Gavin An­der­son is blown away by the wreck of the Breda in Oban.

The Breda is one of the best-known wrecks in the Oban area, but GAVIN AN­DER­SON had never logged a de­cent dive on her. That all changed last year…

Sport Diver - - Contents - Pho­to­graphs by GAVIN AN­DER­SON

There was a soft glow of light fil­ter­ing down through the emer­ald green wa­ter. My de­scent had taken me in just be­hind the aft ac­com­mo­da­tion near the stern, the most com­plete and colour­ful part of the wreck due to the ac­cu­mu­la­tions of plumose anemones. I knew I’d be land­ing close to hold num­ber five, which I soon found and care­fully dropped down into. Fac­ing me was a wall of ce­ment bags piled high on top of each other. Once they had been pro­tected be­neath the deck and kept dry for their des­ti­na­tion in In­dia. Now they were so­lid­i­fied and formed into a com­plete wall which reached right up to deck level.

Vis­i­bil­ity was good, I could see a good ten me­tres - not bad con­sid­er­ing the last time I’d dived the wreck, I’d barely had two me­tres. In fact, fol­low­ing a few per­haps un­lucky dives in sim­i­lar con­di­tions, I sim­ply hadn’t been in­spired to visit the wreck again. That was un­til now! A call from a friend, Shane Wasik from Dive Oban (www.di­, alerted me to per­fect con­di­tions and a chance to do a cou­ple of dives on her early last year. The last time I’d dived the wreck I’d been a sin­gle­cylin­der diver and slightly stressed and con­cerned about the con­di­tions. Now, hav­ing pro­gressed via a twin­set to even­tu­ally a re­breather, I felt amaz­ingly chilled. The vis­i­bil­ity was great and there was a peace­ful si­lence on the wreck.

Eas­ing my­self back up and onto deck level again, I headed off to­wards the mid-sec­tion of the wreck. Swim­ming along­side, some large pol­lock and bal­lan wrasse weaved their way through var­i­ous holes and wreck­age. Af­ter more than 70 years un­der­wa­ter, the wreck has be­come a beau­ti­ful reef crammed with ma­rine life. Swathes of or­ange and white plumose anemones grew out from winches, along ven­ti­la­tion shafts on masts and along the edges of the wooden deck­ing. Along­side them, dead man’s fin­gers, sea squirts, multi-coloured feather stars and clus­ters of pea­cock worms were com­pet­ing for ev­ery inch of space.

Pass­ing very close to a pretty bal­lan wrasse, its large or­ange eyes half watch­ing me and half watch­ing where she is go­ing, I reck­oned I was al­ready half­way to the bow. I had planned to swim back from the bow to stern along the deck again, so I was finning at a good pace. Drop­ping off the side of the wreck, I wanted to have a look at the hull and in do­ing so, I was re­minded of this wreck’s sheer size. Look­ing up and down, great masses of pea­cock worms gen­tly fil­tered the wa­ter for small scraps of plank­ton. In among them and es­pe­cially just be­low deck level, huge plumose anemones hung at var­i­ous an­gles also trap­ping pass­ing food. There were dead man’s fin­gers and the odd small crab and spi­der crab hang­ing by their back legs. There is loads to see and take in.

At over 120 me­tres long and nearly 18 me­tres wide, the Breda is a sub­stan­tial wreck and be­ing at last able to see her in good con­di­tions was fan­tas­tic. She is to­tally in­tact and rests up­right on a silty bot­tom in be­tween 30m at her stern and 24m at her bow. There’s rarely any cur­rent to speak off, so when con­di­tions are good, div­ing on her is both easy and re­lax­ing.

To get the best con­di­tions, it helps to dive the wreck early in the morn­ing be­fore other divers have stirred up the bot­tom. Sit­u­ated within a shel­tered bay very close to the tourist town of Oban, she is a very pop­u­lar dive.

Launched in De­cem­ber 1921, the Breda was a Dutch steamship trav­el­ling back and forth from the Nether­lands on var­i­ous routes un­til war broke out and in May 1940, she es­caped to Bri­tain. There she was placed un­der the con­trol of the P&O Line, and armed with a sin­gle 4.7-inch (120mm) gun. On the morn­ing of 20 De­cem­ber 1940, she was at an­chor off the Oban Road, part of a con­voy bound for Bom­bay, when a group of Henkell 111 bombers fly­ing from Sta­vanger, Nor­way, sin­gled out the Breda un­leash­ing four 250kg bombs down on to her. Although seem­ingly on tar­get, amaz­ingly they all missed. How­ever, the force of the ex­plo­sions rup­tured one of the ship’s wa­ter in­let pipes, her en­gine room

“De­scend­ing into hold num­ber two, I could see from one end of the hold to the other, and the lad­ders on the other side lead­ing down into hold num­ber three”

quickly flooded, and all power was soon lost.

She was car­ry­ing 3,000 tons of ce­ment, 175 tons of to­bacco and cig­a­rettes, three Hawker and 30 de Hav­il­land Tiger Mouth bi­planes, Army lor­ries, Naffi crock­ery, copper in­gots, rub­ber-soled san­dals, ban­knote pa­per, ten horses and nine dogs. That night the Breda was taken un­der tow and beached in shal­low wa­ter in Ard­muck­nish Bay so that her cargo could be saved. On reach­ing shal­low wa­ter, the horses and dogs were re­leased and helped to swim ashore, but the next day, there was only time for a small part of her re­main­ing cargo to be off­loaded be­fore a storm swept her into deeper wa­ter where she sank in 24m. Iron­i­cally, a few days af­ter the Breda sank, a Sun­der­land fly­ing boat sunk af­ter hit­ting one of the horse boxes which had floated right around Ker­rera!

