Excavation Planned for World War II Mass Grave of British Sailors

October 19, 2012 — Leave a comment
hms dasher

Ardrossan, Scotland
CC Image Courtesy of Gordon Cowan on Flickr

Next week British archaeologists will excavate a possible mass grave of British sailors in Ardrossan, Scotland. The sailors believed buried there served aboard HMS Dasher, a British escort carrier which sunk in 1943 during World War II. Some have alleged that the mass grave is the result of a government cover-up.

Dasher was originally laid down as the merchant vessel Rio de Janiero, however, the exigent circumstances of wartime prompted her conversion into an escort carrier. Escort carriers were small aircraft carriers designed to provide air cover for convoys as they crossed the North Atlantic. Additionally, the diminutive carriers saw action in the Pacific Theater, most notably during the Battle of Leyte Gulf.

Dasher could embark 15 aircraft which helped substantially lessen the risk of attack by U-boats or the Luftwaffe. The ship sank under mysterious circumstances on March 27, 1943 and 379 of her 528 man crew lost their lives. Various theories have been put forth as to what caused the ship to sink among them design defects or a plane wrecking upon landing. Following the sinking, the British government acted quickly to prevent news of the ship’s loss from spreading and weakening wartime morale. Among the actions taken were the burying of the majority of the sailors in a mass grave and a gag order being issued to the local press.

Earlier this year the British government announced it would make public documents surrounding the loss of the Dasher. Hopefully the release of these documents along with the excavation and reburial of the sailors will lay to rest a tragic and controversial event in the history of the Royal Navy. Today, a new HMS Dasher serves the Royal Navy as a coastal training vessel.

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