The Sunken Gold : First World War Espionage and the Greatest Treasure Salvage in History
When HMS Laurentic sank in 1917, few knew what cargo she was carrying, and the Admiralty wanted to keep it that way. After all, broadcasting that there were 44 tons of gold off the coast of Ireland in the middle of a vicious and bloody war was not the best strategic move. But Britain desperately needed that gold.
Lieutenant Commander Guybon Damant was an expert diver and helped discover how to prevent decompression sickness (`the bends'). With a then world record dive of 210ft under his belt and a proven history of military determination, Damant was the perfect man for a job that required the utmost secrecy and skill. What followed next was a tale of incredible feats, set against a backdrop of war and treacherous storms.
Based on thousands of Admiralty pages, interviews with Damant's family and the unpublished memoirs of the man himself, The Sunken Gold is a story of war, treasure - and one man's obsession to find it.
This book is a fascinating tale of tragedy, loss, pioneering diving expertise and recovery, with some trial and error along the way. The author sets down a well-written account of the loss of HMS Laurentic (a White Star liner drawn into Admiralty service in the First World War) whilst on a secret mission to Canada in 1917 with £5 million in gold, and the subsequent salvage mission to recover it.
The narrative switches back and forth between events and the background of the key players involved in each part of the unfolding story. The narrative flows well in an easy-to-read style in 300 pages. There are an additional 36 pages of notes, sources and a useful index. Drawing on family and professional sources, including the Admiralty records held at The National Archives, there is a clear sense of a well-researched book. There are also over 30 monochrome images and diagrams that provide additional and useful context.
The book not only traces the material loss and salvage of the gold but also the progress in diving equipment and techniques. The depth of the wreck, and position of the gold, presented considerable challenges that, without giving too much away, were successfully overcome. The experience gained enabled Royal Naval divers to develop techniques for the recovery of precious secret information from U-Boat wrecks.
This book is thoroughly recommended for anyone with an interest in naval or the First World War. It sheds light on perhaps some lesser-known aspects of the war and the secret work that was undertaken.
Dr Tony Wakeford
Friends of the National Archives