Tag Archives: WW1

WWI submarine graveyard discovered by underwater archaeologists

german u-boat (whatsthatpicture flickr)

A short way off England’s south and east coasts, under less than 50 feet of water, archaeologists have discovered the remains of 41 German and 3 UK submarines sunk during World War I. Der Spiegel reports that the watery graveyard is home to several U-boats that the German Imperial Navy still lists as missing. Now that the vessels have been discovered, the race is on to explore them before they disintegrate entirely.

Nearly half of Germany’s 380 U-boats were lost during the war

The German vessels were an integral part of Germany’s naval strategy at the time, inflicting heavy damages on the British fleet. But when discovered, their slow speed and undeveloped torpedo technology ultimately left them easy prey for warships, and nearly half of Germany’s 380 U-boats were lost during the war.

Since many of the subs were sunk during active duty, the bodies of the crew are expected to still be inside — what are called “disaster samples.” But further examination and preservation of the sites presents some tricky legal hurdles. Firstly, under UK law, the sunken subs are considered “inviolable gravesites.” And secondly, UNESCO doesn’t consider the wrecks to be archaeological artifacts worth protecting since they’re still less than 100 years old.

Source – The Verge

TV review – Time Team Special: The Lost Submarine of WWI

It’s hard to look at Sir Tony Robinson without conjuring an image of perennial idiot and Blackadder whipping boy Baldrick, writes  Tim Spiers.


Sir Tony Robinson with the nuclear powered boat HMS Ambush (Blog editor takes no credit for this obvious inaccuracy!!)

His cunning plans and overwhelming stupidity earned Baldrick and Robinson cult status in the BBC sitcom and launched the actor’s career.

And rather oddly that career has taken a peculiar turn in recent years, with Robinson earning a niche for himself tucked away on Channel 4 on Sunday nights.

Time Team is, in the nicest possible sense, Geek TV, at least in its subject matter.

But as The Lost Submarine of WWI proves, that subject matter can be fascinating, educational and entertaining.

In it we see Robinson explore the story behind the very first submarines of warfare, focusing on the run-up to WWI and an arms race to build the most technologically advanced subs to try to win the war.

Submarines are compared favourably to tanks and machine guns in the way that they changed the face of warfare forever – they’re labelled as the weapon that changed the world, and with good reason.

First off Robinson travels to a secret location off the island of Skye to see firsthand the very latest in submarine technology.

Nuclear-powered sub HMS Ambush weighs 7,400 tonnes, can purify its own air and water, travel around the globe without ever popping above the surface and will never be refuelled in its 25 years of service.

It’s a far cry from the primitive early boats of the early 1900s, but comparisons between then and now are plentiful.

To prove this we’re taken back more than 100 years to discover a submarine which changed warfare forever.

And the Holland 5 was built here in Britain.

All design elements that modern designers take for granted came to life in this sub, which actually began life as an anti-British terrorist weapon.

Irish Republican John Holland designed the early Holland prototypes and was linked with what was effectively the US arm of the IRA.

The plan was to build a submarine capable of sinking a battleship, but Holland’s designs never came to fruition and his business partner came to the UK and duly licensed the Holland 5 for the Royal Navy.

The first incarnation of the series – Holland 1 – was extremely basic but by the time Holland 5 came around, complete with a periscope, a storage tank for water to help keep its balance and a new system for diving gently into the water, the British had designed a submarine fit to take on the Germans.

Perhaps surprisingly submarines were criticised by some – they were labelled as underhand and ‘un-English’, with a strong sense of questioning the morality at being so sneaky, even if it meant the enemy would be defeated.

History buffs will eat this stuff up with a spoon but there’s interest for casual observers too.

And Time Team excels in keeping it simple for the viewer, so that even the most unlikely subject matters become accessible.

As for the Holland 5, it sank in the English Channel and rapid technological advances meant that it soon became outdated and new fleets of submarines – on both sides of the war – were hastily constructed from 1914 onwards. But the groundwork had been done and the British submarines played a substantial role in winning the war, making the Holland 5 a hugely successful invention.

Or as Robinson might put it, a rather good cunning plan.

Source – Shropshire Star

UK – Forgotten logbook reveals bid to raise WWI submarine

The forgotten logbook of a former Royal Navy diver has revealed a fascinating  insight into attempts to raise a unique First World War submarine that sank more  than 80 years ago as the result of a tragic accident.

The faded and yellowing diary was rediscovered by the family of Plymouth-born  Albert “Bob” Smale who, as a 23-year-old recently-qualified navy diver took part  in a year-long salvage operation to raise the world’s very first underwater  aircraft carrier, HMS M2.

