Friday, October 26, 2007



The Herald
By Tristan Nichols
October 25, 2007

It's hard to imagine a nuclear submarine welcoming a Royal visitor on board just days after losing a man overboard.

But that's exactly what happened in December 1972 on HMS Courageous.

The anecdote is just one of many that will appear in a new book dedicated to the decommissioned hunter killer submarine, laid up at Devonport Naval Base.

Having ended her operational life in 1992, the former covert surveillance vessel is now enjoying a new lease of life as a city tourist attraction.

And one of the vessel's former leading seamen, Mike 'Pitt' Keathly, is writing a book on her life in a bid to dispel the mystery surrounding nuclear submarines.

"She had a good life," said Pitt, from Saltash, referring to his ocean home between 1970 and 1974.

"She did six operational patrols when she was gathering intelligence and a great many other shorter patrols.

"We tragically lost a man over the side in 1972 off the Isle of Skye and, two or three days later, we welcomed Princess Anne on board.

"The submarine's life was not all squeaky clean. She had her bumps and scrapes - she even bounced off Sanda Island near the Mull of Kintyre once.

"The damage didn't get repaired for four years.The hull was slightly stoved in and it was not repaired until her refit.

"Luckily she was made of some tough metal."

After more than 21 years of service, the 285ft vessel was finally decommissioned in April 1992 at Devonport Naval Base, where she now lies.

Pitt, who has painstakingly helped to restore her over the years and who now also volunteers as a tour guide on her open days, added: "I want to demystify the feelings towards, and the workings of, the nuclear submarine.

"Also I cannot help but feel that if we do not capture a record of what happened during that period, then it will be lost in history.

"During the Cold War, nuclear submarines were a big taboo subject. Fifteen years after the Cold War ended, I feel it is time to tell the story."

Pitt said it had taken him four or five years to get the information together for the book, which he hopes to publish next year.

Tours of HMS Courageous are now staged every Thursday. To organise a tour, call 01752 553941 and leave a message with your contact details.

Former crew members with photographs, documents or any other items are being asked to contact Pitt. He is also keen to welcome new volunteer tour guides to help with demand. For further information, email him at


Thursday, October 25, 2007

Why new U-boat plan may sink or swim


By Joe Riley
October 25, 2007

FOR just ONE euro, better value – even as junk – than anything in a charity shop, Merseytravel has taken delivery of its strangest mode of transport: a rust-bucket German U-boat about to be booted out of Birkenhead docks to make way for houses.

But what is to become of the iron hulk, salvaged off the coast of Denmark in 1993, and then loaned as prize exhibit to the now defunct Wirral-based Historic Warships Museum?

Merseytravel chief Neil Scalextric wants to chop the vessel into four bits and re-arrange it, like Lego, into a new visitor centre at Woodside ferry terminal.

Using the giant floating crane Mersey Mammoth the home removal could be managed for a tenth of the £2.5m said to be needed to shift the Nazi sub in one piece.

Reliable calculations? It is costing just £1m to bring sole surviving U-boat destroyer HMS Whimbrel back to the Mersey – all the way from her present Egyptian base in Alexandria.

Also, a sister ship and exact replica of the German U-boat, was successfully transported from Africa, across the Atlantic, through the North American Great Lakes, and finally through the streets of Chicago – all in one piece – to the city’s museum of science and technology.

The Birkenhead U-boat (U534) is unique as the only such vessel raised from the seabed.

The crew were not on board at the time of the sinking. All other torpedoed U-boats have remained untouched, deemed war graves.

But before history overwhelms reason, I can reveal that a formative Mersey Maritime Museum turned its nose up at dry-docking U534, leaving it to prototype super-quango Merseyside Development Corporation to earmark a berth next to the former Pier Head floating roadway.

That plan came unstuck when the U-boat’s Danish owners came to Liverpool to offer U534 as a gift ( to tie in with Liverpool’s Battle of the Atlantic heritage), but were then sent a £150 hotel bill by over-zealous municipal mandarins.

You can imagine what the Danes said the council could do with the U-boat.

And the bottom line?

Rather than arranging a Mersey chainsaw massacre solution to an expensive relocation problem, just melt the whole thing down.

History may be learned in chunks. But it never looks good cut into bits.

Imagine hacking HMS Victory into cubes and turning it into a ferry terminal?


