Hampshire & Isle of Wight

USS Osprey ship's bell to be handed to US after mysterious return

Ship's bell
Image caption The ship's bell was unveiled at a press conference in Southampton

The bell from a ship sunk the night before D-Day is to be given back to the US Navy after it was mysteriously returned to the authorities.

USS Osprey sank in June 1944, with the loss of six men, when it hit a mine south of the Isle of Wight.

Pictures of the bell appeared online earlier this year, prompting an investigation and it was subsequently anonymously handed in.

The acting receiver of wreck said it was a "poignant part of our history".

USS Osprey was taking part in minesweeping operations off the south coast of England on 5 June 1944, as part of Operation Overlord.

The mine blew a large hole in the vessel's engine room, a fire broke out and the ship had to be abandoned 45 minutes later.

The crew members killed are believed to have been the first casualties of the D-Day operations.

Image caption Six crewmen were killed when USS Osprey struck a mine and sank on 5 June 1944

The US authorities contacted the UK coastguard when pictures of the ship's bell appeared on the internet.

An investigation was launched by the Maritime and Coastguard Agency when it was established the bell had not been reported to the receiver of wreck.

Acting receiver Heloise Warner said the agency "put the word about" that it was searching for the bell and it was subsequently left anonymously at an undisclosed location last month.

"It's absolutely fantastic that such a poignant part of our history is back in our possession," she added.

Image caption The bell is likely to be the US Navy's national collection

The bell was checked and confirmed as genuine by Historic England conservators and is set to be returned to the US Navy.

The site of the USS Osprey wreck is not protected, but as with any shipwreck, artefacts taken from it should have legally been reported to the receiver of wreck.

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