WW2 submarine Urge found off Malta

This is the wreck of wartime submarine HMS Urge – conclusively located and identified by marine archaeologists off Malta, solving a 77-year-long mystery.

Sitting defiantly upright on the seabed of the Mediterranean more than 400 feet down, her bow buried in the ocean floor, her deck gun facing forward, her hull encrusted with marine life, this is the last resting place of 44 souls.

The distinctive features of the U-class submarine have been compared with contemporary photographs and the undisclosed location of the wreck compared with official records to identify Urge.

HMS Urge, which was adopted by the people of Bridgend, is one of 19 U-class boats lost in World War 2, 13 of them in the Mediterranean. The submarines were small and originally meant to be used purely for training.

They proved highly capable with Urge, under Lieutenant Commander Edward Tomkinson, regarded among the best in the 10th Submarine Flotilla, its crew and captain highly decorated for a string of successes, dispatching a German tanker supporting U-boat operations in the Atlantic, crippling the Italian battleship Vittorio Veneto at a time when the Royal Navy was sorely stretched in the Mediterranean, and sank the Italian cruiser Bande Nere during 20 patrols.

Contemporaries thought Tomkinson worthy of the Victoria Cross, while senior officers, led by the then head of the Silent Service, Admiral Sir Max Horton, reckoned he was as good a submariner as any who served in either world war.

Urge left the island on her final mission on April 27 1942 bound for Alexandria in Egypt as the 10th Submarine Flotilla moved its base to escape the Axis Powers’ constant bombing of Malta. Aboard were not just her 32 crew, but 11 other naval personnel and a war correspondent.

She never reached North Africa. The Admiralty concluded she ran into an enemy minefield shortly leaving the island, but the wreck was never found.

That official assessment of her loss was put into question by one shipwreck hunter, who claimed to have found the Urge off the Libyan coast near Tobruk – far from her intended route – and supposedly sunk by Italian aircraft two days after departing Malta.

That fate – and location – has now been definitively ruled out thanks to the combined efforts of Canadian naval researcher Platon Alexiades, Francis Dickinson – grandson of Urge’s commanding officer – and Professor Timmy Gambin of the University of Malta’s Classics and Archaeology Department and a team of students, plus the Royal Navy’s official historians.

Their deep sea research confirms the original Admiralty estimate – the boat did indeed succumb to a mine laid by a German E-boat; the impact caused catastrophic damage and led to Urge plunging out of control to the seabed.

My family have always wanted to know where HMS Urge and her gallant crew’s resting place is. Thanks to this project, we now know where and how the submarine was lost after achieving so much.

Mr Dickinson

Families of the crew, led by Lt Cdr Tomkinson’s daughter Bridget, are now hoping to erect a memorial on the island and attend a commemorative service next year to mark the tragedy and Urge’s rediscovery.

“Many of the crew of HMS Urge formed bonds with the people of Malta – one crew member married a Maltese bride,” said Professor Gambin.

“The powerful image of this seemingly-undaunted wreck reflects the courage of those who sailed in her, as well as the enduring alliance of HMS Urge with the island of Malta. It will forever be a part of the history of the Royal Navy and Malta.”

Pictures courtesy of the University of Malta, Francis Dickinson and the National Museum of the Royal Navy