Wrecks on the Var coast

The waters off the Var coast are home to a rich maritime heritage marked by the presence of historic shipwrecks. These submerged relics tell gripping tales of the merchant ships, warships and aircraft that crossed the region’s waters, some in tragic circumstances. From World War II seaplanes to wrecked freighters, these wrecks offer a fascinating journey through time, as well as a vibrant underwater ecosystem where marine life thrives among the ruins. To dive in the waters of the Var is to discover an underwater world filled with sunken histories and hidden treasures, where every wreck is a silent witness to a past just waiting to be explored.

Aircraft wrecks

Epic discovery: The mysterious P-38

The search for the wreck

In November 1996, ten years after he began his research, Marcel Camilleri of the Lecques Aquanaut Center diving club made an extraordinary discovery. During a dive to 40 meters on a sandy bottom in the Bay of Lecques, he spotted a group of unusually large fish. Approaching closer, he sees the outline of a plane and immediately recognizes the characteristic silhouette of a P38. But one major challenge remains: identifying it.

The hunt for history

French archives and newspapers of the time make no mention of this battle. Marcel Camilleri then contacted former 367 Fighter Group pilots via the Internet, who volunteered to help him with his research. They have to find a serial number on the wreck. For four months, Marcel and his friends worked tirelessly to free the sand-buried cockpit. Finally, they found a plate bearing the number 43-2-545. The identification of the aircraft is now certain. This is Harry R. Greenup's plane, shot down by the Germans on January 27, 1944.

A P38 overturned and preserved

The wreck of the P38 lies upside down on the sandy bottom at a depth of 40 meters. The right engine and propeller are still firmly attached to the wing, while the left engine lies beside the wreckage, torn off during the impact.

An astonishing state of preservation

The aircraft's fuselages (right, left and center) are relatively well preserved, as is the cockpit. The pilot's seat and instrument panel are still there. Although slightly sunken in the sand, the nose of the wreck retains its cannons. The landing gear is retracted, but the flaps are open.

An abundant underwater ecosystem

Over the years, engines have been coated with sponges and spirographs. A few corals have also taken their place on the fuselage, including mostelles, capons and lobsters. An unexpected presence resides in the cockpit: a conger eel has found refuge in this place steeped in history.

épave P38
épave P51 Mustang

The P-51 Mustang: a legendary World War II fighter

A versatile and formidable aircraft: the evolution of the P-51

The P-51 Mustang quickly became one of the iconic fighters of the Second World War. It was produced in just 117 days by North American Aviation. Initially used for reconnaissance and ground support, it rapidly gained in speed and altitude thanks in particular to its re-engining, becoming one of the best fighters of its time. Its major role in the European campaign helped neutralize many enemy aircraft, with almost 4,950 shot down in 1945.

A mysterious wreck

A trawler inadvertently hooked its trawl net into the aircraft carcass, displacing it and causing considerable damage to the wreckage. The captain reported the plane's position to the French navy between Les Fourmigues and the Giens peninsula. He was shot down by the German D.C.A. during the Provence landings. Resting flat at a depth of 56 metres on a sandy bottom, it requires an experienced diver to explore. Unfortunately, only a few parts of the aircraft are visible, including the rusty propeller and wings, the machine guns and the cockpit. The latter, in good condition, offers a fascinating insight into the history of this warplane. It's the ideal place to experience the heroism of the pilots who fought bravely in this iconic aircraft.

Discreet marine life

The flora and fauna around the P-51 wreck are modest, offering little diversity. However, this simplicity allows us to concentrate on exploring the wreck itself and immerse ourselves in the captivating story that surrounds it.

Dornier 24: A mistral tragedy

The Dornier 24, a German seaplane, was built in France during the Second World War and taken over by the French naval air force at the Liberation. Designed for maritime patrol and rescue operations, this all-metal monoplane was equipped with three thrusters and a double fin tail. It was armed with a machine gun at the front and rear, and a cannon in a dorsal turret.

