HOW THEY FOUND THE
By Francis Hughes.
THE ss. Orphir, a twin screw steel steamer of 459 gross
tons, built in 1892 and belonging to the Argonaut
Company, was commissioned in June of 1935 by
Messrs. Tritonia Ltd., in preparation for exploring, and
salving if possible, documents and valuables from the 40,000
ton Lusitania. The Lusitania was torpedoed by the Germans
in 1915 off the South West Coast of Ireland, near Old Head
The actual search has lasted just over three months, and
the Lusitania was finally located at the beginning of October.
The ss. Orphir is now back in Glasgow, and will return to the
wreck about April in 1936, when good weather permits diving
operations with the "iron man." The story of the search was
broadcast on the wireless by Captain Dell Russell in November,
1935. Captain Russell was commander of the Orphir throughout
the expedition, and his first officer was Mr. A. A. Bestic,
fourth officer of the Lusitania when she sank.
Undoubtedly the chief interest in this adventure, from the
Merchant Marine officer's point of view, lies in the method
of location of the wreck. Tritonia Ltd., Captain Russell and
the press representatives on board the ss. Orphir have all
agreed that, without the recording echo-sounder, the Lusitania
would never have been found so quickly; and possibly, owing
to uncertain information as to the whereabouts of the wreck
and the depth of water in which she lay, never at all.
Actually the ss. Orphir was equipped with two echo-sounders
- the French Langevin-Chilovsky pattern and the British
Admiralty M.S. II model. Both are supersonic in
operation; that is to say, the sound waves are of a very
high frequency and inaudible to the human ear.
The Admiralty pattern, however, employs a recording
device with an accuracy of inches, while the French pattern
registers soundings by flashes on a transparent scale. For
the purpose in view, the recording echo-sounder was almost
exclusively used, since the nature of the work demanded a
survey record of all the sea-bed over which the Orphir
The M.S. II recording echo-sounder was very similar to the
standard M.S. III Merchant Service pattern, only with a
larger scale for shallower water readings - scale 35 fathoms,
or 7 to the inch, range 100 fathoms in three phases of 25
fathoms. It was installed without piercing the hull of the
ship, the magneto-striction transmitter and receiver
oscillators being fitted in two small tanks welded to the
Some idea of the accuracy of this machine may be gathered
from the Daily Telegraph of August 7. A small wreck had
just been located and the anchor was being paid out. The
"... Those on the bridge, who were excitedly
watching the wreck's outline forming on the echo-sounder
chart, had a striking illustration of the instrument's
delicacy. As the anchor chain paid out, its
outline was clearly registered on the chart."
On October 6 the Lusitania was definitely found. I cannot
do better than quote the Daily Telegraph's story again:
"Shortly after 2 p.m. to-day the Hughes echo-sounder
apparatus installed in the Orphir charted an enormous
wreck which, as far as can be estimated at present,
is at least 600 feet long and is standing up 84 feet from
the bottom of the sea.
"These dimensions are interesting in view of the fact that
the Lusitania was 762 feet long.
"Nine times within the next two hours the Orphir was taken
over the spot, and each time the long bulky outline
was recorded. The sea bottom in the area was recorded
as being perfectly flat, and a close reading of what the
chart had to tell indicated that the wreck was fairly
deeply embedded in sandy clay."
The position was fixed at 11.6 miles 164o from Old Head
of Kinsale L.H. [Light House?]. The depth of water in which the
Lusitania is lying is 309 feet.
During the course of the search, over 2000 miles of the
sea-bed was surveyed. A clever system of buoying was
adopted and one mile square was surveyed at a time. Numerous
suggestions by local fishermen and much information as
to the exact whereabouts of the vessel from the German
U-boat commander who sank the Lusitania and from survivors,
all had to be investigated.
Mr. W. F. Stephens, who superintended the working of the
echo-sounder, has calculated that during a period of 32 days
this machine ran for 12-14 hours daily, and produced altogether
47 charts of an average length of eight hours. 240
soundings were made each minute, giving a total of over
6,760,000 echo-soundings. Mr. Stephens left the Orphir
early in September and the echo-sounder was subsequently
handled entirely by the ship's officers and press
representatives on board.
Other interesting equipment on board the Orphir included
the special "iron man" diving suit, which sets a new standard
in diving equipment. Already Diver Jarrett has been down
to the wreck in 309 feet of water and has inspected the vessel
with complete ease. When operations are resumed in the
spring, it should not be a difficult matter to salve the
documents and valuables on board.