Mystery of British submarine that vanished in WW2 may have been solved

Dunkirk: Military historian discusses World War Two shipwreck

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Divers have located a wreck off of Italy’s Adriatic coast that they believe may be HMS Regent — a submarine that vanished during April 1943, in the middle of World War 2. Experts believe that the 62-man sub sank after striking a mine off of the coast of Monopoli on April 18 that year. Historical accounts note that an unidentified submarine attacked an Italian convoy that afternoon, and later that day an explosion was heard off the same coast. The Navy assumed the Regent lost when she failed to return to her base in Beirut, Lebanon, to re-fuel and take on supplies as expected by May 1, 1943. In the following weeks, four bodies — three of which were dressed in the Davis Submerged Escape Apparatus used by British submariners —  were washed ashore south of Monopoli. However, the individuals, who were buried in the Bari War Cemetery, were not identified.

The newly identified wreck — located off of the coast near Villanova di Ostuni, some 19 miles from Monopoli, was discovered by divers with the Italian Naval League.

Marine explorer Fabio Bisciotti leads the underwater study group at the Italian Naval League. He said: “The wreck lies at a 75 metre [246 foot] depth and it’s upside down.

“When we arrived on this wreck, in the first moment, it was difficult to understand that we were talking about the Regent. But if you study the hull, the composition of the steel, and the stern and the bow, we have seen that we are talking about a British design.

“The dimensions of this wreck matches with a British design and, of course, on the bow we are talking about six torpedo tubes — three per side. If we are talking about a German U-boat or an Italian submarine, we are talking about four torpedo tubes — so, two per side.”

Mr Bisciotti’s team — which includes Acquelibere Sub Diving Club of Padua members Stefania Bellesso and Michele Favaron — were able to obtain footage of the wreck. In this video, there is evidence that the vessel was the victim of an explosion.

The blast damage seen on the wreck would fit the theory that the Regent sank after striking a mine in April 1943. Given this, the location of the wreck and the recorded submarine deployments of the time, Mr Bisciotti is emphatic that there is only one possible candidate that could have produced the wreck in question.

He explained: “Mathematically, it’s not an opinion. If we want to talk about this wreck, it’s surely the Regent, because nobody else was in this area.

“In April 1943, watching all the diaries of the submarines from Great Britain in the Mediterranean Sea, only the Regent was patrolling the area.”

A Royal Navy spokesperson said that — with the wreck being upside down and having key sections buried in the seafloor — it would not be possible at present to confirm the discovery. However, they added, this could change as and when more information comes to light.

They added: “We appreciate the efforts to locate the wreck of HMS Regent which, even after the passage of eight decades, would bring a sense of closure to the families and descendants of those tragically lost when she sank.

“We are also especially grateful for all the efforts made in protecting the last resting place of those who gave their lives in the service of our country.”

One family who are hoping to locate the Regent are those of William Trice — the submarine’s chief engine room artificer. The trauma of William’s death, they explained, has reverberated down through the generations.

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Prior to his death in 2003, William’s son Barry spent years investigating the disappearance of the Regent. This mantle has now been picked up by his son Dick, 57, who moved with his family from Birmingham to Adelaide, South Australia in 2012.

Dick’s daughter Abbie has followed in her great-grandfather’s maritime footsteps, serving in the Royal Australian Navy on board a minesweeper. She also sports a tattoo of the Regent on her arm.

Dick Trice said: “My stepmother said the only time she ever saw my dad upset and cry was when he was recalling to her his emotions about his father. It’s a funny thing — it’s like a learned grief.

“I feel grief about the grandparent I never had; a sense of loss from someone I’ve never met. It’s like this grief that’s just rolling through the generations.”

Hopes of closure were teased back in 2003, when a wreck located off of the coast of Barletta — some 70 miles north of Monopoli — was initially identified as the Regent. Further analysis, however, revealed that the vessel was actually the Giovanni Bausan, an Italian submarine that was converted into an oil depot before finally being used for target practice.”

Dick Trice said that the notion that the Regent sank off Barletta never rang true, given where the four bodies of her crew were washed up. He added: “If you put it off Monopoli, everything lines up perfectly. If you put it off the other town, it doesn’t work.

“They gave the ultimate sacrifice and I think it’s important for the families to get closure, and I think it’s important from a historical viewpoint. As a family, we are really grateful to Fabio for his efforts to go and find this wreck so we finally know what happened.

“It doesn’t bring the person back, you’re not going to change that fact. But we would at least like to know what really happened.”

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