Monday, 13 November 2023, 16:20
Some witnesses said they saw a huge explosion with black smoke. Others said they heard it from miles away. However, these claims were merely imagined, as the Nazi torpedo that hit the Republican submarine C-3 and triggered its rapid sinking on 12 December 1936 off the coast of Palo in the bay of Malaga never exploded. The deadly G7-type missile was armed, but it failed to go off. However, the 6-metre-long projectile did pass through the hull of the Spanish vessel, causing it to flood and sink.
Now, 25 years after SUR published the location of the submersible 5 kilometres from the beaches of the eastern part of the city, an underwater expedition has found the missing piece of the jigsaw 300 metres from the wreck: the intact torpedo lodged at a depth of 66 metres. It has been there for 87 years, guarding the key to the shipwreck, which disproves any conspiracy theories that suggest an element of internal sabotage on behalf of the crew.
metres down, the German torpedo is still intact, armed and unexploded. It lies on the seabed around 300 metres from the submarine.
kilos of explosives was carried by the German torpedo launched at the C-3, which shot right through without detonating. Had it detonated, the submarine would have been blown to bits.
The first clue to pinpoint its position on the nautical charts emerged last summer during a relaxed conversation over some beers. On either side of the table were the merchant seaman José Luis Martín and the naval engineer Enrique Baldizar. José, who had investigated the events that sunk the ship during the Civil War in detail, received a piece of information from his friend that caught his attention: while testing a sonar in the area of the wreck, Baldizar and Daniel Jiménez had seen something long, uniform and about 6 or 7 metres long. "He was describing a German torpedo from the 1930s," said Martín, who could not help but reproduce the excitement he felt when he first heard about this.
His next step was to contact José Antonio Hergueta, the director of the documentary Operation Ursula (2006) on the sinking of the C-3, to organise an expedition in search of the lost torpedo. Finally, this November, the researcher and the filmmaker embarked on the Cuevas vessel, crewed by Daniel Jiménez Vegas, together with the cameraman Pablo Mejlachowicz, 3D animator Sergio Pinteño and, at the centre of attention, the sonar scanner from the company Esgemar to locate the projectile.
They first arrived at the coordinates of C-3 - still there after the government ruled out its rescue following its discovery in 1998 - and began the search until a familiar silhouette appeared on the screen. A uniform, metallic structure about 6 metres long. The dimensions of the German-made G7 projectile. "I knew it was there," exclaimed the engineer and sailor José Luis Martín with great emotion, his voice cracking at this point in the story.
The historical significance of this finding explained their excitement at the time. The discovery is not only the 'corpus delicti' of the attack by the Nazi submarine U-34, but also the proof of the crew's innocence. Only three sailors survived out of the 41 on board, the commander of the C-3 and naval ensign Antonio Arbona Pastor, and the lieutenant commander and head of the submarine base in Malaga, Remigio Verdía Jolí. "If there is one thing I am happy about this discovery, it is that it gives justice and restores honour to all of them, as it was not internal sabotage, nor did the torpedo explode as Remigio claimed," explained the merchant seaman. He lay special emphasis on Remegio's report, which, after questioning all the witnesses, rightly maintained that the torpedo did not detonate. It was a document that the Republic hushed up because one of the survivors claimed that the bomb had indeed exploded.
On this point, José Luis Martín explained that there has been a great deal of confusion, as there were two explosions in the submarine that were mistakenly identified as the torpedo. "According to the plans of the submarine, the torpedo entered and left through a bow area where compressed air bottles were stored, which exploded and caused the hull to split and sink rapidly, while the second explosion occurred when the wreck hit the bow batteries which were charged and what was released was water vapour, which is why there was a column of white smoke, as some fishermen said," explained the expert on how the C-3 was hit and sunk.
The condition of the submarine's structure suggested that the attack had hit, but the bomb failed to explode, as has been shown to be true. "The G7 torpedo carried 280 kilos of a deadly explosive invented by the Germans that is more powerful than TNT. It was designed to sink merchant and warships with a single projectile, so if it had exploded inside the submarine it would have been pulverised and the three survivors who were in the turret and fell into the water would also have been killed," he said. And why did the detonation of this complex bomb fail? Martín also had the answer: "The fuse was very poor and torpedoes that failed to detonate were very common even at the beginning of the Second World War until the Nazi navy found the fault," explained Martín, who knows the workings of these vessels well as he was chief engineer on a submarine.
The location of the projectile also allowed us to rule out another false line of argument in this case: the sinking of the C-3 was not a coincidence, but was part of the mission of the Nazi submarine U-34, the now famous Operation Ursula, which directly involved Hitler in the Civil War with his support for Franco in the maritime trenches. "The main target was the Republican supply ships in Cartagena, but on its route around the Mediterranean, the German submarine also had orders to pass through Malaga and attack if it found a target," said José Antonio Hergueta, who explained that they will soon present their discovery with a video about the expedition and a book with José Luis Martín's research, who considered the C-3 "the submarine of Malaga", as it not only went down in the bay, but had based itself the port of the city on up to eleven occasions.
The engineer and sailor said that, as it was 25 years ago with the publication of the discovery of the submarine C-3, SUR had once again helped inspire him to complete this naval story that marked the Civil War in Malaga. When, on the last anniversary of the sinking (12 December 2022), the newspaper's website published an in-depth investigation by researcher José Luis Martín which calculated the impact and conditions of the sinking, as well as considering the thesis that the torpedo never exploded. Filmmaker José Antonio Hergueta read the article as well, which brought them into contact, as did Baldizar, who ended up putting his colleague on the right tracks to locate the projectile in the bay of Málaga.
Once located, they informed the Subdelegación de Gobierno and the Comandancia de Marina of the exact location since, although the water has been eroding the projectile for decades, the bomb is still armed and at risk of explosion, so the authorities will have to proceed to deactivate it. A journey that could be used to rescue the great protagonist of this story, the C-3 submarine, whose legend is still alive.
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