What the Mature Diver needs to know about Fitness

They that go down to the sea in ships, that do business in great waters;

These see the works of the LORD, and his wonders in the deep.

For he commandeth, and raiseth the stormy wind, which lifteth up the waves thereof.

They mount up to the heaven, they go down again to the depths: their soul melteth away because of trouble.

They reel to and fro, and stagger like a drunken man, and are at their wits' end.
Then they cry unto the LORD in their trouble, and he bringeth them out of their distresses.

He maketh the storm a calm, so that the waves thereof are still.

Then are they glad because they be quiet: so he bringeth them unto the haven where they would be.

Oh that men would praise the LORD for his goodness, and for his wonderful works to the children of men!

The territorial waters of the Bulgarian Black Sea are a veritable graveyard of Maritime History.

Throughout the centuries from ancient times before even the Empire of Alexander the Great, through the years of the Crusades and beyond into the modern histories of the Balkan Wars, the Crimean War and both World Wars, the Black Sea offered both commercial and strategic value.

As such, many treasures in the form of artefacts, wrecks and archaeological significance still lie hidden beneath its depths. Some of these wrecks are from antiquity, dating back in time some 3-4000 years, others are from recent merchant catastrophes, but all adding to the rich diverse undersea flora and fauna forming on these artificial reefs, at a depth of 15 to 24 meters. Most of the wrecks are well preserved because of the low salt content of the Black Sea, and are accessible by boat and well within recreational diving limits.

One of the highlights of the region is certainly the ancient Roman port city submerged in 12m of water some 40 km north of Varna. The dive site is surrounded by an amazing archeological site on land where ancient Roman tombs were found and dug out decades ago. It is believed that the treasure of Alexander the Great is buried in the vicinity... but has yet to be found!

As a Diver these facts offer us an abundance of opportunity to explore and enjoy what nature has provided for us through her wrath of the Sea.

The most accessible wrecks are those which resulted in the destruction of the German Black Sea Fleet in the coastal waters of Bulgaria and Romania:101 ships and boats were sunk or abandoned along with four Russian submarines.

Since forming, we have invested a great deal of time in locating suitable wrecks at recreational depths so that we may offer a range of Wreck Tours to suit most tastes.

To date we have logged Merchant Vessels, Landing Craft, Torpedo Boats, other anomalous military/merchant boats as well as Submarines. In addition, in 2009, the ex communist leader’s Airliner was sunk to produce a man made reef for divers to enjoy. Combined with tours to appreciate the local marine life, flora and fauna, as well as features of natural interest such as caves and pinnacles, we have an excellent range of tours available which we know you will enjoy. . All that we ask is that you hold an appropriate level of certification and experience (especially in respect of the areas of navigation and deep diving) and are reasonably fit.

There is even a local belief that a merchant ship carrying the German gold from the mainland during the evacuation in World War II was sunk and lost in Bulgarian territorial waters!

One of our best preserved wrecks is a German Torpedo Boat.

The Schnellboots were small, fast and effective – and had been devised as a result of the Versailles restrictions set at the close of the First World War.

With the Germans banned from building large warships they embarked on an ingenious naval development programme, resulting in the Schnellboots.

The allies called them E-boats – the “E” standing for enemy.

They were propelled by three powerful Mercedes diesel engines and could travel at 55 knots, faster than any other naval vessel.

The boats had a wedge on the stern that prevented the bow from rising as it accelerated so the guns fired more accurately. That technology is today used on US destroyers.

They introduced several new features, the most useful of which was the use of diesel engines to power them. This ended the need for stocking inflammable petrol on board.

These craft formed the basis for post war development of similar vessels for most NATO Navies”.

Some Wrecks of Note

Rodina Shipwreck

Bulgarian ship, launched at sea in 1922. Displacement - 4159 GT.
On Sept 19, 1941 „Rodina” was sailing full of load from Istanbul to Varna. It was guarded by two Bulgarian mine-layers. In the region of Burgas, it came across two mines and sank very quickly. Three people died. The crews of the mine-layers saved 37 people. The depth is between 30 - 43 meters. The height which „Rodina” reaches from the bottom is 14.5 meters! There is free access to the superstructure and holds, which are empty. The vessel is intact and is a place of great interest to the experienced scuba divers.

Pelesh Shipwreck

Former German ship Adolf fon Bayern. Displacement 5708 GRT. Launched in 1923. Purchased from Romania in 1932.

