MOSCOW -- British and Soviet salvage teams returned to the Barents Sea after a five-year break and recovered $4.5 million worth of Russian Imperial gold from the wreck ofa British cruiser sunk by German U-boats in 1942, the Soviet Union said Sunday.
The salvage operation was conducted earlier this month by the British ship Deepwater 2 about 170 miles north of the Soviet port of Murmansk, well above the Arctic Circle. The British cruiser, the HMS Edinburgh, went down in 800 feet of water.
The gold, each bar stamped with a Russian Imperial double-headed Eagle, was payment by Stalin's government for U.S.-supplied military hardware under the Lend-Lease program.
The gold, which was being moved from the Soviet Union to prevent possible capture by German invasion forces, was being ferried to the United States when the cruiser was attacked by the submarines.
'This ends the saga of the HMS Edinburgh,' said a British diplomat involved in the operation. 'All the gold on board, all 5 tons, has been recovered and the ship will not be disturbed again.'
The ship went down May 9, 1942, with 60 crew members and 465 gold ingots weighing between 24.2 pounds and 28.6 pounds each. The value of the gold cargo in 1942 was about $3.7 million, but at today's price of just over $400 an ounce, the value of the 5 -ton cargo is more than $53 million.
In 1981, the British company Jessop Marine Recoveries Ltd. recovered 431 of the 465 gold bars -- five tons of the cargo -- but storms and the coming winter forced an indefinite suspension of the operation.
The second phase of the operation began on Sept. 4 and the remaining bars -- worth about $4.5 million -- were picked up in less than a week, the Communist Party newspaper Pravda said Sunday.
The Deepwater 2 handed over the final half-ton haul to a Soviet patrol boat during a ceremony in the Barents Sea, the British diplomat said.
Under British-Soviet agreement, the Soviet Union receives two-thirds of the gold and Britain one-third. Two British salvage companies, Vartoz Williams and Jessop Marine Recoveries Ltd., which participated in the operation, earned 45 pecent of the retrieved gold, the British diplomat said.
Salvage work on the Edinburgh was complicated by its status as an official British government war grave, which means divers could touch nothing but the gold stored next to the ship's powder room.
The divers were not permitted to blow any new holes in the cruiser, forcing them to carry the gold out of two gaping holes in the side of the ship opened by the German torpedos.
During the Nazi attack on the cruiser, British and Soviet naval forces tried desperately for almost 10 days to keep the ship afloat and save the gold.
The Edinburgh, which was traveling without an escort so as not to attract attention from prowling U-boats, was torpedoed on April 30, 1942, and left to drift for three days.
Two British and two Soviet destroyers answered its distress call and arrived May 2. German ships attacked again and the Edinburgh, now under tow back to Murmansk, was struck by three more torpedos.
A British admiral then decided the Edinburgh could no longer be defended and it was allowed to sink May 9, taking to the bottom of the Barents Sea 60 crew members and the Russian Imperial gold.