Diving Norway

Frankenwald-wreck-norway

Diving Norway

 

There is no question that cold water diving is more challenging than tropical diving, but the rewards for being a little hardier can be great. Diving Norway is exactly that- rewarding. Cold water is richer in nutrients and attracts more marine life. It just doesn’t seem that way because everything is concentrated on tropical reefs. You certainly won’t get that impression in Norway, there is a lot of marine life.

 

Norway offers a lot of diversity in the types of diving you can do. There are deep walls in the fjords, shallow bays, and pinnacles. You can also go muck diving and drift diving. Norway is known for its wrecks and the Plura cave system, but there is also fantastic macro diving to be had, and opportunities to see large pelagic species in places like Lofoten.

 

 

Gulen WW2 wrecks

 

Situated in and around Sognefjord- the largest fjord in Norway, Gulen is home to numerous WW2 wrecks. Some are suitable for recreational divers, but tech divers will get more out of diving them. The most prominently dived wrecks are outlined below:

DS Frankenwald (German Steamship)

Originally a German steamship, The DS Frankenwald played a pivotal role during the Second World War. Built in 1922 by the Deutsche Werft shipyard in Hamburg, Germany, it was initially employed for commercial purposes. As the geopolitical landscape in Europe shifted towards conflict, it requisitioned by the Kriegsmarine, the navy of Nazi Germany. The ship was primarily utilised for transporting goods and personnel essential to the war efforts.

 

Circumstances Leading to Its Sinking

The sinking of the DS Frankenwald occurred on 6 January 1940. The ship was navigating along the Norwegian coast, a critical route for German naval operations, especially considering Norway’s strategic importance for control of the North Atlantic. The vessel was en route to Kirkenes, carrying a cargo that was ofiicially listed as iron ore. There are also rumours that it was actually carrying spies. This is in part due to the fact that no iron ore has ever been found.

 

The precise details of the sinking remain somewhat ambiguous, but it is widely accepted that whilst entering a narrow channel, the current was stronger than anticipated. This led to the ship striking an underwater rock near the entrance to Sognefjord. Although the impact was fatal, there was enough time to evacuate all crew safely.

 

The Wreck today

The DS Frankenwald rests on it’s keel at a depth of 34 m at the bow, and 26m at the stern. It’s structure is largely intact, except for the bridge and officer’s accommodation. It’s accessible to most experienced divers but bottom times are limited for recreational divers. The wreck is also prone to currents.

 

The bow is one of the most striking features and is a magnet to photographers trying to get atmospheric shots. Several cargo holds can be explored, but there’s no sign of the supposed iron ore it was carrying. The stern is the highlight of a dive. The hydraulic steering mechanism is visible, but the cylinders that powered them have since exploded.

Ferndale & Parat (freighter and dive support vessel)

The SS Ferndale, originally named SS Fern, was a German cargo ship built in 1928. Throughout its operational life, it underwent several ownership changes and name modifications before being requisitioned by the Kriegsmarine during World War II. As with many commercial vessels of the era, the Ferndale was repurposed for military use, tasked with transporting essential war materials and supporting naval logistics along the strategically crucial Norwegian coastline.

 

The Sinking of Ferndale and Parat

The events leading to the sinking of the Ferndale and Parat unfolded dramatically on December 17, 1944. The Ferndale, navigating through a narrow channel near Sognefjord, encountered strong currents and ran aground. The incident prompted the dispatch of the Parat, a Norwegian dive support tugboat, to assist in the salvage operations. As the Parat attempted to free the Ferndale, they were spotted by British Mosquito bombers, which subsequently attacked and sank both vessels.

 

 

The wrecks today

Today, the Ferndale wreck rests on its keel at an incline. The bow was out of the water and considered a hazard to shipping, and was demolished. The rubble of the bow starts at 10m. The stern sits at 40m. Parat sits next to Ferndale’s stern on the seabed at 59m. When the visibility is good you can see both vessels when hovering above the Ferndale. The Parat is strictly for technical divers only.

 

The proximity of the two wrecks to each other makes this site particularly appealing for a combined diving expedition, allowing divers to experience a tangible piece of World War II history amidst the natural beauty of the Norwegian underwater landscape.

SS Havda (Norwegian Cargo Ship)

The SS Havda was a Norwegian steamship that served as a merchant vessel during the early 20th century. Built in 1907, the ship was primarily used for transporting goods along the coastal and regional trade routes around Norway. With the onset of World War II, the SS Havda, like many civilian vessels, found itself navigating increasingly perilous waters due to the strategic importance of maritime routes for military and supply operations.

 

Circumstances of the Sinking

The SS Havda met its fate under dramatic circumstances during the war. On February 23, 1945, while sailing along the Norwegian coast from Trondheim to Bergen, it was attacked by Allied aircraft. The attack was part of a broader strategy to disrupt German supply lines and maritime communications, which often involved targeting neutral or civilian ships suspected of aiding enemy logistics. The SS Havda was struck by torpedoes or bombs, which caused significant damage, leading to its rapid sinking. It is believed that women and children were on board when the vessel sank.

