Plans continue for U-boat salvage..

An update of sorts to a story which was first broadcast in January on the BBC [Realplayer file], Belfast Telegraph report, and which got some attention locally when the Derry Journal noted the Derry City Council’s discussion. As I said, an update of sorts as little headway appears to have been made apart from the note that “A tripartite agreement between Britain, the US and Russia requires permission from all three former allies before any salvage work is done”… but it’s an intriguing and ambitious idea to raise a U-boat from the Atlantic ocean and put it on display to mark the city’s role in World War II as well as it being the site of the official surrender of the remaining U-boat fleet at the end of the war – the U-1231 also surrendered on 14th May 1945. As the Guardian report notes – “The city’s main port at Lisahally was the command post for British naval patrols on convoy and anti-submarine duty.” U-778 has been singled out but only two other U-boats have been raised from the seabed, including one in 1993, the U-534, at a reported cost of £3million, which is currently on display in Birkenhead… and only 4 are on display in various countries.

From the Guardian report

The wreck of U-778 which lies 16 miles north-west of Malin Head, the most northerly tip of the Irish Republic, has been identified as the best candidate for recovery from among the estimated 116 U-boats that litter the ocean floor off the northern Irish coast.

U-778 was built at the end of the war and had never seen action before being sunk.

“It’s about 70 metres down,” said Geoff Millar, a deep-sea diving specialist who is awaiting instructions to descend to the wreck and film it. “It’s not stuck in the mud but sitting on a gravelly bottom. Any recovery operation would take a large salvage platform out to the site and lower slings down to the sea bed that could be slid underneath the submarine and then used to raise it up.”

also quoted is a Derry City Council spokesperson

A Derry city council spokesperson said: “The Museum and Heritage Service is … consulting with statutory agencies in relation to maritime and archaeological legislation with regard to the removal of [a U-boat]. The council is also working to identify funding sources to assist this project.”

and

Backstory

The Battle of the Atlantic, a term coined by Winston Churchill, was the most protracted but decisive campaign of the second world war. “The only thing that ever really frightened me,” Churchill confessed in his memoirs, “was the U-boat peril.” The first German submarine attack came on September 3 1939 – the day Britain declared war – when U-30 sank the liner Athenia off north-west Ireland, mistaking it for an armed merchant cruiser. Operating from France’s Atlantic ports and directed to their targets by long-range Kondor aircraft, the U-boat fleet threatened to throttle Britain’s war effort. In July 1942, 143 ships were sunk in a single month. But improved anti-submarine tactics and the entry of the US into the war tilted the advantage. The turning point came in March 1943 when the cracking of German naval codes used by the Enigma machines enabled the Royal Navy to hunt U-boat packs. Around 3,500 merchant vessels and 175 warships were sunk overall. The Germans lost 783 U-boats.

More on the sinking of the SS Athenia

and on Operation Deadlight which provides the following map of where some of the U-boats were sunk.

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  • Rory

    I trust that due sensitivity is given, before any decision is taken, to the not small matter that this vessel may constitute the final resting place of those crew members who perished within it.

    The protocol as I recall was that such sunken vessels, from whichever side, were to be treated as war graves and left undisturbed and I find it distasteful that commercial and political interests should dismiss so lightly such a tradition of compassion that arose from the ugliness of war.

  • Pete Baker

    Rory

    The U-boats concerned were sunk [scuttled] in Operation Deadlight after the war ended – no crew members died, therefore they’re not war graves.

    U-778’s history is here – as noted in the original post.

  • Dread Cthulhu

    Rory: “The protocol as I recall was that such sunken vessels, from whichever side, were to be treated as war graves and left undisturbed and I find it distasteful that commercial and political interests should dismiss so lightly such a tradition of compassion that arose from the ugliness of war. ”

    Not to pile on, but the vessel was scuttled, post war. This means the vessel was brough out with a skeleton crew, the sea-valves opened and the crew evacuated. In short, no-one went down with the ship. The specific vessel is additionally identified as not having seen service, having been compeleted at the end of the war. Ergo, no one *ever* died on the vessel, short of some tragic accident during its fabrication.

    The Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago has the U-505, a U-boat boarded and captured during the war. It makes for a facinating, if brief, tour.

  • Rory

    Thank you for the information, Pete and Dread, which puts my mind at rest.

  • Donnacha

    Finally, proof of a U-boat docking in Ireland…

  • qubol

    I couldn’t find an answer to this but why were they scuttled? why didn’t the allies keep them – weren’t German uBoats were a pretty impressive technology at the time?

