Historic wreck found at Gallipoli

Discoveries: The hospital barge from above.
Discoveries: The hospital barge from above. Mark Spencer

A COFFS Harbour photographer has spearheaded an incredible discovery at Anzac Cove.

Mark Spencer's work with Australia's leading maritime archaeology team has uncovered a number of new shipwrecks - and one that is very close to home.

Dr Spencer's great uncle may have carried wounded soldiers to a hospital ship that the team uncovered during the first scientific ocean survey of the seabed in Anzac Cove.

"My great uncle on my mother's side, Hector Markey, was a stretcher bearer in the second half of that Gallipoli campaign," said Dr Spencer.

"It was an amazing feeling to stand exactly where he stood on the shoreline 95 years ago and view the landscape in such a different context.

"Then, when diving off Anzac Cove, we found the deep water barge. It's very possible my great uncle carried wounded soldiers to this very barge.

"Only then I realised how these relics have the ability to transport one back in time."

The hospital vessel was one of a number of historic shipwrecks, the expedition "Project Beneath Gallipoli" located from the eight-month World War I battle.

"That one wreck in particular really brought home the agony of the conflict," NSW Government Maritime Archaeologist Tim Smith said.

"Detected 1.3 nautical miles off Anzac Cove in 55 metres of water, the wreck had only been known as an obstacle to local Turkish fishermen.

"When dived and recorded, we confirmed it was a type of barge known through historic photos for carrying dead and seriously wounded Anzac troops off the beach in 1915."

The survey team used a detailed sidescan sonar survey of the seabed to find the wrecks adjacent to the famous Anzac Cove, Brighton Beach, North Beach and Suvla Bay.

Another significant discovery came in the form of a towed landing barge, which was the precursor to the classic motorised landing barges made famous in the Normandy beach landings in World War II.

"I imagined myself inside the barge waiting for the ramped door to drop down," Dr Spencer said.

"I tried to feel what that must have felt like when landing as the enemy to another's shore."

The underwater evidence also gave a horrifying insight into why the Diggers' beach landing and initial assault on the Gallipoli Peninsula went so horribly wrong, playing out as the most bloody and futile campaign of the modern era.

"The shallow water immediately off Anzac Cove was no safe haven for tired Anzac soldiers," said Dr Spencer.

"We saw many bullets and lead ball shrapnel which exploded out of shells fired towards the beach by the Turks. I believe some 600 soldiers were killed just swimming or hanging around the beach over the eight months of the campaign. It was certainly no holiday destination."

The expedition team also managed to prove that a known wreck in Suvla Bay was in fact the remains of the British Destroyer HMS Louis. This vessel ran aground in October 1915 and was destroyed by Turkish shell fire.

Mr Smith said the wreck had previously been identified as a vessel engaged in water supply.

But the Australian researchers confirmed it to be a naval warship by its four Yarrow steam boilers.

Other significant finds included a wreck located in just a metre of water off the beach, British type .303 rifle ammunition, remains of lead balls from the devastating Turkish shrapnel shells and remains of several pontoons.

Those piers are believed to belong to the Royal Australia Navy's Bridging Train - an engineering unit based in Suvla Bay and in charge of stores of water and supply.

Made possible through a State Government grant, the expedition hopes other targets are likely to be identified as the sonar data are analysed in detail back in Sydney

Providing a tremendous insight into the previously undervalued underwater component of the battlefield, the team is now planning a return next year.

There it will continue its important heritage mapping work ahead of the 2015 centenary of the Gallipoli campaign.

A report outlining the shipwrecks and various war relics will be presented to both the Australian and Turkish governments.

In those reports an assessment will be provided on how best to manage these unique under-water archaeological sites in the future.

"This is a landmark project. It adds another dimension to our understanding of the Gallipoli landings," Dr Spencer said.

"History becomes very tangible. It's like visiting a museum under the sea."

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