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Lost at Sea in Mysterious Circumstances: Vanishings and Undiscovered Shipwrecks

19 Dec 23

208 pages

David Collins

This is a fun book to read. It is based on 50 odd vignettes of various mishaps at sea, or in the air, with examples dating from Tudor times to the present. There are six sections forming the book, The Missing; Warships; Submarines; Merchant Ships; Submarines; Merchant Ships; Passenger Ships; and Aircraft along with a useful introduction and epilogue. There is neither index, nor footnotes nor bibliography but this does not distract from what is essentially a book of popular history. The author includes a few photographs.

The focus is very much on ships or aircraft that were lost at sea in one form or another and which have never been recovered. This has led to a burgeoning industry of amateur and professional sleuths both who undertake to find lost wrecks – think of the Titanic as an example. Some of the attraction is due to various conspiracy theories. For example, the Mary Celeste was found in seaworthy condition at sea in 1872 off the Azores with one lifeboat missing but no crew on board? What happened to the missing crew remains a puzzle to this day.

Many readers will be aware of Cleopatra’s Needle erected on the Embankment in London. Some may not know that the obelisk was almost lost in heavy weather in the Bay of Biscay until the abandoned ship (Cleopatra) was found floating without her crew (which had been taken off) by Spanish fisherman and eventually made her way to the UK as originally planned.

Several warships that were lost through enemy action in various conflicts lie at the bottom and the wrecks undiscovered to this day. HMS Revenge took on a vastly superior Spanish fleet and fought bravely until the end. HMS Courageous was the first Royal Navy ship lost in World War Two.  Glorious was sunk during the Narvik campaign, and Barham in the Mediterranean. HMS Kelly is of note because she was commanded by Lord Louis Mountbatten. All have a story as to why it has been impossible to pinpoint their wrecks, and how they came to their end.

HMS Rawalpindi, and the Jervis Bay, are both interesting stories. The cargo ship München was lost in 1978 in rough seas, perhaps to a rogue wave?  And of course, there are ships that went down with notable individuals on board such as the actor Leslie Howard (while a British citizen, he was of German origin and the unproven conspiracy is that he was an enemy agent), or American bandleader Glenn Miller killed in a downed aircraft, perhaps by an RAF plane discharging excess ammunition from above on her way home.

The author, Richard Jones has written a number of volumes of popular history on maritime and related disasters.  He has an easy, readable style and imparts much trivia type knowledge. Your reviewer enjoyed this book which can be very much of the pickup, put down variety. Well recommended as a stocking stuffer for those who like a bit of mystery with their maritime history.