Divers Explore Sunken Wartime Heritage Off Selsey

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History has been made off the coast of Selsey, as a well-known wreckage has been surveyed by a group of amateur divers from Hampshire.

Information they have taken from a sunken rescue craft – known affectionately as a Cuckoo – will help historians with their study of World War Two.

The were known as ‘Cuckoos’ due to the fact they had no engines.

14 of the barge-like structures were built and moored at strategic locations in the english Channel and the North Sea to offer emergency shelter for the crews of allied aircraft downed over water during conflict.

Survival

They were filled with essential survival provisions, including drinking water, preserved meats, vegetables, sleeping bunks, towels and washing facilities as well as things like playing cards, books and rum.

The boats were designed with bars that extended below the water line to allow easy access for anyone stranded in the sea.

Stranded airmen could then radio the Air Sea Rescue Service, who maintained them, for help.

But more often than not, German U-boat crew would surface to board them, stealing the provisions for themselves.

But the main reason they weren’t succesful was down to the fact they were incredibly hard to spot and so never saved any British service personel.

Grand idea

Geoff Downer is the group’s training officer and says the barges were designed to help allied pilots flying back to Britain:

“If they were in a bad way, the airmen would do their best to fly across the Channel, ditch the aircraft if they had to, with the idea that they could swim to the Cuckoo and shelter in it.

“It would have blankets, food and a certain amount of dry clothing.

“It was a grand idea but we understand that in reality they were of very little use.”

After wartime, the barges were used for military target practice, and as a result, they sank.

Divers believe the one off the Selsey coast appears to have broken its moorings during a storm, before taking on water and sinking.

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