Sunday, March 09, 2008

 

Missing sailor discovered 60 years later

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The Argus
By Rachel Wareing
March 09, 2008


The last resting place of a Sussex sailor has been discovered in the icy depths of a Norwegian fjord.

Charles Gowers and more than 100 of his crewmates died when HMS Hunter was sunk during the Battle of Narvick in April 1940.

Mr Gowers, 39, is remembered on the village war memorial in Selmeston, near Polegate, where he lived with his wife Annie, but his grave remained unmarked when the Norwegian navy found the ship during a training exercise.

Now the site will finally be marked as a war grave, after laying undiscovered for almost seventy years 1,000ft underwater.

On Saturday ships from the Royal Navy, the Netherlands Maritime Force and the Norwegian Navy laid wreaths over the spot in a commemorative service.

Major General Garry Robison, the commander of the UK Amphibious Force, said finding HMS Hunter had been a "poignant moment".

He said: "Being able to pay our respects along with our Norwegian and Dutch allies is particularly fitting to those who lost their lives."

The ship was discovered by a Norwegian minehunter participating in a large multinational exercise with the Royal Navy, Royal Norwegian Navy and the Royal Netherlands Navy along with ships from Spain, Belgium and Germany.

The sunken vessel was picked up on an echo sounder, and a remote-operated submarine was sent to investigate.

Several attempts had previously been made to locate the ship without success.

Colonel John Øglænd, of the Norwegian Army, said it was "very special" to have found the ship during a multinational exercise.

He added: "We remain close allies and are eternally grateful to those who helped preserve our freedom."

Colonel Mike Paine, a county field officer for the Royal British Legion in Sussex, said he was pleased the site would be treated with the respect it deserved.

He said: "We strongly support the preservation of war graves. This prevents diving clubs from gaining access to wrecks, ensuring the remains of servicemen entombed in wrecks are undisturbed."

HMS Hunter was one of two Allied destroyers lost during the first Battle of Narvik, which took place on the night of April 9 1940.

The Hunter and five other H-class destroyers of the 2nd Destroyer Flotilla had attacked the German destroyers which had transported German land forces to occupy Narvik in northern Norway the previous day.

The flotilla had sunk the destroyers Z 21 Wilhelm Heidkamp and Z 22 Anton Schmidt, heavily damaged Z 17 Diether von Roeder and sunk seven enemy transport ships.

As they turned to leave, the flotilla was attacked by three German destroyers emerging from the Herjangsfjord and then by two more coming from Ballangen Bay.

The flotilla leader, HMS Hardy, was badly damaged and had to be beached in flames, while the Hunter sank at 5.30am after it came under fire and collided with HMS Hotspur.

Just 35 of the 145-strong crew survived.


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