The Breda like many of her contemporaries, was requisitioned for war duties in the early days of World War Two from her owners, the Royal Netherlands Steamship Company. On the 12th December, 1940 she left London, with a crew of forty two aboard, bound for Mombassa, Bombay and Karachi and steamed north for the Lynn of Lorne. En route, on the 14th, she joined up a with number of other merchantmen in a convoy assembled at Southend. On board she had a valuable cargo including 3 Hawker Biplanes, 30 De Havilland Tiger Moths, military vehicles, cement and a huge range of other general cargo plus 10 horses thought to belong to the Aga Khan. She reached Oban eight days later and anchored to await the departure of the convoy which, to avoid the U Boats lying in wait in the eastern Atlantic, was planned to sail west almost across the ocean before turning south for the Cape of Good Hope.
In the early evening of the 23rd the crew heard the dreaded noise of two German Heinkel 111 bombers overhead and, before they could man the anti aircraft guns, one of the German planes dropped a stick of bombs which, although they were perfectly aimed, straddled the Breda without a direct hit. The effect was almost as bad as a direct hit. The bombs exploded on either side of the ship and the shock of the explosion caused serious damage to a water inlet pipe. Soon she was taking water heavily which quickly killed the engines and ship’s electric’s. The Heinkels turned for home but, for the Breda, the damage was done.
Captain Fooy lowered the ship’s boat and put off the twelve passengers aboard before he began a brave attempt to save his ship by running her ashore on the shallow shelf on the east shore of Ardmucknish Bay. An Admiralty tug came alongside and took on a line to begin the slow pull towards the shore and safety. Each inch of the way the Breda was gradually sinking deeper into the water but two hours later, they made it – just! She settled on the seabed at the edge of the shelving bottom some 600 hundred yards from the shore with her bow safely in the shallows. Her stern was completely submerged and her decks were awash forward to the forecastle. Finally, at about 8:30 pm, nearly three hours after the bomber attack the last crewmen aboard abandoned ship, having let the horses swim for their own lives to the shore.
The salvage of her cargo began immediately the next day but the unpredictable Scottish winter weather was to have the last word. Later on that same day she slipped of the shelving seabed and sank. Surprisingly almost no salvage was attempted and up till 1961 she lay undisturbed with her mast still showing above the surface. That year the Royal Navy swept her with a wire to a depth of 28 feet. Only a few years later she was introduced to her new friends – the sub aqua diver – she was to become one of the best known wrecks in the United Kingdom. There are few British divers’ logbooks that don’t contain the name of the SS Breda.
The Wreck Today
The Breda was heavily salvaged during the 1960s and ’70s but still remains an impressive wreck. She sits upright on the gently sloping seabed of Ardmucknish Bay in position 56°28.558’N, 005°25.093’W (GPS). Her bow lies in 24 metres with her stern somewhat deeper in around 30 metres but her deck is some 6 – 8 metres shallower than the seabed making her one of the shallowest intact wrecks in Scottish waters.
The efforts of the salvage divers have caused havoc around the engineroom area and the superstructure has long since disappeared but otherwise she is complete. The main attraction of the Breda are her 5 cavernous cargo holds still brimming with interesting artifacts and objects including the remains of her cargo of aircraft in holds 2 and 3. The aircraft are often missed, as only the metal frames remain, lying on the starboard side of hold 2 and forward and to the starboard of hold 3. Another interesting recent find has been huge piles of Indian paper rupees in the rear starboard section of hold 4. The stern section is the most complete and is beautifully covered in dead men’s fingers and coloured anemonae.
Link to Teledyne Reson multibeam sonar survey of the Breda undertaken in 2010, it shows incredible detail of the wrecks layout and condition well as all the debris on the surrounding seabed.
Diving on the Breda is easy and as safe as any wreck dive could be. She is almost always buoyed so finding her should be simple. Ardmucknish Bay is sheltered from the worst of the weather and is not subject to strong tides. Only potential problem is overcrowding! She is a very popular wreck.