Passing through deep water near the Cornwall Lizard Peninsula on September 29, 1918 – six weeks before the end of the First World War – the crew of the Libourne navy was on alert.
They may have been only ten miles from shore, but the threat from German U-boats did not diminish in domestic water. If anything, it increased.
Within months of the declaration of war, Germany had declared isolation zone around Britain, where merchant ships were sunk without warning. By 1917, an average of 15 British ships were sunk daily while the captains of the boat hunted their prey without remorse through the coastal waters, especially the English Gate.
The explorers decided to hunt the remains off the coast of England because, unlike most maritime areas, Britain allows treasure hunting.
Admiralty responded by escorting a caravan of merchants and so, when Libourne left Bordeaux that morning, he was one of a group of five steam ships. They were at the turning point of a mission to deliver coal to the French allies of Britain.
And by the time Libourne left Bordeaux for Liverpool, via Penzance, its territory was full of wine, champagne, brandy and Benedictine – a favorite of monks – along with gherkins worth £ 425.
But anyone who was eagerly awaiting the delivery of this precious cargo — a very wealthy people, of course – would be greatly disappointed.
The wine is the subject of a fierce battle between a group of navigators who discovered the accident and its cargo, and government officials from Historic England and DCMS.
For this liquid treasure has never reached its destination. And now it is the subject of a fierce battle between a group of marine spies who discovered the accident and its cargo, and bureaucrats from British History and the Department of Digital, Culture, Media and Sports (DCMS).
Treasure hunters include Daniel Jayson, an underwater activity expert, marine historian Ian Hudson and Belgian sea captain and rescue expert Luc Heymans, who in 2004 discovered the crash of a 10th-century treasure ship from Indonesia, loaded with gold, crystals and pearls.
They decided to hunt the remains off the coast of England because, unlike many maritime authorities, Britain allows treasure hunting.
Although it is illegal to disrupt war cemeteries – the remains of corpses – Britain has not signed the 2001 Unesco Convention which prohibits the exploitation of underwater remains for commercial gain.
After searching the shipment records, treasure hunters listed 50 remains to be examined, among them Libourne.
Although it was not marked on any of the charts, they managed to locate it and, in 2015, sent experts who could dive less than 100 meters to find it.
The ship’s open file mentioned gherkins, and ‘champagne and brandy – 1900’, but the inventors were in for a good surprise.
Photographs and videos taken by divers revealed that sleeping in the decaying remains of Libourne, and scattering in the seabed alongside it, were more than 1,900 bottles mentioned in the description file.
There were tens of thousands – if not hundreds of thousands – of bottles, and not just brandy and champagne. Writing on corks indicated that it included red and white wine, too, as well as Benedictine.
Treasure hunters applied for permission to salvage the bottles, an expensive and complex operation involving skilled divers who would live underwater in a pressure capsule for 18 days while working on restoration.
But the mission was immersed before it was even launched. The government refused to give them permission to carry out the rescue operation, despite the fact that the group promised to provide some benefits to the Lizard Lifeboat Center, which is in dire need of funding, and a nonprofit maritime history study called. 1421 Basic.
As Daniel Jayson bitterly states: ‘I thought this government was meant to favor business.
“We have invested a lot of money and continue with the dive investigation knowing that the law allows it. But we were later told that the Government, despite not signing the Unesco agreement, is implementing its policy.
‘They have told us that we can bring a few bottles to evaluate them – but that is financially impossible, you will not be able to invest in just a few bottles.’
At the same time, the accident is being wrecked by ships, which haul in their nets and anchors off the coast, scattering the bottles far and wide as they do so.
As time goes on, some more will be lost, and some may be damaged if their corks are damaged.
‘There is no common sense,’ says Jayson. ‘We’ve tried to have an adult conversation with British History, but we haven’t gotten anywhere. If they do not allow us to save it, the luggage will just disappear. It is absurdity of monopoly. ‘
But is the cargo likely to be valuable after 100 years under the sea? Wine experts believe so. The same fine wine found in Swedish waters recently earned up to £ 9,000 each, and wine experts, says Jayson, ‘fall for themselves’ to get their hands on it.