A deadly mistral

On December 20, 1945, during an exercise off the coast of Les Sablettes, the Dornier 24 crashed into the sea due to the violent mistral wind. Of the 6 crew members, only the rear radio operator survived. The wreck was not found until two months later, at a depth of 42 meters, thanks to a search by the newly-formed GERS (Groupe d'Étude et de Recherches Sous-Marine). Dredging was complicated by the intertwined wire ropes from previous unsuccessful attempts.

Wreck location and features

The wreck of the Dornier 24 lies on a sandy seabed at a depth of 43 meters in the center of the gulf between Cap Sicié and Pointe Marégau. Some parts of the aircraft are still visible, such as the propeller and fuselage. The cockpit is located at a depth of 46 meters, next to one engine, while the other two engines, the cabin and a wing are located 200 meters away, at a depth of 41 meters. The wreck of the Dornier 24 offers an encounter with a variety of marine species, including conger eels, moray eels, mostels, capons and red mullet.

épave Dornier 24
épave l'arroyo

The wrecks of warships

The Arroyo: A ship steeped in history

Mission crucial, fate fatal: Drinking water distribution at its explosive end

In 1921, the Arroyo set sail on a vital mission: to supply French ships and troops with drinking water. After years of service in Indochina, he was repatriated to Toulon. However, the French Navy decided to sink it in spectacular fashion for the G.E.R.S, an underwater research training group.

Shipwreck: A risky operation

On August 18, 1953, the Arroyo was towed near the islet of Deux Frères. Sixty kilos of dynamite were placed on board in the tanks and in the engine room, to send it to the bottom, but the plan didn't go according to plan. Diverted by a current, the ship hits a rocky reef, shattering its bow.

Underwater remains: accessible witnesses to history

The submerged wreck of the Arroyo fascinates divers. The stern rests at a depth of 36 metres, offering stunning views of the rudder, propeller and poop deck. The bow, on the other hand, is in a state of disrepair, bearing witness to the explosion and the impact with the rocks.

A teeming ecosystem

The wreck of the Arroyo is home to an abundance of marine life, including gorgonians, conger eels, capons and octopus. It's also a landmark for the castagnoles and apogons that reign supreme around it.

The Tromblon: from warship to practice target

A forgotten war machine: armament, the Tunisian campaign and a brutal end

The Tromblon, a propeller-driven gunboat, was commissioned in Toulon in 1875. Equipped with powerful weapons, she took part in the Tunisian campaign in 1881, before being relegated to Toulon for no further use. This was the only feat of arms for the ship, which was subsequently used as a target for exercises in 1881.

The solitary wreck: decay and preserved relics

The Tromblon now rests on its right side, at a slight angle, in the Sablettes cove. Its bow is badly damaged, while the hull shows numerous perforations. The cannons were removed before sinking, but the two boilers are still intact. As for the stern, it's complete with an atypical shape.

A haven for marine life: conger eels, moray eels and fish

The wreck of the Tromblon is home to a variety of sea creatures. The sponges serve as landmarks for conger eels, moray eels and sometimes schools of sars. A few red mullets stroll across the surrounding sand. Although sea fans and algae are rare, the Tromblon remnants provide an interesting habitat for marine fauna.

epave tromblon
épave l'Ariane

L'Ariane: the forbidden wreck

A forbidden dive

The wreck of the Ariane, a French attack submarine, lies on a sandy seabed at a depth of 30 meters. Although access is strictly forbidden without authorization from the French Navy, it offers a fascinating spectacle. Despite the damage caused by firing exercises at the French Navy's diving school in Saint Mandrier, it is surprisingly well preserved. The absence of a propeller in no way detracts from the appeal of its streamlined silhouette, 49.6 metres long and 5.8 metres wide.

