British WWII Sub With Crew Inside Found Off Sardinia

HMS P311 likely hit a mine and all aboard perished in 1942.

An Italian diver has found the wreck of the British submarine HMS P311, which vanished with 71 crew members off the coast of Sardinia during World War II.

Genoa-based diver and shipwreck hunter Massimo Bondone said he located the long-lost submarine at a depth of approximately 262 feet, about 5 nautical miles east of the isle of Tavolara, off Sardinia. The bodies of the crew are still on board.

The P311 was last seen on Dec. 28, 1942, when she left Malta with 71 servicemen to take part in an Allied attack called Operation Principle. The offensive consisted in launching two chariots -- miniature submarines ridden by frogmen -- to attach limpet mines to two Italian gun cruisers anchored in La Maddalena harbor in Sardinia.

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But the chariot human torpedoes were never launched. The P311 was lost between Dec. 30 1942 and Jan. 8 1943, when the sub was reported missing after failing to return to base. It was assumed the vessel hit a mine and sunk.

Bondone said he was able to identify the P311 by the two chariots strapped to the hull.

"I found the submarine in excellent condition, only the bow is damaged from the explosion," Bondone told Discovery News.

He believes the submarine remained airtight as it sank, meaning the crew died of oxygen deprivation.

"I immediately thought of the fate of those men who died down there," Bondone said.

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HMS P311 was the only boat of its class never to be given a name, sinking before the name Tutankhamun, after the Egyptian pharaoh, was assigned.

The submarine's captain was 35-year-old Commander Richard Cayley, a war hero who distinguished himself in several missions in the Mediterranean. It was said he destroyed nearly 70,000 tons of shipping, a feat which earned him the nickname "Dead-Eye Dick."

It is highly unlikely the submarine will be moved, and the remains of Cayley and the other 70 crew members recovered.

"The P311 is now a war grave," Bondone said.

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