On 14 August 1941 Pelesh was heading for the Bosphorus in convoy with "Superga" and "Secava" guarded by two Bulgarian mine carriers. At dusk it was attacked with two torpedoes by SHT-211. Shortly afterwards there was an explosion and the ship quickly sank to not too great a depth. The guarding ships rescued most of the crew. Later, a German hydroplane rescued another one of the crew members. One died.

Mopang Shipwreck

An American cargo steamship of the type of so-called Liberty Ships.
Built by Submarine Boat /a New Jersey shipyard owned by Electric Boat Company /later General Dynamics/. The ship was made according to a special program of the US Shipping Board related to the order of 150 identical ships with a view to compensating for the losses from the war. Launched on 20.01.1920. Displacement 3545 GRT. 1500 horsepower engine. Single screw.

Lying in very good condition on its starboard at a depth of between 22 and 32 meters. Height from the bottom – 10 meters. The main damage from the explosion is to the bow section of the ship. Clearly discernible are the superstructures, parts of the funnel and deck. The holds and some of the cabins are freely accessible. Parts of the cargo – a heap of boots, wooden boxes with spare parts, etc. are visible in the holds. The screw with a diameter of around three meters and the stern hoist are in place. The anchor chain slides along the hull and sinks into the silt on the bottom. Probably the anchor chain came loose at the time of sinking and wound itself around the ship.

Jaques Fressinet Shipwreck

A French cargo steamship built in France in 1914. According to unconfirmed data, at the time of perishing it was sailing under Bulgarian flag. Between the two wars, the ship owner Fraissinet & Co was maintaining permanent commercial services between the port of Burgas and an Istanbul port with several ships. The ship sank into the thick fog on 15.02.1929 in the Kurakya inlet off Maslen cape after a collision into the ice covered coastal cliffs. In the 50’s the ship was blown up underwater by captain Botsanevski for the purpose of recovering the cargo and pieces of the hull. Even today we can see on the coast, like a silent witness, the small concrete pedestal of the winch used to salvage parts of the ship.

The wreckage is lying with the stern to the shore at a distance of some 30 meters from the land. Certain items of cargo can be discerned such as the steam boilers, parts of the deck, a few pipes and rails. The depth is between 18 and 24 meters. Parts of the ship are scattered over an area of around one hundred meters.

SHT-210 Submarine

The "Щ-210" submarine sunk in front of the Shabla cape in March 1942. All 47 sailors on board were lost. According to the preliminary conclusions of the team the sub found suffered heavy damage caused by the Romanian S-15 mine fence, installed by the vessel "Murgesku", or by a Bulgarian mine fence made by German UMA anti-submarine mines.

Sefak Shipwreck

A Turkish cargo steamship. Launched in 1888. Displacement 330 GRT. On 23.05.1942, while traveling from Burgas to Istanbul, it was unsuccessfully attacked with two torpedoes by the Soviet Sht-205 submarine, not far away from Tsarevo. Fearing a repeat attack, the captain of Sefak turned ashore and dropped anchor. The ship’s fate was decided: shooting now at a stationary target, Suhomlinov, the submarine captain, sent the steamship to the bottom with the next two torpedoes. All nine crew members managed to save their lifes.

Today the ship is at rest about 50 meters from the shore, at a depth of 10-16 meters. Discernible is a part of the stern with the screw and three-meter helm, as well as a multitude of debris over some hundred meter area. Part of the cargo comprising sanitary tiles inscribed "Made in Hungary" is scattered over the rocky bottom.

Among the fragments one can see a part of the torpedo that probably hit the ship in the middle. The Sefak is about 50 meters long, it lies with the bow pointing out to sea.

Carol 1

On the 10th October, 1941 at 6 minutes before mid day the mine layer Carol 1 after having left Varna harbor with a new load of mines sunk in 13 minutes, 2 miles away of Galata Burnu lighthouse, one NCO and 20 seamen lost their lives, the rest of the crew being rescued by the torpedo boat Smeul, which was convoying Carol.

There is two versions of how the Carol 1 sank, the first is that it struck a mine layed down by the Soviet ( Lenin class) L 24 mine laying submarine, which lays at a depth of 60 m near Cape Kaliakra.
Another version of the sinking of the Carol 1 is a torpedo attack from the Soviet submarine of " SHCH 211" which lies a little further away from the Carol 1. The soviet submarine SHCH ( shtuka / pike ) 211 rests in 22 mts of water in two sections 150 mt from each other with the loss of life of 44 personnel, but that’s another story.