  1. Lee Smale, 62, pictured with his father's logbook

    Lee Smale, 62, pictured with his father’s  logbook

  2. The world's first underwater aircraft carrier HMS M2 in action with her two-man Parnell Peto biplane – the ship sank while on a routine training exercise off West Bay, Dorset, in 1932

    The world’s first underwater aircraft carrier HMS  M2 in action with her two-man Parnell Peto biplane – the ship sank while on a  routine training exercise off West Bay, Dorset, in 1932

  3. Lieutenant Commander Lionel 'Buster' Crabbe disappeared in the murky waters of Portsmouth Harbour

    Lieutenant Commander Lionel ‘Buster’ Crabbe  disappeared in the murky waters of Portsmouth Harbour

  4. Albert 'Bob' Smale during his Royal Navy career, in which he served as a diver

    Albert ‘Bob’ Smale during his Royal Navy career,  in which he served as a diver

Lee Smale, 62, of Plymouth,  the youngest son of four children born to Bob  and Gladys Smale, remembers his father’s logbook from childhood.

He said: “The logbook had always been in the family but we’d never really  given it much thought. He died in 1968 but it was only when we began sorting  through my mother’s things when she moved into sheltered accommodation that it  resurfaced.

“But looking through all his belongings and coming across the logbook again,  the family recognised its significance.”

The M2 was one of four “M” class submarines put into service during the First  World War and following the cessation of hostilities was modified to carry a  small two-seater Parnell Peto biplane.

Intended for aerial reconnaissance during advance scouting missions, the aircraft had hinged wings to allow it to fit within a specially designed watertight hangar. Launched by hydraulic “catapult”, the Peto was recovered via a deck-mounted crane on its return.

On January 26, 1932, during a routine training exercise off West Bay, Dorset,  after advising her support vessel of her intention to dive, all contact with the  M2 was lost and the submarine disappeared without trace.

A major search ensued but with her position unknown it was eight days before  the M2’s location was eventually discovered.  All of the vessel’s   60-strong  crew lost their lives in the tragedy – believed to be a direct consequence of a  failure to secure the submarine’s hangar doors before diving.

Lying upright on the seabed at a depth in excess of 30 metres, the Royal Navy  salvage team, hindered by the strong tidal currents that swirled around the M2,  worked around the clock for   11 months to seal the hull before filling the  vessel with air to refloat the stricken submarine.

However, as the salvage attempt reached its final stage, and only six metres  from the surface, a heavy gale resulted in the operation being aborted and the  M2 dropped back down to the seabed.

The neat handwritten pages of the logbook initially record Mr Smale’s diver  training, but further examination  revealed a passage dedicated to the M2  salvage work carried out by himself and his colleagues.

Under a heading entitled “M2 Salvage,” Mr Smale describes the “method of  sealing hatches with cement”.

“Hatch is closed down and then a layer of small bags filled with cement is  placed on top, and then a few buckets of loose cement is put on to fill in the  spaces between bags,” he wrote.

The logbook also contains a detailed hand-drawn illustration of the submarine  showing its position, features and amendments before the failed lifting  operation.

The difficulties of working at such a depth, contending with strong tides,  poor visibility and bad weather while dressed in the heavy brass helmets of the  era are also conveyed in detail in a collection of newspaper cuttings pasted  among the book’s pages.

The Dorset Echo newspaper reported: “He has an electric torch swung around  his neck. The feeble illumination of this helps him when the torch is held  close, but his principal asset is a sense of direction acquired by experience  and that astonishing sensitiveness of touch which utter darkness gives to a  diver as to a man who is blind.”

“My dad had quite a varied and distinguished career,” said Lee, who also has  a certificate in recognition of his father’s Mention in Dispatches during the  Wanhsien Incident on the Yangtze River, China in 1926.

Going on to achieve the rank of Petty Officer, Bob Smale was a contemporary  and close friend of Lionel “Buster” Crabb, the Royal Navy frogman who  disappeared in mysterious circumstances at the height of the Cold War.

Lieutenant Commander Crabb, came to prominence for his pioneering work in  underwater bomb disposal during the Second World War and while he had all but  retired by 1955, just a year later he was recruited by MI6 to investigate an  advanced propulsion system used by the Soviet cruiser Ordzhonikidze during the  vessel’s visit to the United Kingdom.

On the evening of  April 19, 1956, Crabb descended into the murky waters of  Portsmouth Harbour on what was to be his final mission and was never seen  again.

Several months later the headless and handless corpse of a diver was  discovered floating in a nearby harbour, but this was not the end of Commander  Crabb’s story.

At the inquest into Crabb’s disappearance, the coroner’s report suggested the  body was in all probability that of the missing 47-year-old OBE and George Medal  holder – despite the lack of firm evidence which could have been provided by  fingerprints or dental records.

Unsurprisingly, various theories abounded as to Crabb’s fate: he was killed  by a Soviet sniper; eliminated by MI5 or even defected to the USSR to head their  military diving team.

However, Lee Smale is adamant that his father’s friend did not die on that  fateful night.

“He and my father were apparently very close and he told members of the  family at the time that he didn’t believe for one minute that Crabb was dead,”  he said.

