IT was a dark misty night on January 31, 1918, when two units of the British Grand Fleet, including 19 major warships with destroyer escorts and submarines, set sail from Rosyth to rendevouz with the rest of the fleet for an exercise in the North Sea.
By daybreak, two submarines were sunk, three more were damaged along with a surface cruiser, and more than 100 lives were lost in a tragedy kept secret for more than 60 years.
The so-called Battle of May Island is a name given in irony as no enemy ships were involved in what was one of the worst British naval disasters of the First World War. Now, nearly 100 years later, an underwater survey off Fife Ness has revealed the remains of the stricken submarines.
The area has been surveyed by specialist marine consultants as part of an environmental impact assessment being made by energy company Mainstream Renewable Power, which is planning to create a windfarm in the Firth of Forth about 10 miles from Fife Ness.
Ewan Walker, of Mainstream Renewable Power, explained that while the wrecks were within the boundaries of the proposed wind farm, they would remain undisturbed.
As a war grave, the submarines have legal protection which prevents them being disturbed by any activities and also includes a buffer zone around the site
While the site of the two sunken submarines has been long known, the survey has provided a fascinating final glimpse of the two vessels, which are about 100m apart and lying at a depth of around 50m.
Power generation plans rest on ‘strength of the wind’
THE site of the proposed Neart na Gaoithe offshore wind farm is 15.5km from Fife Ness and covers an area of around 100sq km.
Mainstream Renewable Power was awarded the site in February 2009 by the Crown Estate.
Neart na Gaoithe, which means “strength of the wind” and is pronounced ‘Nart na Gwee-a’, will connect to the national grid at Crystal Rig onshore wind farm in East Lothian.
It has the potential to generate up to 450MW of renewable energy, which would be enough power to supply around 325,000 Scottish homes – around twice the number of households in Fife.
It would offset more than 400,000 tonnes of CO2 emissions each year.
Mainstream has been carrying out environmental surveys since 2009 as part of an Environmental Impact Assessment. This considers potential impacts on a range of things, including seabirds, marine mammals, archaeology, landscape/seascape, commercial fisheries and shipping.
The results will form an Environmental Statement, which will be submitted with a planning application to the Scottish Government (Marine Scotland), expected to be early next year.
If it is given the go-ahead, construction would begin in 2013.