THEY were among the worst war time disasters in maritime history with the loss of hundreds of lives.

Two shipwreck sites off the coast of Orkney, the watery graves of countless seaman and the country’s General Lord Kitchener, have haunted the islands for more than 100 years.

The fascination into exactly what happened when HMS Hampshire, carrying Kitchener, sunk on June 5 with the deaths of 736 others and the accidental sinking of HMS Vanguard which claimed the lives of 843 sailors with just two survivors, continue to hold mystic to this day.

Now the story of the ill-fated voyages and how the wrecks are surviving the passage of time have been documented in a TV series, the World’s Greatest Shipwrecks. Viewers will see 3D images put together by world renowned 3DVisLab at the University of Dundee’s Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art and Design which not only show the condition of the ships now, but also confirm what might have happened in the case of HMS Hampshire in particular.

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Lord Kitchener, who was the Secretary of State for War and a Field Marshal, died on June 5, 1916 when the HMS Hampshire hit a German mine off Orkney and sank in 15 minutes. There was just 12 survivors.

A centenary dive expedition for HMS Hampshire took place in 2016 and was led by technical diver Rod Macdonald, but it is only now that findings from the expedition, a rare chance to preserve Royal Navy history, will be viewed by a global TV audience.

Technical diver Rod Macdonald led expedition to wreck of HMS Hampshire

Technical diver Rod Macdonald led expedition to wreck of HMS Hampshire

Made by Glasgow and Bristol based Mallinson Sadler Productions (MSP), the series opens with a unique film about the stunning Orkney islands and two First World War shipwrecks that not only remain part of Scotland’s rich nautical history but also fuel local Orcadian lore.

Permission to sensitively broadcast film of HMS Vanguard and HMS Hampshire, both official war graves with the latter the final resting Kitchener the face of posters ‘Your Country Needs You.’ Supported by local historians and archaeologists, this episode explores the vessels’ demise and controversial theories on how they ended their lives on the ocean floor.

HMS Hampshire which sunk off Orkney in 1916 with the loss of more than 700 lives

HMS Hampshire which sunk off Orkney in 1916 with the loss of more than 700 lives

It was experienced diver, Mr Macdonald who was sanctioned to carry out an expedition to the site of HMS Hampshire, which is classed as a war grave. The former lawyer turned diver wanted to be able to record and preserve the site for maritime archivists for the next 100 years when the ship would be no more than dust on the seabed and he knew time was running out to assess it in its current condition.

And using the latest 3D photogrammetry, detailed images of the ship have been obtained. The search also threw light on whether or not there had indeed been a second explosion on the ship and what may have caused it.

“We wanted to preserve the memory of the shop and what happened for another 100 years at a time when it will be just red dust on the seabed,” said Mr Macdonald. “We were contributing to something which Royal Navy or maritime archivists could look back on for years to come with the amount of imagery and information we were able to pass on. In 30 year’s time there will be archivists sitting at a screen looking at 3D images which allows you to see every pebble and every living creature.”

The team of twelve divers explored the wreck which lies nearly 200ft below sea level on the seabed and the importance of capturing the condition of the wreck cannot be underestimated.

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However, it is only now that the images and findings are being shared with a wider audience. The historical account from the time and the view of trained military experts was that there was two explosions, but it was unclear if the second was from a munitions explosion after the ship was hit.

“It was quite clear there was two explosions, but it would seem that the second was indeed due to the ship hitting another German-laid mine,” Mr Macdonald added. “It would seem the ship hit the first mine and then drifted some distance and hit a second mine."

Mr Macdonald is passionate about the preservation of wrecks which such historical importance but what are also the resting places of thousands of souls.

“We are really at crisis point. Second World War wrecks are now falling apart and those from the First World War are in an even worse condition. With any expedition now I also take footage and upload to a You Tube channel to document what is there.

“It is also very sad that vessels outwith UK waters are targeted by salvage hunters. Ships made from pre-Hiroshima steel are being ripped apart in the South China Seas as the steel is so rare now and then sold on. What is left is disturbed war graves and it is very sad.”

The wreck of HMS Hampshire of Orkney

The wreck of HMS Hampshire of Orkney

The technology used to create the 3D images is something Professor Chris Rowland and his team are continually developing.

“The use of 3D imagery has long been used in archaeology, but it has not been so easy to do the same thing under water until now. With better lighting tools we are able to floodlit wrecks a lot better and end up with a detailed image where you can actually make things out.

"Some of our work had to be curtailed during travel restrictions, but one thing I am keen for the unit to do is explore the German U-boats which were scuttled at the end of the Second World War from the Royal Navy Scapa Flow base and still lie at the bottom of the seabed."

HMS Vanguard sank following an accidental explosion in Scapa Flow off Orkney on July 9 1917, with the loss of 843 lives. Only two of the 845 men on board survived.

Emily Turton, who has led a recent expedition to HMS Vanguard, said: "Scattered through every part of the site and beyond there are shoe soles. There are soles of people's shoes everywhere. It really brings home that we are visiting a grave just like walking through the poppy fields in France and seeing all those white headstones."

Now the great-niece of one of the victims, Henry Metcalf, is embarking on a personal mission to create a book detailing the names and faces of everyone who lost their lives and wants to get a picture of every crew member who was on the ship that night.

The restored Kitchener Memorial in Orkney

The restored Kitchener Memorial in Orkney

Genealogist Wendy Sadler revealed in the programme how she is researching all of the crew.

"I knew that Henry had died on a ship but didn't know too much about him. I heard about the expedition and got in touch with local historians on Orkney and my father also showed me another picture of Henry with someone else and that got me thinking what did the other men look like. I have 283 confirmed images so far and I have more than 500 images of crew to discover."

Crispin Sadler, Co-Creative Director, said: “Making films about maritime matters is part of MSP’s DNA, and our track record of dealing sensitively with difficult subjects, including loss of life at sea, has opened doors to otherwise inaccessible stories. HMS Hampshire and HMS Vanguard are a case in point where we needed special permission from the Ministry of Defence to show the remains of these protected wrecks.’

World’s Greatest Shipwrecks will be shown on More 4 on Monday April 26 at 9pm.