 

The wreck today

The wreck of the SS Havda now lies at a depth of 25-30m. The ship rests in a relatively intact state, and the layout is well-preserved with access to the cargo holds, engine room, and the bridge. The cold waters have helped to maintain much of the ship’s integrity, reducing the deterioration often seen in warmer waters.

 

DS Welheim (German Freighter)

The Welheim, a German cargo ship, played a pivotal role during the early 20th century, primarily engaged in commercial activities. As with many vessels of its era, the Welheim was requisitioned by the Kriegsmarine to transport goods, and possibly troops, which were crucial to the war efforts of Nazi Germany.

Circumstances of the Sinking

The Welheim’s sinking is a direct result of the Allied efforts to cut off German supply lines during the intense naval engagements of World War II. On November 28th, 1944 she was carrying coal as part of a convoy on route from Bergen to Aalesund. She was attacked and torpedoed by the Norwegian torpedo boat MTB-717. Although she intitally stayed afloat and began to head for Tansøy, she sank fairly quickly.

The wreck today

Considering her age, the wreck is in good condition. She sits on her port sideToday the wreck of Welheim rests in a very good condition on her port side at a steep angle. The bow is only 13m from the surface, but the stern sits at 70m. Anti-aircraft positions are still visible on the bridge and at the stern. The damage caused by the torpedo is visible on the starboard side. Large deck cranes are still standing, and coal is still sitting next to the wreck, though it is covered in silt.

 

The wreck is suitable for recreational and technical divers due to the large range of depth.

The Oldenburg (commercial raider)

The Oldenburg had a long and complicated life prior to world war 2. It was was originally named Mowe (Seagull) before being sold and renamed SS Pungo. Each time it changed hands it was renamed- back to Mowe, then Greenbrier, and finally becoming the Oldenburg in 1933. During World War II, she was a German merchant vessel that was repurposed as an auxiliary cruiser and commercial raider.

 

Such vessels were pivotal to Germany’s naval strategy to disrupt Allied shipping by attacking unarmed merchant ships. The Oldenburg, like other raiders, was equipped with heavy armaments hidden behind false structures. This disguised appearance allowed it to blend in with civilian shipping.

 

Circumstances of the Sinking

The Oldenburg’s mission as a commercial raider came to an end on the 7th April 1945. The Allied strategy included aggressive patrols and air reconnaissance to counteract the threat of German raiders which had been effective against the Allied supply lines. The Oldenburg was identified and attacked by Allied aircraft, and due to the intensive bombing, it sank near to the shore in Vadheim, in the Sognefjord.

 

The Wreck today

The wreck lies on its starboard side on a slope. The bow sits at 25m and the stern is at 70m. This makes it a very short dive for recreational divers. Most of the wreck is only suitable for experienced technical divers.  Due to mountain run off, visibility is often poor at around 40m. Extreme care needs to be taken in such bad visibility, as there are numerous entanglement hazards along the length of the wreck.

There are numerous other wrecks ranging between 30-100m, but they are not dived regularly and can be difficult to dive due to bad weather offshore. Gulen also has a lot of interesting nature dives, and many walls ranging in depth from 50-150m.

Diving Facilities at Gulen

Gulen Dive Resort is located near the small village of Dalsøyra. They offer accommodation and can cater to all levels of diver. Full equipment rental is available, including drysuits, and they are able to blend trimix and offer sofnolime, along with O2 and diluent cylinders for rebreather divers. They have a dive boat with a diver lift that can reach 30 knots, and an 11m RIB that can reach 50 knots.

 

Getting there

Gulen is 2 hrs north of Bergen by car. You can also get a fast ferry (1 and a half hours) from Bergen centre to Soleitbotn, which is only 30 mins away from the dive centre. If you are diving in a group, Gulen Dive centre can arrange airport transfers to Bergen airport.

Plura cave

 

Nestled in the Rana region of Norway lies Pluragrotta, a hidden gem for technical diving in Norway. Nicknamed “Plura Cave,” it’s the longest water-filled cave system in all of Northern Europe, stretching for an impressive 3 kilometres.

 

For experienced cave divers, the allure lies in the challenge and beauty that Plura offers. The crystal-clear fresh water boasts exceptional visibility, averaging 35 meters year-round. In the spring months of March and April, divers can experience an unparalleled 100 meters of visibility. Be prepared for a chilly dive though, with water temperatures hovering around a constant 6°C (42°F) throughout the year.

 

The cave was carved by the Plura River over millennia, the limestone and marble formations create a captivating underwater landscape. Divers can navigate through huge main tunnels, encounter light-colored marble passages, and even discover a hidden air chamber.