The wreck offers the site of anchored mines clearly visible on the hull of the ship, the wooden decks can clearly be seen as well as the railings although covered in mussels are also very visible. On the bow section there is damage from what maybe an explosion, although further inspection and detailed, concentrated diving on this area will reveal more.

After the war the Bulgarian military divers raised some of the anchored mines which would present a danger to navigation . In 2002 scuba divers from Bulgaria inspected the Carol 1 and the hull which lies on a small bank at a depth of 23.5 mts and elevates above ground to 6.1 mts, the super structure is deformed, and is severally damaged from corrosion.

The passenger ship Regele Carol I was built in Glasgow, and fitted out in England, between 1897-1898, and arrived in Romania on 28 June 1898, entering service with the Serviciul Maritim Roman (SMR). It operated on the Constanta-Istanbul and Constanta-Piraeus routes. In 1905 a wireless telegraph post was set up on the ship. As Romania entered the First World War, in 1916 Carol was put at the allied Imperial Russian Navy's disposal and inn October 1916, at Sevastopol, Carol was turned into an auxiliary cruiser. Four 101 mm guns, two 63 mm AA guns, two search-lights and installations for carrying and operating two seaplanes.

When the First World War ended, Carol was returned to its civilian life as a passenger ship, following the Constanta-Varna-Istanbul-Salonika route, inn 1941, the need for minelayers the requisition of Carol was inevitable the Carols main deck readily accepted mine mounts. Lieutenant Commander Ion was the Commander of the ship and between 16 and 19 June 1941, Carol laid mines along Romanian coast, between Cape Midia and Tuzla, together with NMS Amiral Murgescu. Even though the Carol I sank in October, the mine’s it had laid in 1941 continued to claim victims. In the same month, the Soviet submarine M-58 hit a mine in front of Constanta. On 30 November 1941, Sc-211, while was trying to attack a convoy made up of the Romanian cargo ship Carpati and the Bulgarian Czar Ferdiannd, entered a barrage of mines laid on 8 October and sank near Varna. Sc-204 had the same fate also near Varna in December 1941. One year later, in December 1942, the L-24 submarine hit a mine from the S-15 barrage and sank near the Kaliakra Cape.

Soviet submarines from WWII

There are five Soviet submarine boats lying in Bulgarian territorial waters from the Second World War. Four of these vessels have been studied while one of the five has not yet been found, though the location of the last is yet to be confirmed. The other four have been studied and identified. Two of the vessels are located south and east of Varna and the other two, east of Shabla.

The mission of the submarine boats was to impede German communications between Romania and the Bosporus and Italy. The strategic ally - Italy at that time demanded supplies of oil, Romania on the other hand was a supplier of oil and the two countries had transport and signal communications that passed through Bulgarian territorial waters. Part of these communications was implemented with Bulgarian commercial ships leased to Germany.

Upon entering Bulgarian territorial waters the submarine boats faced the danger of naval mines, by means of which Bulgaria, though not involved in the war, had established its safe zones. Both submarines near Shabla were destroyed by naval mines. In order to assume position to attack a commercial ship, any submarine boat needed to cross the naval mine zone. The other two submarines located east and south of Varna represent a more interesting case as they seem to have suffered the impact of both air strikes and firing from ships on the surface, as well as underwater bombs. These two boats suffered complex damage and their hulls have been severely damaged by heavy firing.

East of Varna is the SHT-211, and south of Varna is the SHT-204. The vessels near Shabla are respectively SHT-210 and Л-24, which is a mine-laying submarine. It is more interesting and there are only a few of its kind found here in the Black Sea. Actually, this submarine represents the Soviet Union’s biggest undersea battle loss. A crew of 57 perished on that boat. The other submarine type “SHT” which stands for „Spike” are big submarine boats of universal purpose, very popular at the time, manned by smaller crews. I think the missing submarine is actually the biggest challenge of all. It is an F-34. We presume it is locates somewhere east or southeast of Cape Emine, but there is no data showing its location. Still we have information about this boat as it was at the time identified as a battle loss. This is where it patrolled and we expect to find it there. All these boats got sunk in the period November 1941 – December 1942.

