The wreck of the Breda has been extensively salvaged, but most of the hull and some of the superstructure is intact. Some of the cargo, including vehicles, is still visible on the site. The site can be dived at any state of the tide, but is quite silty, and it is reported that there is little wildlife to be seen.
WARNING divers have died on on this site; penetration of the wreck should only be undertaken by experienced divers. Be aware of silt and the possibility of movement of the cargo and structural collapse.
The Breda was built at the Nieuwe Waterweg Scheepsbouwmaatschappij (“New Waterway Shipbuilding Company”) yard at Schiedam for the Koninklijke Nederlandsche Stoomboot Maatschappij (“Royal Netherlands Steamship Company”). Laid down on 16th December 1919, she was not launched until 2nd July 1921, and finally completed on 10th December 1921. The 6,941 GRT ship was 122.69 metres (402 ft 6 in) long, and 17.78 metres (58 ft 4in) wide, and was powered by two Metropolitan-Vickers steam turbine engines, giving her a top speed of 15 knots (28km/h; 17mph). She had five cargo holds, and could accommodate up to 87 passengers.
After the invasion of the Netherlands in May 1940, the Breda fled to Britain, where she was placed under the control of the P&O Line, and armed with a single 4.7-inch (120mm) gun.
On December 23rd 1940 she was laying off Oban, part of a convoy being assembled that was bound for Mombassa, Bombay and Karachi. She carried a mixed general cargo that included 3,000 tons of cement, 175 tons of tobacco and cigarettes, three Hawker and 30 de Havilland Tiger Moth biplanes, Army lorries, NAAFI crockery, copper ingots, rubber soled sandals, banknote paper, 10 horses and 9 dogs.
At dusk a group of German Heinkel He 111 bombers flying from Stavanger, Norway, swept across the anchorage, and straddled the Breda with four 250-kilogram (550 lb) bombs. The force of the explosions ruptured a water inlet pipe, and the engine room was rapidly flooded, depriving the ship of power. She was quickly taken under tow, and beached in shallow water in Ardmucknish Bay. The next day, only a small part of her cargo had been offloaded before a storm swept her into deeper water where she sank to a mean depth of 26 metres. A wire sweep was carried out to lessen the danger to shipping, removing her upper superstructures. Her holds are open for inspection, still filled with her large, mixed cargo.
Starting at the stern allows the deepest point in the dive to be made right at the start. The buoy line is tied to a ceiling beam in the middle of the aft accommodation block. The ceilings have long since rusted and rotted away, providing easy access to the cabins. Odd bits of mast and railings are home to some fairly large but thin and delicate plumose anemones. At 30m the seabed at the stern is the deepest part of the wreck, so a quick diversion to the rudder is best made now, at the start of the dive. The propeller was excavated from the silt and salvaged in 1968, earning the salvors £2500.
The hull is covered with more long and delicate plumose anemones, some large white tunicates and forests of featherworms projecting into the minor currents on their long stalks. On the way back to the deck you will pass a row of empty portholes. For a diver more interested in marine life than wreckage, the hull of the Breda is a dive by itself.
The entire length of the deck is covered in collapsed masts and respective winches, but unlike many wrecks, where the main interest is the structure of the ship, the Breda has some interesting cargo remaining. The aft hold has a stacked wall of solid cement bags at the front of it, providing some interesting crevices in which conger eels have set up home. This hold also originally carried spare parts for trucks, so you might find some interesting bits of suspension in the silt at the bottom.
Back at deck level, two cabins are located on either side of the deck between the holds. Like the stern accommodation, the ceilings have gone but the walls are partially intact, with circular openings left where portholes have been removed. Number 4 hold is also half-full of solid cement bags, but this time more mixed up with other scraps of cargo. Continuing forwards, extensive salvaging has left the remains of the engine room a tangled mess of girders, plates and machinery. Access is possible from above, or through a hole in the port side. Be careful exploring too far inside here as divers have died inside the Breda when the way out has become silted or blocked by falling wreckage.
In front of the engine room is another hold. Among the debris of cargo here you might be lucky enough to find the odd aircraft part. The forward superstructure was cleared completely when the wreck was wire-swept, nothing remains but a few girders which run across the wreck and have almost collapsed down to deck level. The remains of the superstructure can be found on the seabed off the port side.
Number 2 hold is probably the most interesting. At the bottom are the remains of a 4×4 truck chassis, and on the shelf at the side are some fragile-looking metal skeletons, the remains of the Tiger Moth aircraft. Rather than ascending to deck level to cross the superstructure from the previous hold, there is also an easy route under the remains of the forward superstructure between these holds. On the starboard deck above the hold lie the remains of another 4×4 chassis. In addition to the odd tyres remaining scattered about the floor, you could once find boots and sandals in this hold. The forward hold is incomplete, its front half swept clear with the raised bows. In front of the hold the bow has been swept clear to one deck below the main deck level. Most of the debris lies just off the port side of the bow. On the starboard side a collapsed mast rests on the seabed at 24m and points the way to some further debris from the bow. Although tilted on one side, the deck is recognisable from bollards and railings. Other debris off the starboard side of the bow includes truck tyres and the remains of a winch.
The Breda is quite rightly regarded as one of the best wreck dives in the UK. A reasonably intact wreck with lots of interesting things to explore, the Breda offers something for divers of all experience levels, from beginners to experienced wreckies.
Moir and Crawford 1997, 123-5
BSAC Wreck Register May 87, No 35
With thanks to www.divernet.com.