In 1943, divers suc­cess­fully sal­vaged copper in­gots but then the wreck was left and for­got­ten about, marked at low wa­ter by her tall goal­post masts! In 1961, af­ter a re­quest of the North­ern Light­house Board, the Royal Navy wire swept the wreck at 10m, re­mov­ing her bridge fun­nel and cut­ting off her masts, and for a few years she was largely for­got­ten about again, but then in 1966, she was rediscovered by divers from the Ed­in­burgh BSAC club.

Fol­low­ing their first dives, other clubs and divers started to dive her reg­u­larly. In those early days, divers would have been able to see her huge man­ganese bronze pro­pel­ler still in­tact, but in 1968, af­ter a huge amount of work from a lo­cal clam diver called Dave Tye, helped by Colin Whit­ton and Nor­man O’neil, work­ing for the wreck’s then-owner Jack O’neil, even­tu­ally raised it, re­al­is­ing £2,500. Dave also went on to sal­vage the valu­able de­gauss­ing ma­te­rial and in the 1970s, new own­ers sal­vaged her en­gine room con­densers and other parts. More su­per­struc­ture was re­moved by ex­plo­sive charges to make her holds more ac­ces­si­ble and, in 1975, the Royal Navy suc­cess­fully raised three of the De Hav­i­land Tiger Moth en­gines from holds one and two. At some point, the stern gun was also re­moved by the Navy.

Over the years, though, divers have found all sorts of small stuff from san­dals to crock­ery and even a small roll of pro­pa­ganda film footage. To­day you are more likely to find a miss­ing yel­low re­breather back or a de­layed SMB and reel usu­ally ly­ing on the sea bot­tom, but you never know, you may still find some­thing of in­ter­est even af­ter all this time and thou­sands of divers pass­ing over the wreck.

As I reached the im­pres­sive V-shaped bow adorned in dead man’s fin­gers, plumose anemones and sea squirts, I slowly as­cended over it and back on to deck level once more. Past the en­trance to hold num­ber one – very silted and not rec­om­mended to en­ter - I hov­ered over a tan­gle of hoses and de­bris ly­ing in a heap. The bro­ken re­mains of the for­ward bro­ken goal­post mast can also be seen not far from here. De­scend­ing into hold num­ber two, I could see from one end of the hold to the other, and the lad­ders on the other side lead­ing down into hold num­ber three. In front of me were sev­eral tyres and I thought I’d found the re­mains of one of the trucks.

Back up on deck on the star­board side, I did find the chas­sis and tyres of one of the trucks. Into hold num­ber three, I joined a shoal of pol­lock and swam over some of the re­main­ing air­craft en­gine parts strad­dled by a steel king post which has col­lapsed from the back of the bridge. Back on deck I then ex­plored the area in front of where the bridge once stretched up four lev­els. Fol­low­ing the wire sweep, much of it has ended up in a crum­pled heap, some of it on deck, some over the side of the ship and on the seafloor. Swim­ming past a large cir­cu­lar hole in the deck where her fun­nel once proudly stood, long since rot­ted away, I headed for the stern, pass­ing var­i­ous hatches, bol­lards and rail­ings, and the re­mains of a cov­ered walk­way.

Hold num­ber four looked dark and silty, so I con­tin­ued on deck level past a small deck­house which once housed the gal­ley and WCS. Pass­ing hold num­ber five, which I’d al­ready ex­plored, I passed a large ven­ti­la­tion shaft top­pled over at 45 de­grees. On from it the two huge winches ap­peared and then the most-in­tact part of deck su­per­struc­ture, the ac­com­mo­da­tion block, which would have also housed wash­rooms and more WCS. It stretches up two lev­els and is cov­ered in plumose anemones.

Swim­ming on, I reached the cir­cu­lar stern, where I was tempted to de­scend just a lit­tle, to take in the in­cred­i­ble con­gre­ga­tions of sea squirts and plumose anemones grow­ing on the hull. Temp­ta­tion lured me just a lit­tle deeper still to take in the Breda’s mas­sive rud­der. Look­ing at my dive com­puter, an hour was up and it was time to as­cend. It had been a fan­tas­tic dive and, for sure, I won’t leave it for an­other 25 years to visit the Breda again! PRO­TECTED BY PUFFIN The Breda ship­wreck was pur­chased by Puffin Dive Cen­tre back in 1999, which means it is pro­tected from any sal­vaging or unau­tho­rised tak­ing of arte­facts, and the moor­ing lines are kept in a good con­di­tion for vis­it­ing divers. Puffin Dive Cen­tre is one of the long­est-es­tab­lished dive cen­tres in the UK, of­fer­ing recre­ational, tech­ni­cal, pro­fes­sional and even com­mer­cial dive cour­ses from its pur­pose-built premises on the wa­ter’s edge in Port Gal­lanach, just south of Oban. On-site ac­com­mo­da­tion is avail­able, as is a range of boat div­ing from RIBS and a hard-boat, ni­trox and trimix fills, and there is a well-stocked dive shop.

“Iron­i­cally, a few days af­ter the Breda sank, a Sun­der­land fly­ing boat sunk af­ter hit­ting one of the horse boxes which had floated right around Ker­rera!”

Wrasse cruise over the wreck Plumose anemones adorn the Breda

Bow of the Breda

Rem­nants of an army ve­hi­cle

The Breda is quite in­tact

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