CLICK HERE to read about the Hampshire Gold
Was there or is there any gold onboard the Hampshire? From what I can gather the official line from the Admiralty will be that there was never any gold onboard the HMS Hampshire. However, from time to time I hear rumours that one part of the Hampshire's mission was to take not just Lord Kitchener but the gold to Russia.
Here's where there is a twist in the story, in 1933 a group of divers working under a Capt Brandt clamed to have removed over £60,000 worth of gold from her strong room, the salvage had been aborted when one of the divers was killed and others seriously injured. They clamed that more that £2million is still onboard. A statement from the Admiralty clamed it knew nothing of it and said the Hampshire remained the property of HM Government and could not be touched.
In 2001 Pat sent me an email stating that her Grandfather worked as a diver in the Royal Navy and that he was involved in an official dive of the Hampshire in 1916 (the year the ship went down), the purpose of this dive was to recover bodies. If there was gold onboard the Hampshire surely the Royal Navy would have recovered it in this initial search?
In January 2002 Chuck & Katie Christman from Mojave, California, USA, contacted me saying that Chuck (who's occupation is a underground safety consultant and trainer for the mining and tunnelling industries), had recently found a copy of the American magazine called 'Cavalier' dated 1961 in an old abandoned mine. The mine was about 600 feet down, in an area that may have been set aside for a bomb shelter during the Cold War. This magazine contains an article about a locksmith's part in salvaging the gold from the Hampshire.
Chuck & Katie forwarded this magazine to myself which you can read in the summary below or by clicking on the links to the pages which will in a new window to enable you to print them off.
Cavalier, May 1961.
This article is very similar to the one mentioned above except some of the details differ. This story centres around a crooked Locksmith named Charles M Courtney, (American) and mentions his involvement in the underwater safecracking operation on the HMS Hampshire.
In 1933 Courtney was approached by a wealthy Europe named Sir Basil Zaharoff who was willing to fund a salvage Dive of the Hampshire as he was aware there was $10,000,000 worth of gold locked below decks, the gold onboard the Hampshire was to be a secret loan from the British Government to bolster the sagging purse of the Gzar.
Due to his previous diving and underwater safecracking experience Zaharoff believed Courtney was the only man for the operation. By now Zaharoff knew the location and the depth of the ship, this treasure hunt was not without risks, they would have to dive to 350 feet, this was 150 feet deeper than Courtney had ever dived before. The gold was situated in six enormous safes in a small room beyond the captain's cabin. Their position in the centre of the ship made it impossible to bring the safes out unless they used dynamite on half the Hampshire. However if they did this this, they stood a good chance of destroying the very thing they were after. This is why they were so keen to enlist Courtney's underwater safecracking expertise.
Zaharoff had hired the 'K.S.R' a salvage ship captained by 'Brandt'. There was a crew of 17 mostly Greeks and Italians and four divers, Courtney, Costello, Weissfelt and Mansfield. Once the Hampshire was located there was 17 days of diving her during which the divers entered the ship 26 times. On the 17th day they had finally opened the first of the safes. The divers has began the operation of passing the gold and had already sent 4 loads to the surface when Courtney became aware of a shift in current.
Suddenly there was a violent surge of current knocking him against the safe. A great mass of mud came slamming through the bulkhead smashing all the divers against the compartment walls. For 40 horrible minutes Courtney was pinned against a wall by the raging current, scared that his air line would snap. As a result of this incident Costello and Weissfelt both died. Mansfield suffered a terrible case of bends and would never dive again and Courtney returned to New York where he underwent four operations for ruptures.
The operation had managed to salvage $160,000 in gold, but in a subsequent legal battle with the British Admiralty they lost all claim to future rights on the Hampshire. Without the incentive of personal profit Zaharoff abandoned the project.
Click the images below to enlarge and read full story...
In may 2002 Sean O'Skea from the Concordia University emailed saying that Courtney wrote an auto biography called "Unlocking Adventure" about his many exploits as a locksmith. He dedicates a chapter to his experiences with the Hampshire. It's long out of print but I have seen both US and UK editions so you might come across it.
I first came across the story in a 1960s pulp paperback called Amazing But True Stories. It had an unaccredited reprint of an article about the Hampshire salvage. I'm wondering if it was a reprint of the 1961 Cavalier article you mention above. The chapter in Courtney's book gives much greater detail.
The alleged salvage attempt is also mentioned in a biography of Basil Zarahoff called The Merchant of Death. Also out of print.
There are also a few NY Times articles, including Courtney's obituary, that make reference to the salvage. Courtney died in 1947, his name is in the NY Times index if you want to find those articles.
Roger Collins has wrote to add this opinion: At the beginning of the Great War, the Russian rouble was backed 100% by gold. As in Britain, Russia was unable to to produce all the war materials required for her vast armies. Massive orders were placed with overseas companies to supply everything from boots to shells, even coal was in short supply. To add to the problems the only ports that could be used for imports were Vladivostock, where everything had to be transported by the Trans-Siberian railway to the fronts, and Archangel, where the railway south was totally inadequate. Transport was so short that 2 million pairs of American army boots were packed 3 pairs to a box and sent by post! Vital low weight, high value imports such as aircraft spares were even landed in North Norway and transported over the mountains and down the river system by dog sledge for a time.
Britain granted Russia substantial credits to pay for these imports, and one of Kitchener's jobs in Russia was to tell the government that Britain was unable to grant further credits. This part of the mission was originally to be handled by Lloyd George as an ex-chancellor of the Exchequer, before he was diverted to help sort out the mess following the Easter rebellion in Ireland.
Payments within Russia were made by printing more roubles - diluting the backing by gold, weakening the international value of the rouble.
However, international suppliers required a more stable currency, and that meant gold, dollars or pounds. Vast sums were required to pay for orders, particularly in the USA. Thus the flow of gold was out of Russia not in, and most likely to be shipped to the USA. It must not be forgotten that at the beginning of the 20th century Russia was one of the world's largest gold producers.
It is therefore highly unlikely that the Hampshire was carrying any gold, and if safes were installed during the January 1916 refit then it would have been likely that they were to FETCH gold from Russia. Hampshire had made a visit to Archangel the previous year for a reason unknown to me.
In September 2002 Peter Summers emailed to say: I’m a diver working in the North Sea, I dived on the Hampshire in 1982 or 83, using saturation diving techniques, giving long bottom times so we had a good look. If there was any gold, it had been recovered previously, possibly by a grab. We concentrated our search around the stern but found no trace of the "ten safes" with the billion, 100,000 sovereigns in each safe.
Mike Jefferies an ex Royal Navy Diver who has also worked in the salvage and oilfield business as a commercial saturation diver for many years writes: During the 1980s one of my friends dived on the Hampshire during a commercial diving operation as there was rumours that Hampshire had been carrying a fortune in gold packed into safes.
They discovered that there had been a previous salvage operation years earlier as they could clearly see a section of the wreck where the plates had been cut away with underwater cutting torches. Any gold that might have been on the wreck was presumably recovered although I can find no record of this.
The 1980s operation ended with the removal of a propeller and artefacts (you can see a picture of this propeller on the 'Salvaged' page of this site). I have three of these artefacts which are as follows:
A glass bottle marked 'A.S.Watson and Son. Hong Kong and China Trade'.
A brass pistol with two wires protruding from the end which I have been told was a firing pistol. When the trigger was pulled it sent an electric discharge to one of the big guns and fired it.
I also have what looks like a brass drip tray which may have been hung under a porthole or it could be an ash tray.
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