Risky exploration: narrow interior and reduced visibility

For those who obtain special authorization, exploring the Ariane requires meticulous preparation. The narrow interior of the submarine is littered with suspended pipes and cables, making every move a delicate one. What's more, visibility can be rapidly reduced by sediments that rise up at the slightest sudden movement. Despite these challenges, passage through the access hatch to the aft berth offers a glimpse of the engine room, while the kiosk provides an overall view of the submarine overlooking the 10-metre sand. The front of the submarine can also be entered through the torpedo hatch. The tour of the Ariane ends with an exploration of its bow, a majestic vision that evokes a gigantic blade splitting into the abyss. This last stop offers a sense of wonder at the grandeur and power of this wreck.

Historic shipwrecks

Shipwrecked in the fog: The tragic fate of the Michel C

The fateful voyage: collision at sea

The Michel C, a steam coaster built in Ireland in 1866 by Renfrew Shipyards of Belfast and loaded with beer bottles and flour sacks, was sailing from Marseille to Cannes when it collided with the Amphion, another ship from the same company. Visibility was reduced by fog, and the unexpected encounter took place in the pass between the islands of Hyères.

The Michel C wreck: an underwater testimony

Atop a rock near the wreck of the Ville De Grasse, the Michel C lies at a depth of 32 meters to port. The remains extend over a distance of 50 meters, and despite the years spent underwater, the wreck retains a certain integrity that enables its various parts to be identified. The best-preserved part, at a depth of 39 meters, offers a striking view of Capon's winches, anchors and cranes. Access to the inside of the bow is relatively easy, allowing divers to explore further. The aft deck rests a few metres on the sand, bearing witness to the violent impact of the wreck.

A dive beyond the wreck

The area surrounding the wreck is teeming with marine life, including majestic groupers. At a depth of around 50 meters, less than 100 meters from the wreck, divers discover a superb drop-off decorated with large red gorgonians. Wolves prowl nearby, conger eels lurk in the holes, and sometimes even mostelles reveal themselves in the semi-darkened nooks and crannies. It is important to note that the current can be quite strong on this dive site, requiring particular attention.

épave Michel C

The Ville de Grasse sinks at night

The cursed night of December 15, 1851

The Ville de Grasse, an iron-wheeled steamer belonging to the Grasse-Cannes Company, ran its usual route between Marseille, Cannes and Nice. Loaded with 54 passengers and a diverse cargo including silks and oil, the ship set sail on the evening of December 15, 1851. At three o'clock in the morning, the Ville de Marseille - belonging to the Compagnie André et Abeille - collided violently with the Ville de Grasse in the small Porquerolles channel. The Ville de Grasse is practically cut in two, and is sinking fast.

Discover the shattered wreck of Ville de Grasse

The deepest part of the wreck is the bow, at a depth of 50 meters. However, it is severely damaged and of little interest to explorers. The most interesting part of the wreck is the stern, located at 49 meters on a sandy seabed. It was quickly explored, as few remains remained. The two paddlewheels are the main attraction of the wreck, along with the engine, boiler and gigantic transmission mechanism, the only elements still visible and recognizable.

The elusive treasures: In search of the legendary Ville de Grasse treasure

The chimney, bridge and superstructure have all disappeared. It is estimated that around 15 people were reported missing when the boat sank. Survivors were rescued by the steamers Ville de Marseille, Ville de Nantes and Ville de Bordeaux. Rumor has it that the Ville de Grasse's cargo also contained 1,750 Louis d'Or. In 1958, French Navy divers explored the partially silted-up wreck of the Ville de Grasse in search of this alleged treasure, but to no avail. To put an end to the rumours, the Préfecture Maritime du Var has issued a statement denying the presence of the gold. Nevertheless, divers exploring the wreck can't help but dream.

The Cimentier's lost secrets

A shipwreck with mysterious origins

The origin of the sinking of the Cimentier remains an unsolved mystery. Due to its concrete structure, the state of preservation of this vessel hardly fluctuates from one year to the next, making it difficult to date the event precisely. However, the most widely accepted hypothesis suggests that the Cimentier was deliberately sunk by the German army during the Second World War. Its purpose would have been to "break" the powerful waves that formed between the north-western tip of Porquerolles island and the island of Petit Langoustier on mistral-force days. The general condition of the wreck, with no machinery, no propeller and no superstructure, reinforces this possibility. However, another hypothesis suggests an accidental sinking during work at sea, but is less convincing.

