The body of water stretching between the Isle of Wight and mainland Britain looks on a normal day to be a sheltered and tranquil stretch of calm sea, sometimes getting a bit rough during the winter months as the warships sail out of Portsmouth and the huge cruise liners depart from Southampton, a perfect place to ship spot for those who like the opportunity to photograph these wonders of the engineering world.

But many people may be surprised to know that the Solent holds more secrets and history than first realised. We can go back many hundreds of years to a time when sailing vessels ruled the world, taking for example the story of the most famous Solent wreck – that of the warship Mary Rose.

King Henry VIII was watching the scene from Southsea Castle when the ship sailed from Portsmouth harbour heading towards the waiting French fleet and preparing for battle. But with one dramatic turn, the entire ship heeled over and sank in front of the King, trapping many people below decks who were caught up in netting that was rigged to repel potential enemy boarding parties.

Nobody knows just how many people died, could be anything between 400 and 700, but what we do know is that only around 35 survived because they were taking up their position within the rigging above all the nets.

The wreck was lost over time and forgotten about until the Deane brothers located her while conducting work on unsnagging fishing gear.

When they realised that this was the Mary Rose they proceeded to salvage a number of cannon, one of which is still in the Tower of London today, before once again the ship was left to rest alone until Alexander McKeen found her in the 1970s and started a huge salvage operation, raising the entire hull from the seabed in 1982 and having the wreck and her artefacts placed in a museum where she is on display today.

Isle of Wight County Press: The Mary Rose.

As the decades went by from the sinking, other warships fell victim to fire, explosion, grounding and pure negligence – the likes of HMS Boyne, HMS Invincible, HMS Royal George and, as we go more into the modern day, HMS Gladiator.

The Gladiator was a cruiser launched in 1896 and was heading back to port off Hurst Point on 25 April 1908 when the liner St Paul slammed into the ship causing massive damage.

The cruiser capsized and killed 28 of her crew, some of the bodies later being laid to rest in Haslar Naval War Cemetery in Gosport. The wreck was later salvaged and broken up.

With many other warship incidents, it is inevitable that there would be bangs and scrapes, especially when the Merchant and Royal Navy were going from sail to steam, but in the case of the A1 they were going from above water to underwater.

A1 was the sixth British submarine after the first five were named Holland. During a 1904 diving operation in the Solent the ocean liner Berwick Castle accidentally rammed her and she sank with all eleven crew killed, incredibly the submarine was raised and put back into service, later being sunk during a test in the same body of water as her tragic accident and is today a protected historic wreck.

Moving on to the modern day, the two World Wars put paid to many cargo vessels as the mine and U-boat despatched many vessels to a watery grave, but the 1972 capsizing of the hovercraft SRN6-012 saw the world’s worst hovercraft disaster just off the seafront at Southsea that led to the deaths of five passengers and led to these craft having more stringent rules regarding carrying out the Solent crossing in bad weather.

Isle of Wight County Press: Obelisk in memory of those who lost their lives on the British submarine HMS A1.

In January 1990 the cargo ship Flag Theofano was due into Southampton with a cargo of cement when the stormy weather prevented a pilot from heading out to guide the ship in.

The ship went to anchor at St Helen’s Road and the following day was given a green light to weigh anchor and head to her final destination.

But when the pilot was going to bring the ship in there was nothing to be seen.

Assuming that the ship had headed back out to sea to ride out the weather, the horrifying truth was soon learned as bodies started to wash ashore.

Flag Theofano had capsized and sunk in the night, so quickly that the ship did not have time to send a distress call. All 19 crew members were killed.

Another cargo ship that came a cropper through pure stupidity was the embarrassing situation that befell the banana boat Dole America in November 1999.

Heading out of Portsmouth in the early hours of the morning, the pilot had only just departed the vessel when, of all things, she struck Nab Tower causing serious damage to the vessel that almost saw her founder.

Needless to say the press had a field day with the reports the following day as Nab Tower is….a lighthouse.

So now we come to the modern day, where on 3 January 2015 the huge car carrier Hoegh Osaka set sail from Southampton with a cargo of vehicles that included construction machinery and Range Rovers.

As the ship cleared Southampton Water she got into difficulties when the ship could not stay upright and developed a significant list.

The ship was purposefully grounded at Bramble Bank within sight of Calshot Castle and her crew were rescued as salvage teams had a huge job of trying to move the ship without causing her to fall onto her side and be lost completely.

Incredibly the salvage operation was a success and three weeks later the ship was manoeuvred into her berth back in Southampton where most of her cargo remained undamaged.

Isle of Wight County Press: Hoegh Osaka aground in Southampton.

Today there are few incidents in the Solent, safety protocols have made sure that these huge vessels adhere to the rules that keep the ships from hitting each other or having any kind of accident. But the history that now lies beneath these waves is a timeless reminder that mankind is extremely vulnerable when trust is placed in mother nature, or corners are cut on safety.

  • To learn more about these shipwrecks and so many more, Richard Jones' book Shipwrecks of the Solent, is available now. Published by Amberley, it is priced £15.99 and is his 22nd book on history and shipwrecks.