THIS PHOTOGRAPH IS PART OF MY CALENDAR SUNKEN & FORGOTTEN
Built by Rieherst Schiffswerk of Hamburg, the Umbria was launched as the Bahia Blanca on 30 December 1911. Technically described as an “Twin Screw Steamer,” she was driven by two 6 cylinder compound steam-engines which produced a top speed of 14 knots. Displacing 10,076 gross registered tonnes, she was a passenger cargo vessel capable of carrying over 2,000 passengers and 9,000 tonnes of cargo. She measured 153.4m x 18m and had a draught of 10.8m.
In 1912, the Bahia Blanca went into service with the Hamburg- America Line and plied the routes between Europe and Argentina until the outbreak of WW1 when she was interned in Buenos Aries. In 1918 the ship was then acquired by the Argentinean Government.
In 1935, she was purchased by the Italian Government, renamed “Umbria” and refitted as a troopship. For the next 2 years, she ferried thousands of troops to various colonies in East Africa before being finally sold to the Triestino Line in 1937. The Umbria was then employed between Italy and various Mediterranean and Red Sea ports.
In May 1940 Captain Lorenzo Muiesan personally supervised the loading of various war-like commodities in the ports of Genoa, Leghorn and Naples in preparation for the forthcoming Italian war effort. With scant regard for secrecy, the Umbria was finally loaded with 360,000 bombs, 60 boxes of detonators and other stores totalling 8,600 tons.
On 3rd June 1940, she arrived at Port Said. Although expected to enter the war any day, Italy was still technically neutral and there was only so much the Royal Navy could do to delay the vessel before her deadly cargo reached enemy forces. On 6th June she was finally allowed to continue on her way.
She was then shadowed by HMS Grimsby and, on 9th June, when close to Port Sudan, the Grimsby forced the Umbria to anchor close inshore. The Battle Cruiser HMS Leander then arrived and a party of 20 seaman boarded the Umbria, searched the vessel for contraband and remained on board throughout the night. On the morning of June 10th, Captain Muiesan was listening to his radio and became the only man on board to know that Italy had formally declared War. Under the very noses of the British sailors, he then succeeded in scuttling his ship.
After the War, a British team of Bomb-Disposal experts reported that, in the event of an explosion, half of Port Sudan was likely to disappear…
Diving the Umbria
The Umbria is found almost exactly as she was on the day she settled onto the seabed – on her port side at Wingate Reef. At 38m, the Bows are the deepest part of the wreck and at the stern, the rudder rests on the sand at 30m. The shallowest part is next to the Bridge where the lifeboat davits just break the surface. Neither the ship nor her contents were ever salvaged.
Canon EOS 50-E, 2.8/15mm Fisheye, Subal housing, 1/125s, f11, Subtronic amphibian flash, manual power settings