Divers find WW1 'Mystery Ship'

30 January 2013

The job of HMS Stock Force, one of the Royal Navy's top secret 'Q-ships' or 'Mystery Ships' was to lure U-boats to the surface and then engage them in a deadly duel. 

The 160ft ship, a former collier which still had the appearance of a merchant vessel and whose Royal Navy crew were disguised as merchant sailors, was lost off the coast of Devon on July 30, 1918, after being attached by a submarine which it, in turn, ambushed.

The Q-ships, which were typically cargo steamers or trawlers, had guns concealed under dummy lifeboats, or hidden under fake funnels and awnings.  Some of the ships used paint to hide their cache or weaponry.

The aim was to lure U-boats into attacking these decoy ships, which would unleash their hidden weaponry.  They often carried a cargo of wood to make them harder to sink.

The Stock Force was sunk in such a clash, which led to its captain, Lieutenant Harold Auten, receiving the Victoria Cross, and inspired an early action film. For years, its final resting place was unknown because official charts had placed it in the wrong location. 

More than 90 years later, a team of explorers believe they have found the wreck of the vessel and will present their findings at the International Shipwreck Conference in Plymouth this week.  The vessel was discovered about eight miles from where the charts said it was, at a depth of 200ft and 14 miles from Plymouth.

The vessel, which was built in Dundee, was one of around 200 Q-ships used during the First World War.  They are thought to have taken the name from the home port of the earliest versions - Queenstown, now known as Cobh, in the Republic of Ireland.  The phrase lives on in 'Q cars', the term fo unmarked police vehicles.

Today, only one of the boats, historic vessel HMS President, which is moored on the Thames, survives afloat.

 This item was taken from the Sunday Telegraph, 27 Jan 2013


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