Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Council's plans to raise U-boat move forward


Derry Journal
August 28, 2007

Ambitious plans to raise a U-boat from the sea bed in order to display it in the city may be coming closer to reality.

Derry City Council have announced that they are currently trying to secure funding for the project to raise the submarine.

Last year, the Council said that it was looking into plans to raise one of the infamous German U-boats from the sea bed off Donegal to display it in order to recognise the important role the city played in hunting the submarine which preyed on convoys in the North Atlantic.

During the Second World War, Derry’s port was an important command post for British naval patrols on convoy and anti-submarine duty. At the end of the war in 1945, the remains of the German submarine fleet were taken to Lisahally where they surrendered. The U-boats were then taken to various locations off the
Donegal coast and scuttled. Dozens of submarine now lie beneath the sea off the coast.

One particular submarine, U-778, has been singled out as the easiest to raise to the surface as it is not buried in mud. The wreck of U-778 lies 70 metres below the surface 16 miles north-west of Malin Head.

A spokesperson for Derry City Council said that the Museum and Heritage Service is currently working to take this project forward by consulting with the appropriate statutory agencies in relation to maritime and archaeological legislation that exists with regard to the removal of such craft. The Council is also working to seek to identify funding sources to assist with the project.

However, the project could run into problems as salvage experts believe that there must be a ‘tripartite agreement’ between Britain, the United States, and Russia before permission for any salvage work is granted.


Monday, August 20, 2007

Raise the U-boat: council plans to put Nazi sub in maritime museum


The Guardian
By Owen Bowcott
August 20, 2007

Derry hopes to recover one of the many German vessels scuttled off the Irish coast

Sixty years ago the Nazi U-boat fleet that menaced wartime Atlantic convoys and threatened Britain with starvation was scuttled off the north-west coast of Ireland. The sunken hulls and rusting torpedo tubes are encrusted with coral.

Salvage plans are now being explored to see whether one of the German submarines could be raised from the deep and brought ashore. The vessel and its wartime technology could be put on display as the central attraction for a new maritime museum in Derry.

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."

A similar operation was carried out in 1993 when U-534 was raised from the sea bed between Sweden and Denmark at a cost of around £3m. It was later put on display in Birkenhead on Merseyside.

With several Royal Navy bases no longer in use in Derry, the city council is eager to make use of one of the former sites to commemorate the city's wartime link with the campaign in the north Atlantic. A salvaged U-boat, councillors hope, could become a popular tourist attraction giving the city an alternative historical focus to its more prominent sectarian past.

Derry's main port at Lisahally was the command post for British naval patrols on convoy and anti-submarine duty. It was also the scene on May 8 1945 of the mass surrender of the remains of the German U-boat fleet.

Under Operation Deadlight, the British navy was ordered to destroy the surviving U-boats to ensure they could never again endanger international shipping.

The submarines were towed out of Lisahally one by one and sunk. The operation began on November 25 1945 and the last U-boat was sunk on February 12 1946.

Some submarines were scuttled after explosive charges had been placed around hatches and torpedo tubes. Others were used for target practice by aircraft or what was then a top secret ship-to-ship missile, the Squid. U-3514, the last submarine to go down, resisted a wave of strafing and bomb attacks before it finally upended and slipped below the water.

Shaun Gallagher, a Social Democratic and Labour party councillor and former mayor of Derry, has been one of the driving forces behind the proposal to raise a U-boat. "We have written to the Department of the Marine in Dublin to try and establish who has salvage rights for these boats," he said. "We have arranged for dives to take place this summer and for films to be brought back so that people can see what's down there.

"The U-boats are in international waters off Malin Head. There's one [U-778] in very clear water and completely intact because it sank when being towed into Lisahally from Norway. Because no one died on the submarines, they are not war graves.

"All the Enigma code machines were taken off before they were sunk but there's lots of valuable brass and other metals on them. Our plan is to raise one of the U-boats, restore it and put it on display in a former naval site."

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."

A tripartite agreement between Britain, the US and Russia requires permission from all three former allies before any salvage work is done.

Richard Lafferty, of the diving firm Aquaholics, in Portstewart, County Derry, has been down to investigate U-boat wrecks. "Some are damaged by shelling," he said. "Others are intact."

"Some are in relatively shallow water, about 40 metres deep. They are amazing wrecks that have attracted an incredible amount of marine life. There's soft coral and sponges growing on them with shoals of fish swimming in and out."


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.