With her protected status as a War Grave, the wreck of HMS M2 has now become  popular dive site with recreational scuba divers.

Allowed to dive her remains on a “look-but-don’t-touch” basis, the modern-day  diver can observe the M2’s final resting place, just as Bob Smale did more than  80 years ago.

Source – This is Cornwall

Hunt for lost First World War submarines

Explorers are launching a new project to locate dozens of British and German submarines which sank off the coast of England during the First World War, as part of a major new study to mark the centenary of the conflict.

Day trippers crowd around the German Submarine U Boat U118, washed up on the beach at Hastings, East Sussex, in 1919.

Day trippers crowd around the German Submarine U Boat U118, washed up on the beach at Hastings, East Sussex, in 1919.

The English Heritage research will involve identification and analysis of all submarine shipwrecks from the period which are within territorial waters – 12 miles from the coast.

Preliminary research by the team, studying historical records, has already identified three British and 41 German submarines from the conflict which are known to have sunk in the area.

The locations of some of these have already been established, but others have yet to be discovered.

Once they have been found, the team will dive onto them to assess their condition. They will then decide whether any measures can be taken to slow down the shipwrecks’ rate of decay on the seabed.

Depending on their historical significance, the vessels may also be added to existing list of shipwrecks covered by the Protection of Wrecks Act, which tightly controls such sites, or scheduled as an ancient monument.

If the vessels sank with men on board, they could be added to the register covered by the Protection of Military Remains Act, to ensure the war graves cannot be disturbed.

Mark Dunkley, a marine archaeologist with EH, said: “These sites may be out of sight, but they are still an important part of our heritage. There are people still around who will have a link to the men lost on these boats.

“They are an important part of family, as well as military, history.

“People might know more about U-boats in the Second World War, but this project will show just what a significant part they played in the first world war – and very close to land.”

The locations of around half of the 44 vessels are known. To find the others, EH is planning to enlist the help of local diving groups around the coast.

Although most associated with the Second World War, submarine warfare was first deployed during the earlier conflict, as German U-boats attempted to cut supply lines into and around the British Isles, while Royal Navy vessels patrolled in search of enemy ships.

At the start of the war, submarines were supposed to abide by international rules which complied them to then allow the crews of merchant ships to get to safety before sinking their vessels.

But this swiftly became impractical and led to the adoption of unrestricted submarine warfare by Germany, which, nearly brought Britain to its knees in 1917.

During the course of the war, German U-boats sank more than 12 million tons of shipping – around 5,000 ships – with the loss of 178 submarines and almost 5,000 men killed.

Most of the wrecks covered by the English Heritage project, which is expected to run throughout the four years of the Great War centenary, are German submarines which were targeting coastal routes, either attacking merchant shipping with torpedoes or laying mines.

They include UB65, which sank HMS Arbutus, a Royal Navy sloop, as well as six merchant ships and damaged six more, before sinking with the loss of all 37 crew near Padstow, Cornwall in July 1918.

The vessel, which went to the bottom after an apparent accident, had been plagued by bad luck and deaths and before its loss the German navy is said to have called a priest on board to perform an exorcism.

They also include UB115, which sank off the coast of Northumberland in 1918 with the loss of all 39 crew, after being attacked by British armed trawlers, warships, and even an airship, R29, which dropped bombs on it.

Several others went down off the east coast, among them UB107, which sank off Flamborough Head in July 1918, either as a result of an attack by British vessels, an accident, or after hitting a mine; UB41, last sighted by the SS Melbourne on October 5 1917 off Scarborough, which is thought to have struck a mine of suffered an internal explosion; and UB75, which had left Borkum on November 29, 1917 for the Whitby area. She succeeded in sinking four ships but never made it back home.

The only three Royal Navy submarines covered by the project were lost in accidents: HMS G3, which ran aground in Filey Bay, North Yorkshire, after the war in 1921; HMS G11, which ran aground near Howick, Northumberland, 1918; and HMS J6, which was sunk in a friendly fire incident, after being mistaken for a U-boat in 1918.

A young couple pose for photographs on the wreck of HMS G3 in Filey Bay, North Yorkshire.

English Heritage has responsibility for all historic wrecks off the English coast, but most of those it cares for are wooden warships.

To find out more about how to preserve the metal vessels from the First World War, it conducted a preparatory survey last year, on the wrecks of two submarines which sank just before the conflict – the Holland No 5, which sank off Beachy Head in 1912 and the A1, which went down in Bracklesham Bay a year earlier.

Both vessels sank without loss of life, although the A1 had previously sunk, in 1904, with the loss of all hands.

Both boats had a hull half an inch thick, but after more than 100 years on the seabed, researchers found these had thinned to as little as a quarter of an inch in places.

The team believe that some wrecks can be preserved by placing on them “sacrificial” anodes, which corrode at a faster rate, protecting the hulls.

Source – The Telegraph