Nothing epitomises the dangers faced by the average Merchant Navy sailor more than the tragic story of the SS Gairsoppa, a merchant vessel that made one such perilous journey across the Atlantic Ocean, never to return.
In February 1941, the ship set sail from the port city of Calcutta, India. Unbeknown to all on board, this was to be the ship’s last voyage, and with the exception of one man, second officer Richard H. Ayres, it would be the last journey any of the crew would ever make.
According to the forged shipping papers, the SS Gairsoppa was carrying nothing but scrap ‘pig iron’ metal. In reality, however, it was transporting 109 tons of precious silver, deemed crucial to the war effort. The silver, which was bound for England, was intended to prop up the country’s hard tested war economy in the fight against Hitler’s Germany. It was therefore extremely important that the ship were not to be disturbed or intercepted on its journey across the seas.
However, on February 14, the situation aboard the SS Gairsoppa had become desperate. Battling stormy weather and with coal reserves aboard almost exhausted, the ship’s captain, Gerald Hyland, was forced to change course and navigate away from the safety of her 8-strong convoy in order to seek refuge in Galway on the west coast of Ireland.
On February 16th, a German Focke-Wulf Fw 200 aircraft spotted the isolated and vulnerable ship, and shortly after, a German U-101 submarine navigated into position. Torpedoes struck on the starboard side, and within 20 minutes, the SS Gairsoppa had sunk to the bottom of the Ocean. The unprovoked attack would ultimately claim the lives of 84 crewmen.
For 70 years, the SS Gairsoppa lay undisturbed at 15,420 feet below sea level, until the wreck was finally
discovered, whereupon it was found to contain 61 tons of silver bullion with an estimated value of £150 million, making it one of the deepest and largest precious metal recoveries in history.
Struck from the very same silver, this unique commemorative collection provides a fitting tribute to not only the lost crew of the SS Gairsoppa, but to the 30,000 Merchant Navy sailors who sacrificed their lives during the Battle of the Atlantic in order to ensure our freedom.
The Merchant Navy –Heroes of the Sea
As an island nation, Britain relied heavily on the Merchant Navy to carry everything from food to military hardware across the Atlantic to assist in the war effort. Facing treacherous conditions on a regular basis, not to mention the constant threat of attacks from German Destroyer Ships, U-boats, the Luftwaffe and Sea Mines, the brave men of the Merchant Navy were never far from danger.
This unique collection of commemoratives provide an enduring reminder of the courage and sacrifice of the Forgotten Fourth Service, and the integral role they played in securing victory for the Allies.
Struck in genuine WWII silver recovered from 4700m below sea level
Each of the four coins, struck in genuine British WWII silver recovered from the SS Gairsoppa, depicts on the reverse a line from the poem ‘For All Seafarers’ by John Edward Masefield, Poet Laureate of the UK. Together they complete the last stanza of the beautiful poem, as an everlasting tribute to the 185,000 British and Commonwealth merchant seamen who volunteered to stand up unarmed against an all-powerful enemy, and the 30,000 British seafarers that made the ultimate sacrifice during the Battle of the Atlantic.
The Battle of the Atlantic Commemorative Coin Set contains five stunning coins, each honouring the bravery and sacrifice of the Merchant Navy during the longest military campaign of World War II.
“THE BATTLE OF THE ATLANTIC WAS THE DOMINATING FACTOR ALL THROUGH THE WAR”
– Winston Churchill
The first coin in the set is a risk free ‘£20 for £20’ coin, the remaining 4 coins in your set will be sent to you at monthly intervals, for only £49.95 (plus £2.95 P&P), entirely on approval and without obligation. You may stop collecting at any time.
Each coin is struck to the highest quality possible – Proof, and comes with a free Certificate of Authenticity.
By Abi Evans
Source: London Mint Office