An underwater adventure for beginners

Located close to the Jaume Garde turret, the Cimentier offers Open Water Diver level divers a rare opportunity to explore a wreck. With a maximum depth of 15 meters, it's the ideal place to try your hand at wreck diving and discover the mysteries underwater.

A fascinating landscape for underwater explorers

Le Cimentier reveals its secrets to scuba divers, who can safely enter its large, torn hold. Visibility is generally good and diving conditions offer few surprises. The absence of strong currents and the relative protection of nearby Porquerolles Island reduce swell movements. The surrounding waters are teeming with schools of Girelles and other marine species, such as Castagnoles and squid.

The Donator wreck: the reference in the Mediterranean

A cargo ship rich in history

The Donator, formerly known as the Prosper Schiaffino, is a 78-meter-long, 12-meter-wide cargo ship built in Norway in 1931. During her lifetime, she was involved in the transport of bananas between France and the West Indies, then acquired by the Compagnie Schiaffino, a family fleet named after the owning family. During the Second World War, the company's fleet was almost entirely destroyed, leaving the Donator as the last operational vessel. However, in 1945, while rounding the island of Porquerolles from the south in a heavy swell and mistral wind, the ship hit a mine, causing a devastating explosion and destroying the stern.

The splendour of the wreck

Today, the wreck of the Donator is a popular site for experienced divers. The well-preserved wreck lies upright on a sandy seabed, offering spectacular views from a depth of 25 meters. Diving allows you to discover several parts of the ship. The best place to start is by exploring the deepest parts of the wreck, such as the impressive propeller and rudder, located at a depth of 51 meters, giving a glimpse of the power needed to move the ship. Moving up to the bow, divers can observe the steering wheel, then discover a spare propeller just behind the stern castle.

Continuing forward, at a depth of 40 metres, the deck has completely disappeared as the ship is gutted. The aft hold, which housed the engines and vats probably filled with wine when the ship sank, can be explored with caution at a depth of 44 metres. The superstructures lie at a depth of 35 metres, where the remains of the passageways offer an interesting sight. The davits on either side of the bridge rise towards the surface.

Moving towards the center of the superstructure, the base of the missing chimney can be seen. A small kitchen with stoves attracts the attention of the divers. Leaving the galley on the starboard side, a narrow passageway leads to the central hold, before emerging near the mast.

Continuing towards the bow, the crew's quarters are revealed, with a bathtub and toilet. The break caused by the explosion is the next stage of exploration. The forward hold, plunged into darkness, offers a spectacular view of the surrounding blue, creating a cinematic experience. The impressive size of the blowhole testifies to the violence and rapidity of the shipwreck. On exiting the hold, the divers reach the bow, which is tilted slightly to port and shows visible damage. Items such as load bars, tanks and other unidentifiable scrap metal are scattered throughout this part of the wreck.

A risky dive

Diving on the Donator requires careful preparation, due to the depth at which the wreck lies and the extremely violent currents that sometimes prevail on the site. Many divers underestimated this aspect and were unable to see the wreck up close. To get the most out of the experience, we recommend two or three dives to explore all parts of the vessel in detail.

A wealth of flora and fauna

The flora and fauna that call the Donator home are breathtaking. Red and yellow gorgonians, sponges and alcyons literally cover the freighter, creating a veritable flowering reef. The superstructures and corridors are the most densely colonized areas, where the density is such that it is sometimes difficult to make one's way through. Schools of anthias, castagnoles and sars also attract gilthead bream. In the dark corners of the ship, you'll find capons, brown and red scorpion fish, as well as conger eels and moray eels on the prowl. Finally, on the sand around the wreck you can spot mostelles and huge red mullets.