The boats had never been searched for purposefully. All submarines were found by chance. The first one - SHT-204 was detected by a trawler who chanced upon its position in 1989. The SHT-210 was found by Rapa Whelk divers. One of the submarines near Shabla was found during a research conducted by the Institute of Oceanography. The submarines are at depths from 25 to 75 meters below the surface. Research work at such depth is only performed with special breathing devices and by expert divers. It is not a technical problem though.

A search was conducted in July 2009 for the last remaining Soviet World War II submarine whose position was not confirmed, as part of the Russia-Bulgaria submarine expedition “In Honor of the Great Victory’s Ships” dedicated to the 65th anniversary of the Soviet victory in World War II.
The C-34, destroyed in 1942, is the fifth and last Soviet submarine to be found along Bulgaria’s shoreline.

The explorers already identified the L-24 submarine they discovered earlier near the Bulgarian cape Shabla, in the area of the northern Black Sea town of Balchik. The submarine was destroyed by a torpedo in 1942 and the entire crew of 57 was killed.

A special memorial plaque has been mounted on the L-24 declaring the submarine a “common grave”.

In addition to the submarines a large number of German ships were sunk along the Bulgarian coast. In late August, early September of 1944 German ships drawing off from Soviet and Romanian waters received an order from the Commanding Staff to the effect that some were ordered to scuttle to impede the Russian advance. This happened in the section between Shabla and Cape Emine. Three German submarines remained in Turkish territorial waters which were  in recent years. There are no German submarine boats in Bulgarian territorial waters to anyone’s knowledge.

Historical Overview: German Black Sea operations

Germany did not move any warships to the Black Sea before its invasion of the USSR in June 1941 as it did to the Baltic. However, during the course of the German–Soviet war, several hundred small ones were subsequently transported there. They included six submarines and Italian Tenth Light Flotilla units, which mostly had to be shipped by rail or road and reassembled at Romania's principal naval base, Constanţa, or brought down the Danube. They were needed, for Romania possessed only four destroyers, three submarines, three minelayers, and some torpedo and gun boats, and, apart from one Romanian submarine, these were all employed defensively to escort convoys. All Axis ships were commanded by the German Admiral, Black Sea.

Opposing these Axis naval forces was the Soviet Black Sea fleet of one old battleship, 6 cruisers, 21 destroyers, 84 MTBs, 47 submarines, a variety of small craft, and an air arm of 626 aircraft. It was commanded first by Vice-Admiral F. S. Oktyabrsky and from May 1943 to March 1944 by Vice-Admiral Lev Vladimirsky. Their command included flotillas based on the Volga and Don rivers, the Caspian Sea, and the Sea of Azov. Though more powerful than the Axis forces, at no time did the Soviet Black Sea fleet dominate. Its submarines were not very effective, and when German bombers sank three of its destroyers in October 1943 Stalin banned the employment of its larger units altogether. Its smaller ships bombarded German positions, harassed Axis convoys, laid mines, ran in supplies and reinforcements to the beleaguered Red Army ashore, and mounted numerous hit- and-run raids, but the fleet's main offensive role was to support the Red Army with amphibious warfare.

The Soviet fleet's first amphibious operation took place on 22 September 1941 when it landed 2,000 naval troops behind the Romanians besieging Odessa. Co-ordinated with a small parachute drop, it forced the Romanians to abandon the positions from which they were bombarding the port. But the city still had to be abandoned and between 1 and 16 October the fleet, in a notable operation, ‘itself a small Dunkirk’ ( J. Erickson, The Road to Stalingrad, London, 1975, p. 211), evacuated 86,000 soldiers, 15,000 civilians, and on the final night took off more than 1,000 lorries, 20,000 tons of ammunition, 400 guns, and 32,000 men of General I. Petrov's Independent Maritime Army, all needed to try to prevent the capture of Sevastopol by General von Manstein's forces.

Also successful in the short term were Soviet landings on the German-occupied Kerch peninsula in the Crimea to try and relieve Sevastopol. On the night of 25/26 December 1941 there were 25 separate landings in 10 different areas, and though only four succeeded these were soon reinforced. Then on 28 December Feodosiya on the Crimea's southern coast was stormed and by 31 December more than 40,000 troops had been landed, forcing the German evacuation of the peninsula. But the Soviet execution of the land battle was poor and Feodosiya was soon recaptured; by May the peninsula had been cleared of Soviet troops by the Germans.

