Text by: Jean-louis Maurette and Christophe Moriceau for L’expÃ©dition Scyllias
Photographs by: Jean-louis Maurette â Sketch Olivier Brichet
If a panel of judges had to choose the Seven underwater Wonders of the French coasts, there is no doubt that the famous RUBIS would be one of them. Thousands of divers have already visited her. The ones of the old brigade know her well, or think they do, while the young dream to meet her.
Our team was: Svetlana Kolosova, Kirill Kolosov, Max Madjelissov and Jean-Louis. Aranaud and Francoise Niel of Eau Bleue, were the local dive experts who organised our trip.
Today we will salute the venerable ancestor who waits for us in a depth of 40 metres. Our boat,
, skippered by Aranaud, heads towards Cap Camarat and the point 43Â°11’317 N / 06Â°42’109 E (EU50). At the dive site we don BCDs with nitrox and oxygen tanks to ameliorate our deco-stops.
We jump and vigorously swim to overcome the heavy and not uncommon current that slowly takes us away from the rope which goes through the blue. The RUBIS lays upright on a clear sand seabed. My dive buddies and I swim towards the conning tower where there is a twirling myriad of little fish while big sea bream swim in the distance. Kirill lights an open hatch into the interior of the RUBIS. Ah, temptation – but not before the next dive. Today we’ll penetrate the bow so we approach the front torpedoes loading hatch.
A monstrous and powerful steel shark
I light the compartment, unhook my oxy tank and softly slip alone, head first, into the entrails of the RUBIS. The opening is big, the room spacious and free from any treacherous cables or piping. I swim towards both 400mm torpedo tubes to take photographs. The visibility becomes blurred as my regulator bubbles stir up the silt. I return to the entrace where Max joins me and I follow him to a semi-closed watertight door. Behind it is the nerve centre of the submarine. The pathway is small, this entrance would be risky so tomorrow we’ll use a different entrance.
When we approach the stem I notice the particular shape of former submarines with their sharpened shape and their net-cutter giving the appearance of monstrous steel sharks. We leave this section and swim along the backboard side to the mine shafts where we discover the ingenious mine-laying system and a few big eel-like inhabitants. We finish our dive and after a deco-stop to breath oxygen, we climb back aboard the
and return to Cavalaire.
Prisoners of the RUBIS
On the following day there is no current at the dive site! We immediately swim to the conning tower. There is an open hatch where Kirill and I will access the vessel like the submariners used to do. We unhook our oxy tanks and slip carefully in. The tanks scrape along the metallic sides and with my camera housing and big external flash I can only enter the room with my equipment hanging under me. I prepare my camera while waiting for Kirill but he arrives with âtons’ of particles around him. AÃ¯e! We swim towards the machine room where I stop in front of two big diesels, these marvellous machines surmounted by big valves-springs bathe in a ghostly halo. Despite all this time underwater they are in a good state. I can see a few gauges, thermometers, wheels and diverse pipes. Further on is the electrics compartment, then the lower ratings’ accommodation, fortunately empty! I do a u-turn and investigate the toilets and radio-operations room with its little table. In the central room the periscope has probably been removed by the Marine Nationale before the ultimate sinking. I continue along this compartment to discover the little semi-closed door that we saw yesterday. In this now reddish water filled with particles we decide to exit but one of my regulator’s flexible tubes catches on a part of the wreck behind me. I succeed in escaping and reach the upper part of the conning tower through a marvellous shoal of Anthias.
An oxy tank under guard
This wreck is a true marvel for the photographer who can devote himself to his passion without any reserve. Now looking at the growing string of bubbles escaping from the conning tower, I prepare my camera to shoot Max who is inside the steel monster. What a surprise to suddenly see a diver coming from the stern and trying to take Max’s oxy tank that lays close to the hatch! I recognize Max who preferred escaping through another smaller opened panel. We swim to the 400mm revolving torpedo tubes on the rear deck. We don’t spend time searching for the rudders as it’s time for our deco-stops and we regretfully abandon the RUBIS.
Patriam Servando â Victoriam Tulit *
The RUBIS is one of the most emblematic vessels of the Free French Forces (Forces Navales FranÃ§aises Libres). She joined Great Britain in April 1940 and started her first war patrol to the Norwegian coasts. Acting as the first French vessel placed under the direct orders of the Admiralty, she stops all military action and stays immobilized at quay after the Franco-German armistice on 22 June. On 3 July the Britannic trigger off the operation Catapult to bomb a part of the French fleet mooring in Mers-el-KÃ©bir (Algeria), to intern the French ships and crews currently in Great-Britain. Despite the resentment towards their former allies, about 3,000 French sailors chose to pursue the fight and joined the FNFL commanded by Admiral Muselier. Among these courageous sailors were most of the RUBIS’ crew. She participated in 28 war patrols and covered herself with glory. With more than 700 mines laid, she was the most successful French submarine of WWII. She was decorated with the Liberation Cross by General De Gaulle in 1941. Decommissioned in 1949, her glorious career prevented her from being sold for scrap and she was finally deliberately sunk off the coast of Nice, Mediterranean, as an Asdic target on 31 January 1958 but nowadays is for the greatest pleasure of thousands of divers.
Saphir (Saphir, Turquoise, Nautilus, Rubis, Diamant, Perle).
Arsenal de Toulon
30 September 1931
2 six-cylinders 4 stroke motors Vickers-Armstrong built under license by Normand, Le Havre, and developing 1300 hp
2 motors Schneider developing 1100 hp
7700 nautical miles at 8 knots
76 nautical miles at 4 knots
45 men, among them 4 officers and 9 naval officers.
31 January 1958, voluntary sunk to constitute an Asdic target.
11 merchants ships, 12 minesweepers, patrol-boats or chasers sunk, all by mine, plus one 4360 tons ship torpedoed, for a total over 31500 tons. 2 cargo-ships, 1 patrol-boat damaged and, with reserve, 1 U-Boot damaged.
Les Sous-Marins de la France Libre, by Maurice Pasquelot, Ed. Presses de la CitÃ©. L’Aventure HÃ©roÃ¯que des Sous-Marins FranÃ§ais 1939-1940, by Jean-Jacques Antier, Ed. Maritimes & d’Outre-Mer. Historia spÃ©cial nÂ° 46 La Bataille de l’Atlantique (mars-avril 1997), publications Tallandier.
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