THE wreck of the first ship to be sunk in World War Two appear may have been discovered on the Atlantic seabed.
According to War Life, David Mearns, a ship wreck ‘hunter’ says sonar data shows the Athenia to be lying 200m down on Rockall Bank, off the coast off Ireland.
The vessel was struck by a German submarine literally hours after Britain declared war on Germany in 1939 – more than 100 people, including many Americans, were killed.
Germany denied involvement fearing the US would join the war.
U-boat commander, Fritz Julius Lemp, had mistaken the liner for an armed cruiser and the German naval authorities tried to cover up the sub’s actions.
It was not until the Nuremberg Trials after the War that the truth of the U-boat sinking of the SS Athenia finally came out.
The sinking was given dramatic publicity throughout the English-speaking world.
The front pages of many newspapers ran photographs of the lost ship along with headlines about the UK’s declaration of war. For example, the Halifax Herald for 4 September 1939 had a banner across its front page announcing “LINER ATHENIA IS TORPEDOED AND SUNK” with, in the center of the page, “EMPIRE AT WAR” in outsized red print.
As Athenia was an unarmed passenger ship, the attack violated the Hague conventions and the London Naval Treaty of 1930 that allowed all warships, including submarines, to stop and search merchant vessels, but forbade capture as prize or sinking unless the ship was carrying contraband or engaged in military activity.