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    Description

    S.S. Gairsoppa Silver Ingot
    World War II Recovery
    Massive 72.7-Pound Ingot

    S.S. Gairsoppa Silver MS Ingot. Bombay Mint. 1060.5 Ounces.

    Richard Ayers, the S.S. Gairsoppa's 31-year-old second officer, washed up on the Cornish shore 13 days after his vessel succumbed to a Nazi U-boat torpedo 300 miles off the southwest coast of Ireland on February 17, 1941. He was the only man to survive.

    Ayers and 30 of the ship's 85 crew members (seven Europeans, 23 lascars, or Indian seamen) had successfully deployed a single lifeboat, managing to escape the initial German barrage. They navigated the treacherous waters of the North Atlantic, surviving on rations of biscuits, condensed milk, and a pint of water a day, at least for the first eight days. Their staple foodstuffs eventually ran out. By the end of the next five days all but seven men had capitulated to the starvation, delirium, and freezing temperatures. Then on day 13 the lifeboat capsized as the surviving Gairsoppa sailors spotted land. Four drowned immediately in their weakened state. Ayers and two others managed to right the boat, but waves once again threw them into the sea. Robert Hampshire, an 18-year-old radio officer became the 83rd casualty. Norman Thomas, a 20-year-old gunner, managed to make it to the rocky shore before another swell took his life, the 84th and final one lost in the tragedy. An unconscious Richard Ayers eventually made it to safety, the only one capable of recounting the sinking.

    The S.S. Gairsoppa was a 5,273-ton, 399-foot cargo steamship built in 1919 for the British India Steam Navigation Company by the Palmers Shipbuilding & Iron Company in Hebburn-on-Tyne. It was named for a town on the southwestern coast of India famed for its spectacular waterfall. During World War II, the S.S. Gairsoppa was in the service of the Ministry of War Transport. It was in that capacity that the ship set sail from the port at Calcutta in December 1940 bound for Liverpool carrying 2,600 tons of pig iron, 1,765 tons of tea, and up to 7 million ounces of silver for the war effort. It traveled up the western coast of Africa to Freetown, Sierra Leone, where it stopped on Jan 30, 1941 to join a military convoy (SL-64) for protection. From there the Gairsoppa continued toward Liverpool. However, 300 miles southwest of Galway Bay, Ireland the ship and the convoy were slowed down by heavy storms. The Gairsoppa's travails were compounded as its fuel supply of coal ran out. Having no other choice, the ship detached from the convoy and headed alone toward Galway, leaving it defenseless against the German wolfpacks.

    Sure enough, on February 16 a German plane flying overhead spotted the vulnerable Gairsoppa limping toward Ireland. U-boats in the area were alerted. Ernst Mengersen, commander of the submarine U-101 and an eventual recipient of the Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross in the Kriegsmarine, honed in and fired a first G7a torpedo at 6pm, missing because of the waves. Two more torpedoes were launched at 11:28pm and 11:32pm, with the latter hitting the starboard side. The Gairsoppa caught fire and sank within 30 minutes as machine-gun fire pelleted the crew members trying desperately to escape.

    The wreck of the Gairsoppa drifted to its final resting place three miles below the surface of the ocean, where it remained undisturbed for 70 years. Although it was known that the ship contained nearly 240 tons of silver, the massive amounts of pressure exerted on the robots, lights, claws, and cables required to bring up the haul of silver ingots made the task impossible until recently. The British government contracted Odyssey Marine Exploration for the job in 2010, the same company responsible for the recent recoveries from the S.S. Republic and S.S. Central America. By 2013, more than 3 million ounces of silver, including at least 1,200 ingots had been brought up from the ocean floor. A fraction of those were saved for the numismatic market.

    This is one of 462 bars of this type extant. Although more were discovered aboard the S.S. Gairsoppa, most were melted for bullion. All 462 ingots fall within a fairly tight range of 1,000 to 1,100 ounces with a fineness of .999. The ingot has a distinctive trapezoidal shape and it measures 90 x 287 x 100 mm. The top side is laid out vertically and the impressions read: Bombay Mint hallmark / JZ0423 / 5 / FINENESS / 999.2 / 1060.5 / OZS. Charcoal patina is seen on each side and there are scattered bits of rust in the recessed areas on the sides. A rare and unusual ingot.


    Auction Info

    Auction Dates
    December, 2019
    5th-7th Thursday-Saturday
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