Thursday, November 23, 2006

U-boat could solve Kitchener mystery

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The Herald
By Ian Bruce
November 23, 2006


The chance discovery of the wreck of a First World War German U-boat could help solve the 90-year mystery of the death of Lord Kitchener, the most senior British field marshal and diplomat of his day, while on a secret mission to Russia.

The hulk of what has now been identified as the U-102 was found 70 miles east of Sanday Sound in Orkney during a routine survey by the Maritime and Coastguard Agency earlier this year.

The stricken submarine was commanded by Kurt Beitzen, a legendary North Sea raider and the man who laid a belt of floating mines which sank the cruiser HMS Hampshire with Field Marshal Kitchener and his staff aboard in 1916.

The warship went down in minutes with the loss of 643 of its 655 crew and passengers shortly after setting out from Scapa Flow.

The mines ruptured its hull and a 55mph gale which the navy had exploited to conceal the cruiser's departure did the rest. Many of those who managed to abandon ship died from exposure in the water.

Kitchener's body was never recovered, spawning scores of conspiracy and assassination theories.

One led to Winston Churchill suing Lord Alfred Douglas successfully for libel after the being accused of collusion in the field marshal's death. Kitchener had been critical of the disastrous allied landings at Gallipoli championed by Churchill.

Another claimed that the Hampshire had been sunk by IRA explosive charges.
A third cited the fact that David Lloyd George, then minister of munitions, was supposed to have accompanied Kitchener but cancelled at the last minute as proof of a government-level plot.

No plans have yet been made to dive on the U-boat, which is an official war grave. But naval sources said yesterday that the possibility that Kapitan Beitzen's waterproofed logbook might have survived made it "almost certain" that an effort would be made to search the wreck.

His operational account of the mission might finally put the conspiracy rumour-mill out of business.

Beitzen was skipper of the U-75 when it laid the fatal chain of mines designed to hamstring the Royal Navy's movement out of Scapa Flow.

He later transferred to the U-102 and was sunk in his turn two months before the war ended by a British defensive minefield known as the "northern barrage", an area between Ronaldsay and Shetland, on his way back to Germany.

A second submarine, the U-92, was also located and identified by the sonar survey in the same area. It, too, had been sunk by British mines.


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