The Stella Sirius was a 404-ton fishing trawler, built in 1934. In the lead up to WWII, she was requisitioned by the Admiralty in 1939 and converted for anti-submarine duties. She was then assigned to the 7th Anti-Submarine group in Gibraltar, but was sunk following an air attack on the Rock on 25/9/40.
We located the board of Inquiry report on the sinking (ADM1/10776) at the Public Records office at Kew, London and it gave the following information:
In retaliation for a Royal Navy and free French attack on the Vichy French Forces in Dakar, the Vichy French Air Force carried out air raids on the naval fleet at Gibraltar on 24th & 25th of September 1940. During the second attack, a bomb killed some of the crew, who were sheltering in the forepeak and set the forward part of the vessel on fire. The remnants of the crew and seamen from surrounding vessels assisted the injured and attempted to put out the fire, but with little success. As the fire was spreading towards the magazine and a depth charge located in the ASDIC compartment, the decision was taken to sink her, so she wouldn’t explode and damage other vessels. Her Kingston valve was opened and the intake pipe to her condenser split and she quickly flooded and settled on the bottom. A survey by divers reported that the damage was not too bad and at first it appeared that salvage might have been practicable. However, unconfirmed reports later stated that the remains were towed outside the South Mole and sunk, where after the war, Navy divers used her for explosives practice.
Smudge remembered seeing the wreckage on the South Mole during a drift dive in 1986, so a series of searches were carried out in the area in 2003 and wreckage was soon located (by Daz!).
The wreckage lies on the base of the outer foundation slope of the South Mole, between 15 and 21 metres deep. It is a 12-metre-long piece of the base of a stern section, with the extreme stern lying uppermost. Prominent on the wreck is a triple expansion steam engine and on the port side abreast and behind, are two pieces of auxiliary machinery, heavily concreted, but probably generators or pumps.
Hull plates on the starboard side are relatively intact, abreast of the engine block. They contain what appears to be storage lockers and rise some 4m above the keel. On the port side, the plates are more distorted and lower lying. Only the very lower part of the aft section remains, but this includes the sternpost and an extending skeg, which is the original rudder support.
The slope was overlaid with re-enforcing tetrapod blocks in 1977 and some of these have landed on the outer edges, but the main wreckage is clear of debris.
On the sandy bottom below the wreck is a large, rectangular metal structure. This does not appear to be part of the wreck – it may well be some other dockyard wreckage dumped in the area. Other scattered small pieces, however, have been found further out. These show more similarities with the stern section and support the idea that she was dispersed with explosives. The area requires further examination in future.
Although only a small part of the original vessel, the remains compare favourably with those of a requisitioned WWII trawler of comparable age and size. The stern section has probably been held together due to the extra strength of the hull required to support the engine block and its bedding plate.
Research continues and we are currently trying to locate original ship’s plans and anyone who may have served on the vessel. We have been contacted by the granddaughter of Joseph Wooton, a Leading Seaman on ‘Stella’, who was lost during the attack. We were able to supply her with a lot of information on the vessel and she is now trying to source her grandfather’s service records and photographs of the ship.
Two more of the crew who died during the attack, Seaman T.R. Griffin and G.C. Thomas, are buried at North Front cemetery and Mr Peter Buttigieg, a Seaman who assisted in the rescue of the vessel, has also been in contact with us. His account of the events of that day, along with his later exploits as an air gunner and POW, are told in his book ‘We Weep No More’ (ISBN 1-919655-03-4).
More information on this wreck will be found in the chapter ‘The ‘Inner’ & Outer: A detective story’.
Diving the Wreck
The main part of the wreck is found opposite the 800 mark on the wall and lies on the slope between 15 & 20 metres deep. The engine is home to a large moray eel and many other small fish are present. Other bits of scattered wreckage surround the site and the slope itself is well worth exploring after visiting the wreck. It is an ideal 2nd dive site and offers a good start point for a look along the South Mole. There are occasional drifts in the area, so carry a delayed SMB with you. A small torch is useful for looking in nooks and crannies.
Extract courtesy of D. Fa. & P. Smith: Underwater Gibraltar - A Guide to the Rocks Submerged Sites.