 meters of water
In 1943 and 1944, the Navy built large numbers of LCTs, shown here, so they would be ready for D-Day
The ship, which was part of a convoy, was commanded by temporary sub-lieutenant William N Griffiths, who got lost along with all his men.
But now a collaboration of marine scientists and technicians, located at the School of Ocean Sciences at Bangor University in North Wales, has partnered with internationally renowned nautical archaeologist and historian Dr. Innes McCartney of Bournemouth University, made the unexpected discovery and identification of the ship.
And the wreck was found more than 100 miles south of Bardsey Island on the Llyn Peninsula in North Wales.
Multibeam sonar data collected by the Bangor team with a research vessel Prince Madog in 2019 from a known shipwreck site near Bardsey Island has been identified as World War II.
LCT 326 was a Mk III ‘Landing Craft Tank’ designed to land armored vehicles during amphibious operations, it was built in Middlesbrough and launched in April 1942.
These highly specialized ships were built in large numbers in the last years of WW2 and were frequently used during the D-day operations of June 1944.
Dr. Innes McCartney said, “The wreck of LCT 326 is one of more than 300 Welsh waters investigated by Prince Madog, and the purpose of this particular investigation is to identify as many offshore wrecks as possible in Welsh waters and shed light on their respective maritime heritage.
“This aspect of the project has resulted in many new and exciting discoveries related to both World Wars, of which LCT 326 is just one example.”
LCT 326 was part of a fleet sailing from Troon to Appledore in North Devon when it was lost at sea in February 1943
The LCT Mk3 was longer than the previous model and could carry more troops, armor or equipment to the beach
The ship, which was part of a convoy, was commanded by temporary sub-lieutenant William N Griffiths, who was lost along with all his men
The sonar data will also play a critical role in helping to develop the offshore renewable energy industry in Wales through the SEACAMS2 research project led by Bangor University, which examines the impact of shipwrecks on the marine environment.
Dr. Michael Roberts, the lead investigator, said: “ Identifying these offshore wrecks and determining how long they have been submerged is critical to helping us understand how structures interact with marine processes on time scales that are of great importance to the marine renewable energy industry.
“Wrecks like LCT 326 and the associated physical and environmental” footprints “can often provide us with preliminary insights into the nature and properties of the surrounding seafloor without having to conduct more complex, challenging, and expensive geoscience studies.”
An initial analysis of the sonar data obtained from the site, including the wreck size and overall appearance, suggested that the wreck was an LCT, further archival research identified the remains as the most likely LCT 326.
Documents in the National Archives show that the ship was part of the 7th LCT Flotilla and was on a transit cruise from Troon, Scotland to Appledore, Devon. The fleet, overseen by HMS COTILLION, left on January 31, 1943.
According to data, the weather was “tough” at the time and the fleet was slowly moving south.
The fleet passed the Isle of Man in daylight on February 1 and continued south, at 6:30 PM that evening when the weather turned chilly, HMS COTILLION checked the fleet and noted that the LCT 326 was still in the convoy.
That was the last time LCT 326 was seen, crucially, the position at which this check was performed was recorded as slightly northwest of Bardsey Island.
The wreck has now been identified as located at a position 25 miles further south from where LCT 326 was last seen and in an almost perfect line with the course of the fleet lying in over 90 meters of water.
The dimensions and appearance of the wreck from the sonar data show that it is 58 meters long and 10 meters wide, which is comparable to the dimensions of an MKIII LCT.
The wreck is located in two halves and lies on the sea bed 130 meters apart.
This ship appears to have been stranded somewhere in heavy seas some time after it was last seen and probably broke in two just before the bridge, with both halves floating long enough to be 130 meters apart.
The sonar data clearly shows the main features of the ship, such as the signature gangway and aft deck and although the cause of the loss of this ship remains unknown – and a mine explosion or collision cannot be ruled out absolutely – the evidence suggests this may be nothing more than a tragic accident at sea.
The location of this sea grave is now reported to the Admiralty, so that the data can be corrected and the resting place of the 14 crew members can be accurately recorded.
Echoes from the Deep: Modern Reflections on our Maritime Past is funded by the Leverhulme Trust and will be published in 2021.
The remains of the LCT were found by the research vessel Prince Madog, pictured, mapping shipwrecks along the coast of Wales