The HMS Russell was a WWI pre-dreadnought. Unlike the WWII wrecks that we dived first in Malta, the Schnellboot and the HMS Southwold, the Russell has been on the bottom for a century. She was launched in February 1902 as one of six Duncan-class ships with the new four cylinder triple-expanision engines. During the Great War the Russell spent time at Scapa Flow and on the Northern Patrol. After a stint in the English Channel, a refit in Ireland and supporting the Gallipoli campaign up to evacuation of troops in early 1916, she was waiting to enter the Grand Harbour in Malta in April 2016 when she struck two mines.
Two mines laid by the German U-boat U-73 the night before caused a fire in the aft of the ship, following by an explosion at one of the turrets. The order to abandon ship was given. She took over 20 minutes to sink and of the 750 people on board, 625 were saved. This included a number who swam the four miles to shore.
The wreck has landed upsidedown on the seafloor, probably tipped over on descent by the weight of the armour and guns on her deck. The edge of the hull is sitting about a metre above the sand, allowing just enough space for divers to swim across the sand with the deck overhead. Unlike the two wrecks we dived initially in Malta, the visibility here was poor. Murky water made it both difficult to identify key features of the ship, and difficult to get clear photos.
We landed near the bow of the wreck and I swam out for a look up at her looming out of the dark. The Russell was 140m long and in 115m of water there was no chance of an end to end swim. Instead we headed along the side, checking out the large guns lying out sideways on the sand. She has been well and truly colonised by shells and sponges, and I got buzzed by a large John Dory fish, living beside the hull.
While this was an amazing dive for the history, the vis and the orientation meant there wasn’t as much to see. A dive on her stern end to see the damage caused by the mines would be interesting – maybe next time.