British WW2 sub HMS Urge found off Malta

A 77-year-long mystery has been solved as scientists finally located and identified the wreck of Royal Navy’s wartime submarine HMS Urge off Malta.

HMS Urge
HMS Urge underway in harbor, at harbor stations; Photo: National Museum of the Royal Navy

The submarine was found sitting upright on the seabed of the Mediterranean more than 400 feet down, her bow buried in the ocean floor, her deck gun facing forward, her hull encrusted with marine life.

The distinctive features of the U-class submarine have been compared with contemporary photographs and the undisclosed location of the wreck compared with official records to identify Urge.

HMS Urge, which was adopted by the people of Bridgend, is one of 19 U-class boats lost in World War 2, 13 of them in the Mediterranean. The submarines were small and originally meant to be used purely for training.

Urge left the island on her final mission on April 27 1942 bound for Alexandria in Egypt as the 10th Submarine Flotilla moved its base to escape the Axis Powers’ constant bombing of Malta. Aboard were not just her 32 crew, but 11 other naval personnel and a war correspondent.

She never reached North Africa. The Admiralty concluded she ran into an enemy minefield shortly leaving the island, but the wreck was never found.

Photo: University of Malta, Francis Dickinson


That official assessment of her loss was put into question by one shipwreck hunter, who claimed to have found the Urge off the Libyan coast near Tobruk – far from her intended route – and supposedly sunk by Italian aircraft two days after departing Malta.

That fate – and location – has now been definitively ruled out thanks to the combined efforts of Canadian naval researcher Platon Alexiades, Francis Dickinson – grandson of Urge’s commanding officer – and Professor Timmy Gambin of the University of Malta’s Classics and Archaeology Department and a team of students, plus the Royal Navy’s official historians.

Their deep sea research confirms the original Admiralty estimate – the boat did indeed succumb to a mine laid by a German E-boat; the impact caused catastrophic damage and led to Urge plunging out of control to the seabed.

The wreck will now be treated as an official war grave and protected by Maltese, British and international law – with families of the crew, led by Lt Cdr Tomkinson’s daughter Bridget, hoping to erect a memorial on the island and attend a commemorative service next year to mark the tragedy and Urge’s rediscovery.

“Many of the crew of HMS Urge formed bonds with the people of Malta – one crew member married a Maltese bride,” said Professor Gambin.

“The powerful image of this seemingly-undaunted wreck reflects the courage of those who sailed in her, as well as the enduring alliance of HMS Urge with the island of Malta. It will forever be a part of the history of the Royal Navy and Malta.”