Sunderland torpedo explosion goes off safely exploded without a splash

Royal Navy torpedo detonation off Roker Pier.
Royal Navy torpedo detonation off Roker Pier.
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A Royal Navy operation to explode a First World War torpedo off Sunderland went without a splash.

Minesweeper HMS Blyth conducted the controlled explosion of the torpedo, which has been on the seabed since the submarine carrying it sank 99 years ago.

Royal Navy torpedo detonation off Roker Pier.
Commander Peter Higgins AFC

Royal Navy torpedo detonation off Roker Pier. Commander Peter Higgins AFC

The sub went down with the loss of all but three hands in 1917, when she was destroyed by one of her own explosives while on a mission to lay a minefield off the mouth of the Wear.

The wreck has been monitored over the years and the Sandown-class minehunter this week used her sonar, a remote controlled ‘Seafox’ submersible and a team of Explosive Ordinance Disposal divers to carry out the first detailed inspection since 1996.

They discovered the wreck had degraded to the point that one of the sub’s loaded torpedo tubes was exposed and a controlled disposal was carried out.

Lt Cdr Peter Higgins was in charge of the operation: “This is a survey we do of wrecks that we know may have historic ordnance,” he said.

It all went according to plan. The result was the result we wanted.

Lt Cdr Peter Higgins

“We have been down there for the last 48 hours, carrying out a search of the area.

“The submarine is broken into two parts, that are about 30 yards apart from each other - that probably happened at the time she sank.

“The stern is quite badly damaged and that is where the torpedo is sitting in its tube.

“There is about 164 kilograms of explosives in the torpedo itself, which clearly poses a hazard to the public.

Royal Navy torpedo detonation off Roker Pier.

Royal Navy torpedo detonation off Roker Pier.

“We are hoping for a low ordnance detonation, which means the torpedo does not go off, but we render it safe by breaking it open and exposing the explosive - but there’s a possibility of a high ordnance explosion, in which the torpedo itself goes off.”

Divers used a small amount of plastic explosives to break the torpedo open safely - though it took two attempts.

Crowds lining the shore saw a plume of water shot into the air at the first try, but the detonator cable had detached from the torpedo. The second, successful, detonation, barely rippled the surface.

“It all went according to plan,” said Lt Commander Higgins.

Echo reporter Kevin Clark (left) and photographer Stu Norton don anti-flash protective gear.

Echo reporter Kevin Clark (left) and photographer Stu Norton don anti-flash protective gear.

“The result was the result we wanted, a low ordnance detonation that rendered the historic ordnance safe. That’s best for the environment and the wildlife.”