British warships sunk 90 years ago found

Kunal Dutta
Sunday 23 October 2011 00:29

The wrecks of three British warships that were intended to forestall a Soviet and German takeover of the Baltic states after 1917's October revolution have been found off the coast of Estonia.

An Estonian minesweeper located the remains of the cruiser HMS Cassandra and two Flower Class sloops, HMS Myrtle and HMS Gentian, in 300ft of water near the island of Saaremaa. The vessels were sunk as they tried to protect Estonia from being overrun by Bolshevik or German forces after Vladimir Lenin seized power in neighbouring Russia.

Commander Ivo Vark, the chief-of-staff of the Estonian navy, said the wrecks legally belonged to Britain and added: "We are confident these are the British ships in question, which were lost during the war of independence."

The vessels formed part of a British squadron sent to the Baltic Sea in 1918 to extend support and deliver arms to the newly-created state of Estonia, which was fighting to remain independent of both Russia and Germany.

The light cruiser Cassandra sank on 6 December 1918 after hitting a mine. The explosion killed 10 sailors but the remaining crew of 400 was evacuated. The minesweepers Gentian and Myrtle both sank on 15 July 1919 while on routine patrols. Nine sailors died in the two blasts.

Parts of the Myrtle were found in 1937 and a later team attached a memorial plaque to the ship's sheared-off stern 10 years ago. The remainder of the Myrtle and the other two wrecks were found after the last known co-ordinates of the ships were provided to Tallinn by the Royal Navy. The coordinates were "surprisingly accurate considering the navigation devices of the time", added Cmdr Vark, who said the wrecks were identified by sonar images.

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