The Kerch landings probably extended Sevastopol's resistance by as much as six months, but it fell in July 1942, and in early September the Germans crossed the Kerch strait on to the Taman peninsula in small vessels. They surprised the defenders and quickly occupied the peninsula. Novorossisk fell on 7 September, and an amphibious operation two weeks later failed to recapture it, but the German offensive petered out before the fleet's remaining Caucasian bases were reached.

In February 1943 a more powerful Soviet naval force made two landings near Novorossisk. The larger was wiped out but a smaller one succeeded. It was quickly reinforced and all German attempts to dislodge it failed. But the port was held by the Germans until the night of 9/10 September 1943 when 130 small boats of the Soviet fleet entered it and landed troops. This landing, and several others which followed, drove the Germans out. Soon afterwards they began withdrawing from the bridgehead they had formed the previous year and which the defeat at Stalingrad in January 1943 had made untenable. Several courageous attempts were made by the fleet to establish and maintain bridgeheads to hinder their retreat. Nearly all ultimately failed, though one on the Kerch peninsula at Eltigen held out from October until December 1943. Less impressive were the fleet's efforts to prevent more than 250,000 German troops of Kleist's Army Group A, their transport and supplies—and 27,000 civilians—being ferried back across the Kerch strait in September– October 1943, an operation completed with few losses.

It was now the turn of the Germans to defend Sevastopol and their ships helped supply and reinforce it. Hitler, after ordering it to be held, approved its evacuation of 6 May 1944, but the reprieve came too late and ships taking off troops from the beaches of Cape Kherson were heavily bombed and attacked by Soviet torpedo boats and submarines. During the last days of the evacuation 27 ships and barges were sunk and 8,000 men drowned, and though 130,000 German and Romanian troops were saved about 78,000 men were killed or made prisoners-of-war. If Stalin had allowed the Soviet fleet's larger units to operate the casualties would have been far higher; but, apart from two final amphibious landings behind German lines, made in August just days before Bulgaria and Romania capitulated, only Soviet submarines operated offensively in the western Black Sea that summer.

The Germans say they lost 50 vessels, the Soviets claim 191. Soviet Second World War naval losses have not so far been published but German estimates are 103 ships, including a cruiser and 3 destroyers, 191 aircraft, and 86 merchantmen.

An Example of a Vessel Used in the Area is:

The German Tank-Landing Craft

This information concerning tank-landing craft, called "F" boats, is based on the examination of a vessel wrecked in Salum, and on observation of others passing through the Dardanelles.

a. Detail

(1) Construction
Width of hold is 13 feet, but the width of the ramp is 11 1/2 feet and immediately forward of this, the passage is only 10 1/2 feet wide. This will permit a free passage of tanks up to at least the Pz Kw IV (22 to 24 tons). The superstructure is about 8 feet above the deck. The bows rise clear of the water about 17 feet.

The front opening is covered with thick corrugated iron sheeting on strongbacks and held down by fore and aft securing strips on each side.

The bridge is of 1/2-inch plating about 5 feet high in front and on both sides; the aft side is of wood, possibly enclosing about 4 inches of concrete. There is no top to the bridge.
The top and sides of the hold are not armored; the plating is about 1/8 inch thick.

(2) Equipment
There is no navigational or communication equipment on the bridge. The wheel is on the bridge and works the tiller through gears and chains. There is no steering engine. Two hauling-off kedges worked by hand winches are fitted on each quarter. There are no watertight doors in the hold. Provision is made for the carrying of troops; there are five large doors on each side from the upper deck to the hold, and there are folding benches in the hold along the side.

(3) Armament
No armament was found in the wrecked craft; however, there was some evidence suggesting that the craft was probably armed with one 75-mm gun forward of the bridge, and two machine guns, one forward and one aft.

(4) Performance
The craft displaces possibly 320 tons and has a carrying capacity of about 120 tons. It is able to carry from four to seven tanks, according to size. Power is believed to be furnished by three Diesels developing 130 hp each. Estimates of speed range from 7 to 12 knots. It is known that passage through the Dardanelles was made at roughly 8 knots. The range is unknown.

(5) Seaworthiness
Four of these craft are reported to have traveled under their own power from Sicily to Benghazi by easy stages, stopping at Tropani, Pantellaria, Lampedusa, and Tripoli. One was reported to have been wrecked by rough weather. They have also gone through the Dardanelles, probably from Varna to the Aegean.

(6) Building Yards
Most of these craft are being built in the Low Countries from standard parts, and it is believed that sections can be transported by rail and assembled anywhere.