Estonian Navy finds British warships sunk by mines in Baltic Sea

By Calvin Palmer

The wrecks of three British warships sunk after hitting mines in the Baltic Sea after the end of the First World War have been found by the Estonian Navy.

An Estonian minesweeper using new sonar equipment has located the remains of the cruiser HMS Cassandra and two Flower Class sloops, HMS Myrtle and HMS Gentian, in deep water near the island of Saaremaa.

The discovery is a belated tribute to the accuracy of Royal Navy navigation in 1919, when the two smaller ships sank.

The chief of staff of Estonian naval forces, Lieutenant Commander Ivo Võrk, said the co-ordinates of the site made during the rescue of the Gentian and Myrtle’s crews were surprisingly accurate, considering methods at the time.

The measurements were taken by the commander of the British anti-Bolshevik squadron of 22 ships, Admiral Sir Edwyn Sinclair Alexander-Sinclair.

HMS Cassandra was sunk by an uncharted German mine in December 1918, with the loss of 11 of her 400-strong crew.

The Myrtle and Gentian hits mines the following July, on the same day, with the loss of nine men, while clearing a passage to supply the fledgling independent Estonian government with rifles and field guns.

“We can be sure that these are the British ships that went down during the war of independence,” said Võrk, who authorized the use of new sonar equipment by the Estonian minesweeper Ugandi.

The wrecks belong legally to the British government and are likely to be given official protection as war graves.

Three crew members from HMS Myrtle and HMS Gentian are buried in the Estonian capital, Tallinn, but not all the bodies of those killed were recovered.

The Estonians, who were fighting German as well as Soviet invaders to regain independence, have always acknowledged the role of the British squadron in their successful campaign.

The fleet’s supply of arms and blockade of the Soviet naval base of Kronstadt was one of the few relative successes in the Allied intervention against the Soviets, which petered out in a withdrawal from northern Russia and Siberia in 1920.

[Based on reports by AFP and The Guardian.]

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