Published by Chicago Review Press on September 1, 2017
Genres: Espionage, Sabotage
The Sunken Gold is the story of how 43 tons of England’s gold was sunk off the coast of Ireland en route to the United States and later was mostly recovered by the British. The salvage, which took a number of years, was conducted by a small group of divers working in harsh conditions without benefit of modern technology such as sonar or underwater diving tanks.
On 25 January 1917 the HMS Laurentic was sailing to New York when it struck two mines during a storm and sank off the coast of Ireland. The Admiralty kept the lost cargo secret and immediately started looking for ways to salvage the vessel. The recovery of the gold was assigned to England’s nascent salvage group. Britain had one of the innovative divers of the time, naval officer Guybon Damant, and he was assigned the job.
It was 1919 before the divers could concentrate on the wreck since during the war the diving group was busy looking for intelligence on sunken U-boats to help break the German communication codes to counter U-boat attacks.
Over a seven-year span after the war, the divers brought up 3,186 of the 3,211 gold bars, worth almost $22 million in 1924 (worth more than $300 million in 2018). At that point the British government stopped funding, leaving commercial salvagers an opportunity to find some but not all of the rest of the bars.
Each chapter focuses on either the treasure or Damant, and this repeated shifting back and forth makes it a chore to concentrate on the main story—the treasure. There are two interesting stories here, but the author’s choice of alternating chapters makes the reader work to stay until the end.
Reviewed by Anne Merritt