Sunday, August 19, 2007

Sunken U-boat mystery solved too late for vilified commander of escort ship


Daily Sun
By Gary Corsair
August 19, 2007

Accuracy is something R.E. Johnson holds dear, whether he’s playing in The Villages Concert Band, volunteering at the Lady Lake Police Department or manning his ham radio in an emergency.

He’s the ultimate “if something’s worth doing, it’s worth doing right” guy, which is why he bristles at a grave error that for 59 years followed the submarine chaser he served on during World War II.

“This just shows what the desk writers do to people,” says Johnson, a Village of Del Mar resident. “They ride their chairs at the desk and try to manipulate other people. They make decisions without being at the scene.”

The scene of Johnson’s ire: the Gulf of Mexico, off the Louisiana coast, where a German U-boat sank the freighter, Robert E. Lee, with a torpedo on July 30, 1942. The Robert E. Lee was being escorted by the USS PC-566.

“As I understand from bits of information I have been given, the PC-566 was criticized for not getting the sub,” said Johnson, who joined the crew of PC-566 in December 1944.

By then — two-and-a-half-years after the incident — mum was the word among crew members. A pall of shame seemed to hang over the PC-566.

“I guess there was not much said about it at that time because the commander of the 566 was not in good graces,” Johnson said.

That’s an understatement. Sixty-five years ago this month, PC-566 skipper, Lt. Commander H. C. Claudius, was reprimanded for the incident, even though he acted quickly and decisively.

“Skipper laid down two 5-ton salvoes, got a ping, dropped another, then proceeded to the Robert E. Lee, and started picking up survivors,” Johnson said.

The salvoes seemed to produce the desired effect. The men aboard the PC-566 saw a diesel oil slick on the water shortly after the depth charges were deployed. Still, no one could say for certain that the sub had been crippled. U-boat commanders trying to escape depth charges often released oil to deceive their attackers.

Claudius always believed he had crippled the sub. The “desk writers” disagreed.

“The naval review board went as far as to say he could not have possibly sunk the sub and sent him to additional training to learn the ‘right way’ to deploy depth charges,” says marine archaeologist Robert Church.

Turns out Claudius and his men were right. In fact, the PC-566 was the only ship to ever sink a German U-boat in the Gulf of Mexico.

The fate of U-166, the sub that sank the Robert E. Lee, remained a mystery until January 2001, when C&C Technologies discovered the U-boat in 5,000 feet of water 45 miles off the tip of the Mississippi River Delta while surveying a route for a 100-mile natural gas pipeline for BP and Shell. U-166 lies just 5,000 feet from the Robert E. Lee.

What became of the U-166 (Germany reported it lost at sea) would probably still be a mystery if not for advanced technology. The sub was located by C&C’s HUGIN 3000 (High Precision Untethered Geosurvey and Inspection System), which utilizes multi-beam bathymetry and imagery, dual-frequency chirp, side-scan sonar, chirp sub-bottom profiler, and acoustic tracking.

Unfortunately, the discovery came too late for Claudius, who died of a massive heart attack in 1981 following a distinguished Naval career. And the men he commanded aboard the PC-566 have also passed on, leaving Johnson as the keeper of the flame of history rewritten.

“I guess I am about the only one still looking down at the grass who was a member of the PC-566,” he said.


Sunk U-Boat 33 threatening to resurface in English Channel


The Hindu
August 19, 2007

The sunk U-Boat 33, which was one of the deadliest submarines in the German Navy's fleet during World War I, is threatening to rise from the depths of the English Channel where it met its own end in 1918.

Lying in shallow waters, the wrecked UB-33 has been disturbed by passing vessels, leading to fears that it could break free from the seabed and rise to the surface to pose a new danger to cargo ships, tankers and ferries in the English Channel, the 'Daily Mail' has reported. Currently, the U-Boat 33 is lying 77ft down, but the official minimum clearance depth is 87ft.

A salvage operation has recently been launched to prevent the submarine from hitting any of the hundreds of ships that cross the English Channel each day. The area is directly beneath the shipping lane used by ferries travelling to Calais and Boulogne.

Trinity House, the institution which marks shipping lanes and maintains lighthouses, has temporarily stationed a vessel over the spot to warn ships and planning to gently move the U-Boat 33 to deeper water. "It has been there a long time, but now the wreck has started to move and it is causing concern as it has once again become a danger to shipping," the daily quoted Trinity House spokesman Vikki Gilson as saying.

"We have had divers surveying the wreck and one solution would be to re-set the wreck in a deeper position. It has been a hazardous job for the divers, but their survey is now complete. In the next few weeks, when conditions are right, we are hopeful we can move the boat."