Context 160 - July 2019

30 C O N T E X T 1 6 0 : J U L Y 2 0 1 9 ANTONY FIRTH Second world war heritage at sea Experience learned from the centenary of the first world war can shine new light on public understanding of the diverse heritage of the second world war that lies beneath the waves. The second world war was fought on the waves as well as on land and in the air, but dealing with the heritage that slipped beneath those waves can be daunting. Fortunately the options for addressing second world war sites underwater are improving, helped by experience from the centenary of the first world war. In UK waters there are three main types of second world war heritage found under the sea: the wrecks of vessels; air crash sites; and a diverse range of infrastructure. This infrastructure encompasses booms and blockages intended to protect ports, anti-invasion defences, and the multiple components of Mulberry Harbours designed to support the Normandy Landings after D-Day, for example. Under this heading we might also include the huge amount of ordnance that found its way underwater during the war: mines, torpedoes and shells that were deployed but did not explode, and all sorts of material that was dumped as surplus to requirements after the war. The hazardous heritage of the second world war continues to cause problems in the marine environment: not everything that we have inherited is welcome. Second world war air crash sites have become a key theme over the last couple of decades. Bits of aircraft, sometimes substantial, have been turning up in commercial fishing gear for a long time, but archaeological interest started to grow only in the mid-1990s, when crash sites were encountered during investigations accompanying marine development, such as the installation of outfalls or proposals for marine-aggregate dredging. The fast-increasing resolution of underwater survey methods made it easier to ‘see’ the relatively ephemeral remains of aircraft. This was coupled with an appreciation that some aircraft, despite being mass-produced, were very rare. The capacity in at least some cases to identify the specific aircraft has also made it possible to uncover compelling individual stories of aerial warfare. Key phases of the second world war – includ- ing the Battle of Britain and the strategic bomber offensive against Germany – resulted in many aircraft of different Allied nationalities crashing into the sea; but many other forms of flying, especially training, also caused aircrews to come to grief offshore. Of course, many of The role of black and Asian seafarers in UK coastal waters was largely hidden until brought to light during the first world war centenary: the bodies of Firemen Hamid and Said were washed up in Whitby after their ship SS Hercules was torpedoed in 1917. They are buried in Larpool Lane Cemetery, Whitby, but the wreck is still a prominent feature on the seabed (Photo: A Firth/ Fjordr, multibeam image by MMT, contains Maritime and Coastguard Agency data, Crown copyright)