Warwick Deeping was a steam trawler built in December 1934 by Cochrane and Sons Ltd in Selby, Yorkshire. It measured 155ft 8in by 26ft 1in by 14ft 1in and had a gross tonnage of 445. It was powered by a triple expansion three cylinder engine and one single engine boiler, providing 111 nominal hp. Originally owned by the Newington Steam Trawling Company Ltd, Warwick Deeping was purchased by the Admiralty in August 1939. It was refitted as an anti-submarine vessel and armed with a 4-inch forecastle gun and a twin barrelled 0.5-inch machine gun.
On Friday 11th October, 1940, the Warwick Deeping, in company with a similar vessel, the Listrac, left Portsmouth to patrol around the Isle of Wight. The crew was 25 strong, commanded by Royal Navy Reserve officer John Bruce. By 10pm the two boats were approximately ten miles south of St Catherine’s Point. The weather was recorded as calm and the bright moon gave good visibility of two to three miles.
Meanwhile, the German Torpedo Boats (more akin in size to Royal Navy destroyers than Motor Torpedo Boats) Falke, Grief, Kondor, Seeadler and Wolf of the 5th Torpedo Boat Flotilla set sail from Cherbourg to conduct an aggressive patrol of the Channel, in the wake of a bombardment of their port the previous night by HMS Revenge. At 10.35pm a lookout on the Warwick Deeping spotted ships on the port quarter. Within seconds the two ships found themselves under fire and splashes appeared around the ships. Listrac, wrongly believing they were friendly vessels, lit its recognition lights. Shortly after, it was struck by shells and such severe damage was done that it began to sink. The attacking German ships continued to fire at it until it sank. Eleven men died, five during the action and six more from their wounds.
About two to three minutes after the first shots were fired, the Warwick Deeping was hit for the first time. One shell wrecked the forecastle gun and another hit below the water line on the port side. An emergency radio broadcast was made and the ship began zig-zagging in a belated attempt to escape north. The German ships steered away, but went on to sink two French vessels later that night.
Warwick Deeping continued north. Bruce hoped he might be able to beach the ship on the Isle of Wight coast, but the bow was down and the ship was labouring. Twenty minutes later it was evident that this was a forlorn hope and the crew abandoned ship. The Warwick Deeping sank unseen, presumably in the early hours of the 12 October. A motor boat from Ventnor towed the crew’s rafts to the shore; there were no casualties.
The Warwick Deeping lies in 37 meters of water to the south of the Isle of Wight, completely upright and largely intact on a gravel seabed with some scour apparent. Some depth charges lie off the stern on the seabed. The ship was identified through the recovery of the ship’s bell and builder’s nameplate. This site information has been provided by Mr David Wendes, who has also carried out extensive archival research on the vessel. The results of this research can be viewed in: Wendes, D. 2006. South Coast Shipwrecks off East Dorset and Wight: 1870-1979.
No previous archaeological survey has been made of the wreck site, but it is a popular dive site and has been frequently visited by sports divers. A series of artefacts have been retrieved from the site and reported to the Receiver of Wreck as part of the Wreck Amnesty in 2001. These include a brass window, 6 0.5-inch shell cases, a porcelain bayonet fuse, a towel rail, a deadlight porthole and an ink well.
Archaeoloigical survey of the Warwick Deeping site took place in 2010 from the dive boat Wight Spirit, as part of the Archaeological Atlas of the 2 Seas project. The main purpose of the diving activities on the site were to confirm the position, extent, stability and character of the site and so taped measurements of observed archaeological features were recorded. The visibility was around 6 metres, allowing a video record to be made of the site. A thorough survey was conducted to confirm the extent of the wreckage.
The vessel remains are largely intact, standing 6m above a flat seabed. The Warwick Deeping was originally 47.45m in length and 7.95m in width, the current length of the wreck is close to the original measurements. The collpased remains of the wheelhouse is the highest part of the wreck. Amidships on the port side a large hole is visible along the waterline, possibly the result of the shelling that sank the vessel. On deck, timbers survive in many places, the hatches are open or rotted away leaving the holds visible and empty aside from sand that has migrated into the wreck. The holds appear mostly cohesive. Depth charges lie scattered on the starboard side of the wreck under the remains of the wheelhouse and around the stern. Crockery remains were visible on deck forward of the wheelhouse. Towards the bow on the port side the deck gun has toppled over and lies on its side. On the deck of the forepeak the hatch of the chain locker is open. Off the port side of the bow a funnel is visible lying on the seabed separate from the wreck itself.