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Forces War Records Blog

THE SEARCH FOR LOST WWI SUBMARINES

Blogger: GemSen Dozens of British and German submarines sank of the coast of England during World War I - now a new project marking the centenary aims to find them. The research, by English Heritage, aims to identify and analyse submarine wrecks that are of the First World War period and within territorial waters. Once they have been discovered, a team of explorers will dive into the water and assess the wrecks. Then it will be decided whether any can be salvaged and hopefully their rate of decay can be slowed down. It is believed that some wrecks might be best preserved by placing on them ‘sacrificial’ anodes to protect the hulls. English Heritage has responsibility for all historic wrecks off the English coast, however most of those it cares for are wooden warships. If the vessels have enough historical significance they could be recorded as an ancient monument or go on to be added to the existing list of shipwrecks covered by the Protection of Wrecks Act, according to a recent article in the Telegraph. And if there were men on board when the submarines sank then they could be added to the Protection of Military Remains Act, a register that should protect the war graves from being disturbed. Mark Dunkley, a marine archaeologist with English Heritage, told the Telegraph:
“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."
A serious threat to other ships Submarines are most commonly associated with the Second World War, but the first Royal Navy submarine was launched in 1902, developed by John P. Holland. After 1905, Germany produced much more of fighting machine – a diesel-powered Unterseeboot (U-boat) with weapons. They might have been slow, fragile and only able to dive for a couple of hours at a time, but with torpedoes they posed a serious threat to other ships. During World War I, Britain lost 54 submarines with 137 in service. The German Navy had 134 operational U-boats and these managed to sink 192 boats, killing more than 5,400 people. At the start of the war, submarines were supposed to abide by international rules, which attempted to allow the crews of merchant ships to get to safety their vessels sunk. But, this became impractical and unrestricted submarine warfare was adopted by Germany, which, nearly brought Britain down in 1917. The new scheme is expected to run throughout the four years of the World War I centenary and some initial research studying historical records has apparently already revealed three British and 41 German submarines. The locations of around half of the 44 vessels are known and diving teams are being enlisted around the coast to help find the others. Most of the wrecks covered are actually German submarines that were either attacking merchant shipping with torpedoes or laying mines - targeting coastal routes. Some of the wrecks being looked at include: the UB65, which sank Royal Navy sloop, HMS Arbutus and six merchant ships. It damaged six more, before sinking with the loss of all 37 crew near Padstow, Cornwall in July 1918. The UB115 is another one being researched – this sank, with all of its 39 crew, off the coast of Northumberland in 1918, after being attacked by British armed trawlers, warships, and even an airship, R29, which dropped bombs on it. Several of the others covered by the English Heritage project went down off the east coast. The only three Royal Navy submarines on the list were lost in accidents and include: 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 mistaken for a U-baoat and sank in a friendly fire incident, in 1918. Source: Telegraph and Spartacus Educational Did any of your relatives serve on a Royal Navy submarine during World War I? Search the Forces War Records site and evolve your research. Alternatively, search our 'historic document library' where you will find a range of documents relating to World War I and also the Navy, including the Naval Annual 1913.
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