Experts from the Northern Diving Group helped to raise a Dunkirk ‘little ship’ from a Scottish river bed. The team took part in a two-day operation to lift the Skylark IX, which in 1940 was responsible for bringing home 600 men from the continent.
The divers from Faslane volunteered to help enthusiasts raise the 50ft pleasure cruiser which had settled on the bed of the River Leven at the southern end of Loch Lomond, where she’d spent her later life carrying tourists.
Back in 1940, the small cruiser had been pressed into service by the Royal Navy and used to bolster the defences of Poole Harbour.
But when the urgent call for shipping went out in May 1940 as the Germans overran France, Skylark IX was sent across the Channel to help bring the British Expeditionary Force home.
She’s credited with bringing 600 men back to the UK during the Dunkirk evacuation.
Seven decades on and, with her days as a cruiser on Scotland’s largest loch done, the boat fell into disrepair, the elements took their toll and Skylark IX sank on the Leven at Balloch.
Although the water is only about five feet deep, it took a two-day operation involving the diving group and special buoyancy bags to finally lift the 30-ton boat out of the river.
“Normally when you use floatation bags, you rely on the depth of the water to help you – the closer you get to the surface, the air in the bags expands. In such shallow water that’s not possible,” explained Lt Cdr Richard Osbaldestin, in charge of the diving group.
“So this was pretty unique training for us – we routinely raise things from the seabed. It’s our bread and butter.
“Raising the Skylark was completely different – it was more a case of pushing her up than lifting her and really good training for the guys.”
Once lifted, the boat was beached and the plan now is to restore her, giving local young people the chance to learn boat-building skills in the process.
“Once she was raised, we found she was actually in pretty good nick – considering how old she was and how long she’d been on the bottom of the river,” said Lt Cdr Osbaldestin
“I walked past her a few days ago and she was covered in tarpaulin. Someone had written on it: This little ship saved 600 souls.
“It was the most moving piece of graffiti I’d ever seen.”
The boat is registered with the Association of Dunkirk Little Ships which lists over 100 craft from the 1940 evacuation which are still with us today.
Naval Today Staff, January 31, 2013; Image: Royal Navy