Silver bullion sunk by Nazi U-boat arrives at Royal Mint

The ship carrying the silver was torpedoed off the Irish coast by a Nazi U-boat

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Tonnes of silver sunk by a German U-boat during World War Two have arrived at the Royal Mint in south Wales after more than 70 years on the sea bed.

The bars were sent from India to wartime Britain but the ship carrying them was torpedoed off the Irish coast in 1941.

The vessel was lost along with more than 80 British and Indian crew.

Recovered from the sea floor at a depth greater than the Titanic, the silver is finally ready to be made into coins.

The Royal Mint at Llantrisant, Rhondda Cynon Taf said a limited number of 20,000 coins will be struck, costing £30 each.

The story began in December 1940 when the Royal Mint, already depleted of its stocks of silver due to the onset of war in 1939, called in additional supplies from India.

The SS Gairsoppa sailed for Britain with its shipment of silver bullion but it broke free from a protection convoy during a heavy storm and was spotted and attacked by the German U-boat.

It was torpedoed just after midnight on 17 February, 1941 and sunk within 20 minutes, with second officer R. H. Ayres the only survivor.

Correspondence at the time between the Royal Mint, which was based in London in 1941, and the Bank of England reveals the impact the loss had on the UK's wartime reserves of silver, even threatening the temporary suspension of production at the 1,000-year-old Mint within two months if supplies ran out.

'Long-lost cargo'

Start Quote

We are so pleased to be able to bring these coins to the market at long last, albeit more than 70 years later than expected”

End Quote Shane Bissett Royal Mint

The ship spent more than 70 years at the bottom of the sea before it was found in 2011, 300 miles (480km) off the Irish coast at a depth of three miles (5km) - half a mile deeper than the Titanic.

A US exploration company, Odyssey Marine Exploration, recovered the silver and some was passed to the Royal Mint for striking the coins, which will be edged with the name SS Gairsoppa.

Shane Bissett, the Royal Mint's director of bullion and commemorative coins, said: "This incredible story marks yet another exciting moment in the Royal Mint's fascinating 1,000-year history.

"The traditional Britannia coin design, Philip Nathan's elegant portrayal of a windswept Britannia looking out to sea, is the perfect image for the coins struck from SS Gairsoppa's long-lost cargo.

"We are so pleased to be able to bring these coins to the market at long last, albeit more than 70 years later than expected."

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