OS TANQUES DO VALENTIM

Mergulhador ao lado da torre do tanque Valentine número 1 em Swanage.

archive – WrecksTHE VALENTINE TANKS

Unique ‘floating tanks’, relics of World War Two, can be dived from Swanage, says WILL APPLEYARD. Ideal for an early-season UK warm-up dive in this case – but they’re always ready for inspection

GERALMENTE ASSOCIAMOS wreckage found on the seabed with boats that have had a bad day. It might appear odd, then, that just a short boat-ride from the popular seaside town of Swanage in Dorset, it’s possible to dive the remains of several World War Two tanks.
Well, these tanks were in fact sea-going vessels in their own right. Before their demise, they were taking part in Exercise Smash around Poole Bay in preparation for the forthcoming D-Day landings of 6 June, 1944.
The idea behind the top-secret design was that a canvas frame fitted around the tank would, when raised, displace enough water to enable them to float. They were known as “DD” or “Duplex Drive” Valentine tanks, and a propeller was also mounted at the rear to move the vehicle forward and to within beach range, where the tank’s tracks would take over the job.
Today, divers usually visit only two examples of these tanks because, conveniently, one pair has been roped together to help divers to locate both on a single dive. They lie upright only 70m apart.
A condition survey by Bournemouth University confirms that in fact seven tanks exist in the area, although divers venture to the other five rarely, if at all.
I’ve been interested in the Valentine tanks for many years, but have only really scratched the surface with my own research. So when I discovered that Isle of Purbeck SAC was launching an underwater project to map the history of the sinkings in time for the 75th anniversary in 2019, I thought I’d take the opportunity to expand my own knowledge and head on down.
The wreck-site is popular among newbie divers because of its close proximity to Swanage-based dive-centres – and the fact that the tanks lie only 15m deep. With this in mind, I took my partner Ana along to introduce her to the delights of UK diving and immerse ourselves (literally) in a piece of history.
Our visit to the tanks took place in late April, the start of the UK diving season. The water at this time of year is around 11°C, roupa seca território com certeza.
O aspecto útil do mergulho em Swanage é que é possível realizar verificações de peso na água ao lado do cais antes de qualquer viagem de mergulho de barco. Este é um exercício essencial para mergulhadores novatos e especialmente para aqueles com baixa roupa seca tempo.
We chose to dive with pier-based dive-centre Divers Down Swanage, although several established operators visit the Valentine tanks alongside scores of other popular dive-sites in the area.
The weather was to be on our side, and I just hoped that the visibility was with us too. Introducing newbie or “férias” divers to UK diving can make or break their passion for diving in home waters.
Para experimentar as coisas realmente boas, o ideal é que você mergulhe frequentemente no Reino Unido e, se quiser maximizar suas chances de algumas condições subaquáticas rachadas, escolha uma maré morta e aguarde alguns dias de clima estável antes da viagem planejada.

