Rationing during both World wars caused many hardships, particularly on remote islands like Coll where even during peacetime many items, regarded as necessities by people living on the mainland, are often in short supply. Luxury items like cigarettes became almost impossible to obtain except at exorbitant prices on the black market. The wreck of a huge ship crammed full of a varied general cargo of NAAFI stores, including millions of cigarettes, was like a gift from heaven and the islanders on Coll certainly took advantage of their windfall when the Nevada was wrecked there on 17th July, 1942.
The Nevada herself was originally a German ship but she was handed over to France as part of the country’s war reparations at the end of the First World War. Originally launched as the Rovuma in 1918 by her builders Bremer Vulkan of Vegesak, she weighed in at 3499nt with dimensions of 420.2′ x 57.9′ x 28.1’. She served all over the world between the wars, finally under the ownership of the Companie Generale Transatlantique, and came over to the British when France fell in the early years of the Second World War. At this time she added ‘II’ to her name to avoid confusion with another British ship named Nevada. She was assigned to the management of the famous Paddy Henderson Shipping Company who sailed her in a number of convoys carrying cargoes to and from Britain.
In July of 1942 she left London bound for Bathurst in West Africa with a varied general cargo of NAAFI stores including the cigarettes and many other items – shoes, soap, Brylcream, vehicles, wheelbarrows, clothes, tools, foodstuffs and cloth. She headed for Oban and the convoy assembly point in the Lynne of Lorne and on the 19th she was off the west coast of Coll when she was enveloped in a dense fog. Due to an error in navigation she ran ashore in the poor visibility on the north side of Rubha Mor on the north west coast of the island. She wedged solidly on the rocks and almost immediately took on a severe list to port but all her crew were able to scramble safely ashore.
Over the next few weeks the combined efforts of the salvage teams and the islanders, and indeed some of the RAF crewmen stationed on the island, to salvage the cargo, either legally or illegally, have become a legend on the island. The Nevada herself, when examined by the salvage team was found to be afloat at the stern but with her two forward holds partially flooded. At first it was hoped that she might be pulled off after offloading some of the cargo from her forward holds but, on 22nd July, the weather deteriorated and over the next couple of days she pounded on the rocks further damaging her hull and she settled by the stern. The ship was written off as a total loss and the salvage competition began. By day the official salvors worked to load the supplies onto small coasters but by night the locals swooped down to help supplement the meagre supplies available on the island due to the shortages of the war. Despite the activities of the islanders, which never reached the legendary heights of their neighbours on Eriskay on the wreck of the SS Politician, thousands of tons of supplies were saved from the sunken cargo ship over the next few weeks before she was abandoned.
The Wreck Today
The wreck of the Nevada lies close to the shore almost parallel to the north side of Rubha Mor in position 56°41.434’N, 006°29.579’W (GPS). The remains of her bow are in the shallows close to the surface among the rocks and deep kelp. The ship, which is very broken due to subsequent heavy salvage, tumbles down the underwater rocky slope and cliff reaching a depth of around 16 metres on the white coral/shingle seabed at the stern. Here the remains of her stern steering gear rise dramatically above the seabed reaching 10 metres towards the surface. Her intact boilers are the largest recognisable feature but there are still huge amounts of wreckage to explore. Much of her cargo, including vehicle parts, corrugated asbestos sheeting and drums of cement can be seen scattered among the wreckage and half buried in the shingle.
There are virtually no hazards at the site as it is not subject to any significant tidal movement. The site is however very exposed to wind and swell from the west and north which would make it unsafe in rough weather.