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Minesweeper Finds Remains of Three British Warships

Minesweeper Ugandi
Minesweeper Ugandi Source: Photo: Postimees/Scanpix

A naval search operation off the coast of Saaremaa last week uncovered the remains of three British warships lost since the early 20th century.

The minesweeper Ugandi discovered the remains of the HMS Cassandra, HMS Myrtle and HMS Gentian, sunk by mines during Estonia's War of Independence 1918-1920. The wrecks lie in the Baltic Archipelago under 60-100 meters of water.

"We can be sure that these are the British ships that went down during the War of Independence," said Lieutenant Commander Ivo Võrk, Chief of Staff of Naval Forces. The Ugandi conducted the search using the coordinates left by Admiral Sir Edwin Alexander-Sinclair, then commander of the squadron of British light cruisers operating in the Baltic. These coordinates turned out to be surprisingly accurate, considering the navigation means of the day.

According to the Ugandi's commander, Lieutenant Villu Klesmann, it would have been a lot more difficult to locate the remains at that depth using less sophisticated technology. "But we now have quite clear sonar images that give reason to believe these are the Cassandra, Gentian and Myrtle."

The light cruiser HMS Cassandra went down near Saaremaa after hitting a mine on the night of December 6, 1918, when the British naval expedition was on its way to Tallinn to support the independence of the young republic. Ten men lost their lives, 400 escaped. HMS Cassandra, launched in 1917, was one of the most modern men-of-war in the British navy.

The minesweepers HMS Myrtle and HMS Gentian hit mines on July 15, 1919, during a minesweeping operation. Nine men lost their lives, three of whom are buried in the Defence Forces Cemetery in Tallinn. The stern of the HMS Myrtle was discovered in 1937 and a memorial plaque was attached to it in 2000, but the exact location of her forebody was still unknown.

The arrival of the British navy in Estonian waters in 1918 was important both politically and strategically. Consisting of 22 vessels, the fleet brought armaments and ammunition for Estonian troops fighting for the republic's independence against the Bolshevik armies, and curbed the activities of the Soviet fleet in the Gulf of Finland.

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