Jersey's Underwater Archaeology Revealed At Maritime Museum

By Rose Shillito | 18 July 2007
Photo shows large grey gun from battleship dating from Second World War

An 88mm deck gun from a German armed trawler sunk off Jersey in June 1944. Courtesy the Maritime Museum, Jersey

A major new exhibition offering a fascinating insight into the world of underwater archaeology and the maritime history of the Channel Islands has opened on the island of Jersey.

A Life’s Work features objects that Jersey’s most experienced wreck diver, Tony Titterington, has retrieved from the seabed over the course of his lifetime and will be on display at the Maritime Museum on the New North Quay, St Helier until 2010.

A beautifully restored World War Two German 88mm deck gun forms the impressive centrepiece of the exhibition and serves as a poignant reminder of an incredible period in Jersey’s history.

Photo shows cabinet set into wall with items retrieved from ship wreck including torpedo and sailor's hat

Material from the PT509, an American torpedo boat sunk off Jersey in 1944. Courtesy the Maritime Museum, Jersey

The peace and tranquillity of this popular holiday destination was shattered on July 1 1940 when the German army invaded and occupied the island for the duration of the Second World War. Although the British government had made the tactical decision not to defend Jersey, the Channel waters saw some of the fiercest fighting between the Allies and the Nazis.

The deck gun was carried by a converted armed German trawler (it was originally fitted to a U-boat), which had been fitted with sonar and sent on missions to seek out and destroy allied submarines. It was found and sunk in St Aubin’s Bay in June 1944 by allied aircraft after apparently fleeing France shortly after D-Day. It remains a potent symbol of British resolve and determination to defeat the Nazis and liberate Jersey.

When Tony discovered in 1978 that it was a particularly rare and important example, the weapon was raised piece by piece and meticulously restored in what turned out to be a ten-year project.

Photo shows a glass cabinet containing piece of bronze machinery on a wooden mount

A mystery tool from HMS Determinee. Only two of these have ever been found, both in Channel Island waters and no one knows what they are. Courtesy the Maritime Museum, Jersey

Material from the wreck of the American torpedo boat, PT509 serves as a chilling reminder that the allies also sustained heavy losses. These pieces of warship – propeller shaft, torpedo, oil pump and boat’s mast – tell their own dramatic story.

After an attack upon a German convoy off Noirmont in 1944, PT509 came into the sights of a heavily armed German escort vessel. The boat’s mast, with it’s ravaged and scarred stainless steel, bears testimony to the ferocity of the onslaught of the gunfight in which PT509 was sunk with the loss of all but one of her crew.

Further highlights include objects brought up from earlier wrecks, including a magnificent bronze swivel gun retrieved from Tony’s favourite shipwreck, HMS Determinee, which sank off Noirmont in 1803. There is also a mystery tool from this ship, which is one of only two that have ever been found in Channel Island waters.

The exhibition also features a flushing toilet – possibly one of the first of its kind in the world – from the 19th century paddle steamer, Paris, which sank in local waters in 1862.

Photo shows bronze gun from a 19th-century warship

A bronze swivel gun from HMS Determinee, sunk off Jersey in 1803. Courtesy the Maritime Museum, Jersey

“We are very excited about putting on this exhibition as Tony Titterington’s collection represents a unique window into Jersey’s maritime history. The quality of his Second World War material in particular, from the time when Jersey was under German occupation, is extraordinary and is a testament to his years of restoration work,” said Jersey Heritage Trust conservator Neil Mahrer.

“A number of his finds are of great local and even international importance and we hope to display many of them in our permanent galleries at the end of the exhibition.”

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