  • Elvis Parker

    Fair play to Shaun Gallagher and the other nationalist cllrs who are backing this. So many SF type nationalists often seem intent on airbrushing everything to do with Stroke City between its creation by the London Guilds right up to Bloody Sunday.
    Derry played an important role in the war when its citizens rallied to fight the facists – a time when Irish and British identities were not seen as irreconible.
    Shame SF/IRA spent so long over the past thirty years trying to go down the facist route.

  • Harry Flashman

    I agree Elvis but Derry City Council has tended to emphasise the wrong side when comemorating the role the city played in the Battle of the Atlantic. They made comemorative ties a few years back which showed a U-boat against the background of a big black “U”. Now they want to put a U-boat on display.

    Would it be a bit much to ask the council to concentrate a bit less on the side issue of a handful of U-boats being brought into the port after the war was over and a bit more on the important point; the previous six years? During this time no U-boats were seen in Derry but only tired Royal Navy, Royal Canadian Navy and later US Navy Corvettes, Frigates, Sloops and Destroyers as they went out to keep open the supply lines that kept the people of Britain and Ireland from starvation and then limped back in up the Foyle where their battered rusty hulls could be patched up for another go.

    Concentrating on the enemy seems to me to rather spectacularly miss the point about Derry’s role in the war. Leave Saint Nazaire to comemorate the U-boats I say and let Derry remember HMS Bluebell, HMCS Wetaskiwin or USS Babbit, it would suit us better.

  • Rory

    Harry Flashman’s mention of St Nazaire reminds me that the only film I ever recall to feature Derry, The Gift Horse, a 1952 British war movie starring Trevor Howard as the a captain called from retirement to command an ancient US warship bequeathed to the RN which led the raid on St Nazaire. During the course of the action the ship must call in to the port of Londonderry, as the film has it, for repairs and the crew repair to a local pub where no recognisable Derry accent can heard among the staff or regulars.

    An oddity and quite by coincidence showing on Film 4 at 1.00pm this afternoon.

  • Harry Flashman

    *An oddity and quite by coincidence showing on Film 4 at 1.00pm this afternoon.*

    Now that is a coincidence, it’s not one of the best WW II B&W British navy movies but it’s not bad, as I recall the bar they have the fight in is the “Electric Bar” which was the name for the bar at the foot of Waterloo Street (the present name escapes me for the moment) which was indeed a hangout of British sailors.

    Any movie which has Jack Hawkins on an open bridge in a duffel with a pipe clenched firmly in his manly jaws and a mug of hot cocoa in his hand as he calmly surveys the grey horizon pretty much has me happy of a Saturday afternoon. “The Cruel Sea” is top but “In Which We Serve”, “Sink the Bismark” and even at a pinch “The Battle of the River Plate” will do. As long as there’s lots of whooop whooop as the destroyers wheel over to chuck depth charges at the hidden U-Boat then I’m hooked.

  • Dread Cthulhu

    qubol: “I couldn’t find an answer to this but why were they scuttled? why didn’t the allies keep them – weren’t German uBoats were a pretty impressive technology at the time? ”

    Depends on the model and the year it was made. Some were simple diesel subs for “local” operations, while others became the basis of the Soviet’s post-war submarines, just as some German jet proto-types became the basis for Soviet Migs following the war. Besides, you only really need one of the better subs to study… and the easiest way to keep the remaining subs out of idle hands is to sink them.

  • Alan

    A propos of nothing, I heard a wonderful story from a friend of a chance meeting in Johnny-Joe’s Bar in Cushendall.

    He had been speaking with a group of German tourists about the local area. One of the Germans was in Cushendall to honour a story told by his father who had been on U boats during the war.

    His father had told him that if he was ever in Ireland to go to Port Vinegar just below old Layde Church outside Cushendall. His father had landed there clandestinely during the war to collect water from the the stream in the valley. The german had visited the Church and walked on the beach in memory of his father.

  • Dread Cthulhu

    Alan: “His father had told him that if he was ever in Ireland to go to Port Vinegar just below old Layde Church outside Cushendall. His father had landed there clandestinely during the war to collect water from the the stream in the valley. The german had visited the Church and walked on the beach in memory of his father. ”

    Not a real shock — if you can land saboteurs on Long Island, NY, from a U-boat, I am sure landing in neutral Ireland, while perhaps a higher degree of difficulty, depending on the route taken, is equally feasible. As for needing the water… well, the old sub hands used to call the WW2 era diesel and diesel-electric boats “pig-boats” for a reason.