Ian Hudson adds: ‘The deep ocean is a beautiful cellar; it is dark and the temperature is cool and consistent. Many wine cellars store wine underwater now. I have spoken to experts who provided samples of wine previously saved from accidents and its taste is amazing. It can be sold for 25,000 euros per bottle. ‘
Moreover, he says, it is an important scientific project: ‘There has never been anything of this age or quantity found on the coast in British waters. We can learn how wine is affected in depth, whether corks are pushed out of pressure, or get bacteria in it. We know that the corks on the brand have a bullet sheathing so they will be in good condition. ‘
The pillars in the champagne remain the same as the wires – or ‘muselets’ – are the same, so it is thought that the drink will still be heavy.
The team can only estimate the quality of the wine because there is no description of their previous versions mentioned in the description file. But since the shipment was shipped from Bordeaux, possibly to keep it out of the hands of the Germans – and only the wealthy drank wine in England in those days – it is likely that it was very valuable.
After all, who would bother to transport a cheap plonk during a war?
An old 1916 drawing of a German submarine or U Boat on the surface after the sinking of an English fishing vessel.
Ignoring the mention of a large number of Benedictine wines on the shipping list could be a tax evasion measure.
But if the captain, John Richard Green, had known of the absence, smuggling arrests would have been less of a concern.
Since Libourne was traveling to Penzance in heavy weather, the German U-54 boat was waiting for the End of the Land.
Worse, the U-54 was ordered by a cruel and greedy submarine captain at Kriegsmarine, Hellmuth von Ruckteschell, 28.
He was stalking the beach, but caravans had avoided him until now. Then, finally, as he excitedly reported, ‘the boat is coming, offering the opportunity for the first attack after 11 days’.
It was about ten o’clock in the evening and on the rough seas, so no ship on the caravan saw the U-boat before it sank. After ambushing the convoy for an hour, at 4.55 p.m., von Ruckteschell appeared and ordered the torpedo to disembark at its leading ship, Libourne. It hit its port side so hard that it almost split in two. Immediately he began to sink.
Von Ruckteschell opened fire on the second ship before sinking again and sliding, climbing briefly to the depths of the periscope to investigate the damage, before sinking again.
Other ships in the caravan rushed to help the crew. Miraculously, 30 men survived the blast, boarding lifeboats and jumping into raging waves before being pulled into the ship.
In less than half an hour, Libourne was gone. Three men lost their lives that day, John William Cleater, 19, Alexander John Thomson, 22, and Bartholomew Morgan, 30. Their bodies were never found, as do most of the 15,000 merchant sailors who perished in World War I.
Von Ruckteschell continued to lead U-boats in World War II and became so famous for his brutality that he was charged with war crimes by a British military tribunal in 1946. He was charged with ‘at least one open murder case. many people. and several clear incidents of the sinking of vessels whose crew members were on board were thrown away, and were not later recovered in boats, boats and water. ‘
He was convicted on three counts, sentenced to ten years, and died in prison in 1948.
At the same time Libourne remained under the sea.
The mention of a shipwreck of alcohol on a sinking ship undoubtedly invites comparisons with Compton Mackenzie’s novel Whiskey Galore. It stemmed from the true story of the SS Politician, which sank Eriskay, in the Foreign Hebrides, in bad weather, with 250,000 bottles of whiskey.
On the occasion the ship was stolen by islanders, but the consignment of Libourne liquor has not yet been touched.
No one was more disappointed by this situation than Ian Hudson, as he is the granddaughter of Audrey Warren Pearl, who – when she died in 2011 at the age of 95 – was the last survivor of Lusitania, a sunken ship. by German boat off the coast of Ireland three years before Libourne went down.
It was badly damaged as it neared the end of its journey from New York to Liverpool, and lost 1,198 civilians out of 1,959 in attendance, including 128 Americans.
Audrey, who was six months old at the time, was rescued along with her American parents, who lost their two children that day and their nanny.
The incident sparked outrage that Germany withdrew from an uncontested submarine warfare for some time. Audrey’s remarkable story inspired Hudson to become a maritime historian.
There would be some satisfying comparisons if he and his colleagues were able to benefit from the cargo of Libourne, another U-boat victim.
His grandmother, who continued to be a beautiful debutante and married an Englishman, would no doubt agree.
But it depends on whether the Government can be persuaded to change its decision and let the rescue proceed.
Until then, these treacherous treasure hunters can only hope that more trawlers will not break the accident, and that much of the old wine will never be lost at sea.