Wreckage in Churchill River could be German U-boat, diver says

Alicia Elson
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A side-scan image of what appears to be a submarine located in the Churchill River.

A piece of Second World War history may rest at the bottom of the Churchill River near Muskrat Falls in Labrador.

While the finding is not officially confirmed, the fact it could be a German U-boat was announced at a presentation Wednesday at a Rotary Club luncheon in Happy Valley-Goose Bay.

The technology used to identify the object came into play after a tragic incident two years ago, when volunteer search and rescue was looking for three young men presumably drowned in the river.

Expert diver Brian Corbin from Happy Valley-Goose Bay accompanied volunteers during the more than three-week search effort.

Corbin had also been working with Raymond Pinksen of the Stephen Hopkins Memorial Foundation in the recovery initiative. The Deer Lake-based foundation works with families to try to locate drowning victims using side-scan sonar technology.

Corbin said the equipment was used strictly to try to locate the bodies of the drowning victims.

“We searched for two to three weeks with the side-scan sonar, picking up, basically, lots of imagery of the bottom of the falls and surrounding area,” he said Thursday.

Corbin said three weeks ago, rumours surfaced a Quebec reality TV crew was in the area scanning for a submarine.

“That’s when we decided to go back and look at our imagery from two years ago, and that’s when we had a closer look for, basically, a submarine. And, lo and behold, we found something that resembles a German U-boat,” he explained.

He said the images and dimensions were comparable to online photographs and sketches of German U-boats.

A claim to the wreck was submitted to the Department of Transport in the name of Raymond Pinksen and Brian Corbin and in care of the Stephen Hopkins Foundation.

The submarine is just over a kilometre away from Muskrat Falls below 60 feet of water. The object is 30 metres long.

When the images of the sub were identified, Corbin said the information was forwarded to the province and the federal agencies.

“Now, where it’s a military vessel, it goes to the country of origin which in this case, if we can prove it, would be the German government. They automatically have control over it,” Corbin said last Thursday.

Pending approval from representatives of the archeological office with the province’s Department of Tourism, Culture and Recreation, Corbin says they will return to the area in a week’s time with a remotely operated vehicle (ROV) to take additional photographs and video.

“I think, right now, it’s being considered a war grave. You know, which means there’s people on board, and the German government really wants it to be left where it is … and that’s what’s going to happen unless we can prove or identify the vessel as being something different.”

Part-time curator of the Labrador Military Museum, Sgt. (ret.) Max Peddle, said Thursday submarines were seen all up and down Lake Melville during the Second World War.

“In the nighttime, in particular, they would have to come up and surface and charge up their batteries, because it was electrical engines that were running, and people would hear this from the different communities along the coast — in Rigolet and North West River and Cartwright — and wondering what was going on. Then the morning came, noise would be ceased and whatever it was was gone.”

In 1992, author and former Lake Melville United Church minister Rev. Walter Sellars wrote a fictional book, “Hard Aground,” which details an account of a submarine that ends up in Labrador waters and gets stuck on rocks and sand.

Peddle said he tracked down Sellars in Ontario to discuss information about a submarine presence in Labrador waters during the war.

“(The German army was) trying to find out how come airplanes were getting over to Europe,” he said.

Peddle says the Germans began entering the area in Atlantic waters in submarines following the Battle of Britain and the Battle of the Atlantic.

“Now, Goose Bay was built around 1942, three years after the war started, and Gander was already established in 1936. But to go from Gander to Greenland, which was your next stop, it was too far to travel out of Gander with these singleengine planes,” said Peddle.

He said once Goose Bay was built in 1942, the area became known as the second-busiest airport in North America, next to Chicago’s O’Hare Airport.

“They sent the submarines out to go up and down the coast of Labrador and try to find the route of how they get in over,” Peddle said.

“If there is a submarine there and there (are) remains inside, I would like to see (all exploration) stopped until we have approval.

“If there are remains in there, there is the old story, what the sea claims let it have it. But the submarine itself, if it’s there, bring it up — it would be great artifacts and … let it remain in this part of Labrador.”

The Labradorian

Organizations: Rotary Club, Stephen Hopkins Memorial Foundation, Department of Transport Department of Tourism Labrador Military Museum Lake Melville United Church Greenland O’Hare Airport

Geographic location: Churchill River, Goose Bay, Muskrat Falls Happy Valley Deer Lake Labrador Quebec Gander Lake Melville Rigolet North West River Ontario Europe Britain North America Chicago

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