SEM CORDAS FORA just after lunch that day, we rolled up to the permanently buoyed tanks within about 30 minutes of leaving Swanage. Pete, our skipper for the day, put us slightly uptide to enable us to float right on top of the mooring line.
On the way, Pete had explained that it’s always best to dive the tanks with a slight tide running, to allow any muck kicked up from misplaced divers’ barbatanas on the seabed to clear. Let’s face it, with up to 12 divers plonked onto a tiny tank wreck, there’s going to be a silt-fest – with nobody admitting afterwards that they were the culprits, of course!
Tivemos a sorte de ser os primeiros a chegar ao naufrágio e houve um pequeno puxão da maré uma vez no local de mergulho.
Although the tanks are quite small, they still harbour a fascinating array of marine life. Common prawns live there – they’re inquisitive little guys, and if you hold out a bare hand, they’ll often come over and have nibble.
Onde há camarões, geralmente há um congro à espreita atrás deles – a relação entre eles não é clara para mim, mas testemunhei esse comportamento em muitos mergulhos em naufrágios no Reino Unido.
Encontramos o nariz marcado pela batalha de um congro de tamanho médio preso dentro da menor das fendas e, logo abaixo dele, as antenas de uma lagosta comum.
Shoals of bib flitted about above the tank’s turret, which is now missing its gun-barrel. I later learnt that this had still been attached to the tank itself until very recently. Our guess was that commercial fishing gear might have knocked it off.
It wasn’t long before four more divers appeared on the first tank after their descent of the shotline, so we made for the 70m of rope that connects this tank to its brother. I think we left the visibility in good enough shape for the other guys, but it wasn’t great that day in any case (that’s our excuse).
Seventy metres feels like a long way when finning over barren seabed, but on arrival at tank two we found it to be in far worse condition than the first. As with the other tank, the wheels that drove the tank-tracks were still visible, but much of the sides and top have vanished.
Os restos da torre ficam a cerca de 2 metros do veículo principal, embora o cano da arma tenha desaparecido.
Alguns bodiões de bom tamanho apareceram e não pareceram nem um pouco incomodados com a nossa presença. Outro congro e seus amigos camarões também frequentavam este local, ao lado de um par de caranguejos comestíveis.

EMBORA EU FAÇA O MEU MELHOR while diving these underwater pieces of history, it’s impossible to imagine what it must have been like to be aboard or indeed inside one of these tanks when they sank on that fateful day.
Sete soldados da 4ª e 7ª Guarda Dragão Real perderam a vida quando esses veículos chegaram ao fundo do mar, com o mau tempo inundando um após o outro.
I later spoke about this to Nick Reed, Training Officer for Isle of Purbeck SAC and “Valentine 75” project leader.
“O exercício foi observado pelo Rei George VI juntamente com o Primeiro-Ministro Winston Churchill, o Comandante Supremo Aliado Dwight Eisenhower e o General Montgomery”, disse-me ele – basicamente todos os altos escalões num só lugar.
Também aprendi com Nick que: “O Exercício Smash envolveu ataques com foguetes e um ataque à praia usando munição real para tornar o ensaio o mais realista possível”. Este exercício, segundo me disseram, foi o maior ensaio geral com munição real de toda a guerra.
É um local de mergulho muito interessante e único, mas devido ao seu tamanho este par de Valentines não fará mais do que 30-40 minutos de mergulho, dependendo do que mais você encontrar escondido sob as ondas.
É possível, claro, sair dos destroços e explorar mais o fundo do mar, usando um SMB inflado para que o capitão possa localizá-lo.
Não é incomum encontrar raias solitárias na área se você estiver disposto a dedicar algum tempo, e você deve ter bastante ar para fazer isso em profundidade.
We decided, once we’d had our fill, to send up a buoy from tank two and be picked up after our safety stop, rather than following the line back to tank one and heading back up the line on which we had descended. This is the quick and/or lazy way, but the choice is yours!
I believe that Project Valentine 75 is a great way not only to remember those tank crew lost but also to have the opportunity, as Nick puts it, “to record and preserve part of local history”.
Post-dive, he also explained that “survey work began in April 2017 and it has been noted that 80% of the tanks’ original metal thickness has corroded away”. These WW2 war machines won’t be around forever.
Também achei interessante saber por Nick que “Studland Beach e Shell Bay, perto de Poole, foram escolhidas para este exercício porque se assemelhavam fisicamente às praias do Norte de França” – que foi, obviamente, onde começaram os desembarques do Dia D.
As paisagens desta parte do país são espetaculares e também devem ser consideradas parte da aventura.
Estou ansioso para ouvir mais sobre as conclusões do clube assim que o projeto for concluído em 2019, perto do 75º aniversário.
And perhaps one day I’ll return to dive some of the other five Valentine tanks, wherever they may be!

• Mergulho, abastecimento de ar e aluguel de equipamentos estão disponíveis em Divers Down Swanage, diversdownswanage.co.uk. Há estacionamento no píer (chegue cedo para conseguir uma vaga nos finais de semana) e o centro cobra £ 25 por mergulho.


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