Locations/Nova Scotia

S.S. British Freedom

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S.S. British Freedom

The British Freedom was a 6985 ton oil tanker built in 1928 at Palmers Shipbuilding Company at Newcastle, England. She was built for the British Tanker Company and would spend the next 17 years transporting oil around the world. Powered by oil fired engines and a single screw, she could make 10 knots.
Chartered to the British Admiralty during the Second World War, she was armed as an escort tanker and 9 additional men were assigned to man her new guns.
On June 27, 1942, the British Freedom was torpedoed off North Carolina. She limped into Newport News, Virginia and once repaired, was returned to service.

During both World Wars, convoys from the Carribean and South America would work their way up the Eastern Seaboard of the United States. They would gather at Halifax to make final preparations for the long crossing of the North Atlantic. There German U-Boats lay in wait.
When World War II broke out, U-boats ruled the seas. The Allies were slow in developing effective anti-submarine techniques. As the war dragged on, new technologies in radar, aircraft and asdic (an early form of sonar) began to turn the tide of the war at sea. By 1945, the U-Boat was being hunted to extinction. But they had not lost their daring.
On January 14, 1945, Convoy BX-141 arrived off Halifax Harbour. Waiting for them was the U-1232, commanded by Kapitan-zur-See Kurt Dobratz. U-1232 had been patrolling off Halifax since before Christmas. Although he had taken a number of shots at ships leaving Halifax, he was unsuccessful and so far had not been detected.
As the nineteen ships of BX-141 formed a single column for entry in to the harbour, Dobratz fired a single torpedo at the third ship in line, the British Freedom. It struck the engine room and she began to settle by the stern. Following directly astern, the SS Martin Van Burin increased speed and swung out to starboard. Dobratz fired a stern shot and was rewarded with another hit. The orderly columm was now in confusion. The seventh ship in the column, the Athelviking now passed in front of Dobratz. He fired and got his third hit of the day. In just 13 minutes, he had destroyed three major ships, a feat which would win him the Knight's Cross, one of Germany's highest award for valor.
Meanwhile, the British Freedom sank until her stern struck bottom, leaving the bow protruding above the waves. The following day, HMCS Goderich was dispatched to sink the Freedom with depth charges.
Of the 48 crew and 9 gunners, only 1 man was lost, an engineer who was trapped in the engine room.

The British Freedom was discovered in June of 1995 by scientists using a new technology for mapping the ocean floor. The Canadian Navy dove the wreck with two submersibles in July. That fall, the first scuba divers reached the wreck.

Diving the wreck:
The wreck of the British Freedom lies upright in two main sections. A section of the stern, approximately 100 feet long is intact. Most of the deckhouse is gone, except for a section of what was the galley. On the galley roof, sits one of the 3 inch guns, still aiming out over the starboard side. Just before the stern rail is the other deck gun, perched upon its pedestal. It still guards against an enemy sneaking up from behind. Dropping over the stern, divers can descend to the large bronze prop, resting on the bottom in 210 feet. Swimming along the sea bed, you can see a row of portholes still in the side of the ship. The pebbled bottom is littered with debris from the wreck, as well as at least one O2 stage bottle.
Back on the main deck, there are two decks of hallways on both sides of the engine room. These provide the easiest access inside the stern. There are also three holes in the deck which are large enough to squeeze through. Inside, one can see cage lights, the compass binnicle as well as hanging wires. In most places, there's not too much silt, but rust particles dislodged by bubbles can trash the vis fairly quickly.
Just forward of the boilers, there are two more pedestals for smaller guns. Here, the hull is flattened into a confusing jumble of twisted metal.
The smaller section of the British Freedom is the bow. This section starts just forward of the collapsed wheelhouse. It is intact for about 60 feet, where the foredeck has collapsed. On deck, there are two ramps for launching life boats over the side, along with a variety of flanges and valves for the oil tanks. The bow also offers some exciting penetration, with big rooms.
This is a huge wreck. With depths from 160 to 210 feet, bottom times are usually 20 to 25 minutes, depending on how much deco you are willing to do that day. The bottom temperatures range from 32 to 38 degrees F. Usually by August, we have a thermocline at about 30 feet, where the temperature sometimes gets up to 60 degrees F. Argon in your drysuit makes a world of difference in comfort level.
We've been diving air, using Nitox and O2 for deco. This summer, we're hoping to dive the wreck with Trimix. This will allow us to get rid of narcosis when exploring inside the deeper areas of the ship.
The British Freedom is easily the most beautiful wreck in the Halifax area. Because of its depth, it remains mostly intact. The corrosive effect of saltwater and the battering of storms have reduced most wrecks in shallower water to twisted remains of their former selfs.
The Martin Van Burin and Athelviking, the two ships that were torpedoed along with the British Freedom, both later sank. The Martin Van Burin now rests in 25 to 40 feet where it drifted aground near Sambro. No longer intact, it is a huge wreck with many large, recognizable pieces of wreckage. The Athelviking has not yet been dived. It is reported to lie in at least 300 feet.

Author Bio: Jared Rainault learned to dive in Kingston, Ontario, and spent a couple years diving the beautiful, intact wrecks there. He now lives in Halifax, Nova Scotia.


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