Echo encounters ghosts of WW1 while training off Plymouth

Survey ship HMS Echo scanned a World War 1 shipwreck off Plymouth as she prepared for future missions.

Echo has been conducting survey training off Plymouth, mapping the seabed with her hi-tech sonar suite with unparalleled detail.

The Devonport-based ship is one of two which sucks up data about the Seven Seas to support Royal Navy operations and update world-renowned Admiralty charts used by generations of mariners.

Her sister Enterprise has just returned from a 15-month Asia-Pacific-Mediterranean deployment, while Echo has focused her efforts in 2020 largely in and around the UK.

Most recently that work has been focused on the approaches to Plymouth and the Channel in the vicinity of Eddystone Rock.

The ship is equipped with sidescan and multibeam sonar, both of which use sound waves to estimate the depth and position of features on the sea bed, with software turning the data in 2D and 3D imagery.

Such as the remains of the SS East Point, which has been sitting upright on the seabed about 200 feet down some nine miles southeast of Eddystone.

Great care is taken when operating Echo’s sonar in the vicinity of mammals, with strict risk mitigation measures in place.

Lieutenant Phil Boak, HMS Echo

The steamer was torpedoed by German submarine U-48 in March 1917 as she headed for Philadelphia with a general cargo aboard.

As the U-boat manoeuvered to take a shot at a second merchantman, the still-afloat East Point careered into her conning tower. U-48’s skipper and navigator were killed, but the boat survived and continued to attack Allied shipping until it was lost in November 1917. East Point subsequently sank, but all 45 crew aboard were saved.

While Echo was surveying the wreck site – popular with divers – she was visited by mammals rare… and not so rare.

Leading Seaman Ben Stoddard, who usually helps out with the survey effort aboard, spotted a bat flying around the quarterdeck before resting on the superstructure.

It was identified as a Nathusius’s Pipistrelle, usually found in central or eastern Europe (perhaps from as far away as Latvia), but rarely around Britain.

The mouse-sized creature spent the day aboard the ship before departing – enough time to be photographed and logged by the ship as part of its broader scientific remit to keep an eye on all wildlife encountered at sea.

Bats use a highly sophisticated form of echolocation to communicate and navigate… as do dolphins, encountered by the ship in large numbers during its autumn training.

“Great care is taken when operating Echo’s sonar in the vicinity of such mammals, with strict risk mitigation measures in place,” explained Lieutenant Phil Boak. “Their complex vocalisations often being heard with the right listening equipment.”

Echo completed her training for future missions and returned to Plymouth to find Enterprise berthed in the naval base – the first time the hard-worked sisters have been together since they were in Sicily five years ago.