 

However, beneath the beauty lies a challenge. Plura Cave reaches depths exceeding 130 meters, making it a technical dive suitable only for the most experienced and well-equipped cave divers. The deeper sections, known as Steinugleflaget, requires DPVs to navigate the long, narrow passages.

 

To access the cave you need to contact Plura Valley, a dive facility located right by the cave entrance. They offer a variety of diving tours, allowing divers to experience the initial sections of the cave system with proper guidance. Their well-equipped dive center provides all the necessary gear for all cave diving needs.

 

 

Getting to Plura Cave

Plura Cave is located near the town of Korgen in the Rana region of Norway. Here’s how you can get there:

 

By Plane- The nearest airport is Bardufoss Airport (BDU), approximately 160 kilometers away. From there, you can take a taxi or rent a car to reach Korgen.

By Car- The scenic drive from Mo i Rana to Korgen takes about 1.5 hours. Korgen is situated along the E6 highway, the main north-south route in Norway.

 

Once in Korgen, Plura Valley is a short drive away. Be sure to contact them in advance for specific directions and to arrange your diving.

Saltstraumen- Norway’s Maelstrom

 

Saltstraumen, located near Bodø in Northern Norway, isn’t your average dive spot. It’s a place where adrenaline-pumping currents meet a vibrant underwater world, creating a pretty unforgettable experience.

 

Nicknamed Norway’s maelstrom, Saltstraumen boasts the world’s strongest tidal currents. Twice a day, up to 3km of narrow strait connecting the Skjerstad Fjord to the Norwegian Sea experiences a dramatic shift in water levels. These powerful currents create massive whirlpools and can reach speeds of up to 40 kilometers per hour (25 mph).

 

Despite the challenging currents, diving in Saltstraumen is a must for experienced divers. The unique combination of strong currents and rich nutrients creates a diverse underwater ecosystem. Divers can expect to encounter large schools of fish such as Pollock, cod. Kelp forests are also abundant, hosting colourful invertebrates such as nudibranchs and anemones.

 

Given the powerful currents and depths that can reach up to 100 meters (330 ft), diving in Saltstraumen is not for beginners. Only certified dry suit divers with experience in cold water and drift diving should attempt it. The best time to dive coincides with the full and new moons when the tidal currents are strongest.

 

 

Diving facilities

Several dive operators in Bodø cater to experienced divers who want to explore Saltstraumen. These operators provide guided dives with experienced professionals, who know the currents and dive sites intimately. They can provide rental of all diving equipment, including dry suits. They also provide boat transportation to the dive sites.

 

Getting to Saltstraumen

Bodø, the gateway to Saltstraumen, is easily accessible by plane or car.

 

By Plane- Bodø Airport (BOO) offers connections to major cities in Norway and other parts of Europe.

By Car- Bodø is situated along the E6 highway, Norway’s main north-south route. The scenic drive from Mo i Rana takes about 2.5 hours.

Narvik wrecks

 

Narvik is a port city in Northern Norway, located on the shores of the Ofotfjord.  During World War II, it was used extensively by the Germans to ship Ore to and from the Baltic sea. As such, it became a target for the British. Consequently, there are numerous wrecks scattered across the seabed. Diving Norway doesn’t get much better than these wrecks.

 

Some of the most popular dives include:

 

German Destroyers- The Anton Schmitt, Diether von Roeder, and Wilhelm Heidkamp lie close together, offering a chance to explore three warships in a single dive. These well-preserved destroyers range from 12 to 24 meters (40 to 80 ft) in depth.

 

British Freighter- The Romanby, a British cargo ship sunk by a torpedo attack, rests in the harbor basin at a depth of around 20 meters (65 ft). Divers can explore the ship’s compartments, including the engine room (with caution for experienced divers only).

 

The waters of the Ofotfjord average around 4°C (39°F) year-round, so a drysuit is essential. The visibility can be variable, but it can sometimes be as high as 30m (100 ft), depending on weather conditions.

 

 

Diving Facilities

There are a few dive operators based in Narvik, but none of them have the best websites in the world, so it’s better to contact them directly. This is fairly typical when it comes to diving Norway.

 

Dive Narvik offer guided tours, equipment rental, and cater to all experience levels, and dive from their boat MS Galten. They provides rental of all necessary diving equipment, including drysuits.

Narvik Sportsdykkerklubb (Narvik Diving Club): A local dive club that sometimes takes out visitors on dives. The link is to their Facebook group.

Dive Norway: Located in Narvik, they offer trips to the wrecks. You would need to contact them about equipment rental.

 

 

Getting to Narvik

Narvik is easily accessible by plane or train:

 

By Plane- Evenes Airport (EVN) offers connections to major cities in Norway and other parts of Europe.

By Train- The Nordland Line railway offers a scenic journey through Norway, connecting Narvik to major cities like Bodø and Trondheim.

 

If you feel that a fantastic dive site in Norway has been missed, please get in touch.

Cover image: Daniel Schmid

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