Exploration of the wreck of Le Grec: a plunge into history

The wreck of the Sagona, also known as the Grec, is a pinardier bulk cargo ship. Built in Dundee in 1912, this 53.30-meter-long, 8.60-meter-wide vessel has changed owners several times over the years. On December 3, 1945, while carrying a cargo of wine, the Sagona hit a mine on her port bow in the Grande Passe area, causing her to sink rapidly. The wreck of the Grec is now divided into two distinct parts, separated by a few dozen meters, following the explosion that severed it. The middle section and aft stern stand proudly on the seabed, while the bow is badly dislocated. This dive is a real adventure, but it's worth noting that the experience won't be easy due to the depth of 48 meters and the strong currents that can prevail in the area.

The origin of the Greek name

The origin of the Greek's name is linked to a singular situation. After being forgotten for some time, the Sagona wreck had lost its original identity. However, when Navy divers were dispatched to observe her, they found documents written in Greek, and renamed the Sagona in Greek. Since then, this name has remained attached to the wreck, making it more famous under the name of the Grec than under that of the Sagona, just as the Donator is more famous than the Prosper Schiaffino.

A captivating journey

The descent to the wreck of the Grec begins in open water, offering a breathtaking view of the two pieces of wreckage, more widely spaced than those of the Donator. The visit can begin at the stern, where the propeller lies at a depth of 47 meters, the deepest part of the wreck. Climbing up to the dunette at 40 meters, you'll notice a cladding that gives it a distinctive appearance. Next, an open hatch provides access to an empty, uninteresting hold. Before leaving, we pause to contemplate the imposing Grec winch.

As we continue our exploration towards the break, the superstructures of the cabins and lounges are revealed to intrepid divers. The sumptuous 35-metre-high passageways lead to the fireplace, which, although damaged, retains a respectable size that commands respect. Two coat racks remain on the starboard side, one of which faces the chimney. The break then allows deeper penetration into the wreck.

The bow of the Greek's wreck lies 60 to 80 meters north of the stern, at a depth of 47 meters, similar to that of the propeller. The mast is still there, although it now rests on the port side. This part of the wreck, with the exception of the marine life that inhabits it, is of less interest. A full tour of the wreck will depend on current conditions, divers' level of expertise and available air supplies.

An abundance of marine life

Gorgonians have conquered every nook and cranny of Le Grec, offering a striking visual spectacle. The rare density of schools of anthias and castagnoles adds to the beauty of the underwater environment. The many bugs glint like silver tips. Although perhaps less numerous than on the Donator, conger eels can also be spotted in the holds, while groupers, red mullets, scorpion fish, capons and moray eels are also among the inhabitants of this fascinating underwater ecosystem.

La Mona: A Brusque artificial reef

La Mona, a French Navy harbor tug built in 1949, long performed harbor duties before remaining stationary in the port of Le Brusc, near L'Armoise. After first sinking in the harbour, it was refloated for demolition. It was intentionally sunk opposite the trou de l'or beach in 1987 on its way to its demolition yard in Toulon. On a sandy seabed between 28 and 35 meters deep, the wreck is tilted slightly to starboard.

Accessible diving brought to life by local marine life

Colonized by crustaceans and covered with bryozoans, the Mona now serves as an artificial reef. Diving the Mona wreck is an accessible experience. Although the wreck is small, it is in excellent condition, resting upright on its keel. The propeller and superstructure are gone, but the wreck as a whole looks impressive: a magnificent iron bar covered with fragile salmacines in a small cabin, an intact engine compartment that can be explored, a clear deck and mineral formations present in moderate quantities. What's more, the wreck is dominated by a dominant bow, rising 4 to 5 metres above the seabed.

Conditions to take into account

Environmental conditions for diving on the Mona wreck are generally favorable. The water is clear and the bottom is composed of white shell sand. However, it should be noted that the site is exposed to winds from the Ponant, Mistral and East, which can influence diving conditions.