Volunteers work to spruce up, improve Batfish for tourists

By Keith Purtell
October 25, 2007

Even though it’s closed for the season, things are hopping at the USS Batfish Submarine and Military Museum.

Rick Dennis, Batfish park manager, said there are three main projects.

“On our Walk of Honor, Lanny Cartwright has been getting those brick cleaned up and organized for display,” he said. “Also, we’re working on the 52 Submarines Memorial that honors the 52 subs lost in World War II. The 2006 Chamber of Commerce Leadership Class donated a bench for that. We’re also getting the (internal) museum work done, both developing the additional room and freshening up the displays.”

The Batfish sank three enemy submarines and 11 ships before being sent to Muskogee as a museum in 1973. It was called “Killer Sub” for sinking more enemy vessels than any other submarine. It’s now a tourist attraction drawing people from across the country and the globe.

Fishermen and nature lovers may get a combination fishing pier and trail system.

“At the end of it, we may have a nice nature preserve with trails down to the river,” Dennis said. “There are definite fishing possibilities. Two weeks ago, I went up the river with one of the port guys, and we actually had a fish almost try to jump in the boat.”

Last Saturday, Cub Scout packs from Hilldale Elementary School and Fort Gibson volunteered their time to help at the museum.

“They did a phenomenal job,” Dennis said. “I was so proud of them.”

Joe Smythe, cub master for Cub Scout Pack 638 of Fort Gibson, said approximately 15 of his youngsters teamed up with a similar number from Hilldale, led by Janey Riddle.

“They cleaned out a fence row and bagged that up, cleaned the glass on the display cases, and polished the brass on the torpedo tube,” he said. “The kids I was with said the torpedo tube was their favorite. They were surprised that 80 people fit in that sub.”

The scouts were ages 6 to 10. Smythe, a teacher at Norwood Elementary, said the service project at the Batfish was important to the boys.

“They get to feel like they are actually doing something to help out,” he said. “That’s what scouting is all about.”

Rod Mish, a volunteer at the Batfish, said he’s excited to see the improvements at the museum.

“I went up in an airplane yesterday and got a fresh aerial view and took some pictures,” he said. “This spring we may be putting in a fishing pier. Everyone thinks it’s a great idea. That place is ripe. Things are growing out there.”

USS Batfish Submarine

WHAT: USS Batfish Submarine and Military Museum.

HOURS: Open March 15 to Oct. 15; 9 a.m.-4 p.m. weekdays and Saturday; noon-4 p.m. Sunday. Closed Tuesdays.

LOCATION: Take Muskogee Turnpike to Exit 33, turn east, then turn north at the Batfish sign.

ADMISSION: Adults $5; children $2; adult group $4; senior citizens $3; children’s group (10 or more) $1; children under 6 free, except for groups.

PHONE: 682-6294.


Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Replica Of First Sub Passes 'Sea Trial'

By Eileen McNamara
October 23, 2007

Essex — True to its name, the Turtle moved slowly through the murky waters of the Connecticut River, its rear propeller spinning smoothly on the manual power supplied by sole passenger and operator Roy Manstan.

On the dock above, Fred Frese, the principal builder of the unwieldy-looking contraption, looked on as it moved along, a wide grin on his face.

“It works,” he declared after the little boat turned around and made its way back to its starting point.

Frese was among some 25 people who turned out Monday morning for one of the first test launches of the Turtle, a reproduction of the first American submarine, which was built in 1776 by Old Saybrook patriot David Bushnell to help Colonial forces sink British warships.

The Turtle, so named because the 7-foot-tall, slightly egg-shaped ship resembles a turtle that's standing on end, was built over the last four years by Frese, the technology education teacher at Old Saybrook High School, with the help of two retired engineers and at least 50 of his students.

This is the third Turtle reproduction Frese has built. He constructed the first in 1976 for the country's bicentennial after learning about Bushnell and his unusual invention.

Frese's first Turtle is currently on exhibit at the Connecticut River Museum in Essex. His second Turtle is on display at the Submarine Force Library & Museum in Groton.

When completed, this latest Turtle reproduction will go to the David Bushnell House Museum in Westbrook, owned by the Lee Co., which has helped finance the current Turtle's construction.

The submarine has spent most of its four years of development in the shop area of the high school, where students taking courses in technology education have assisted in various aspects of its unusual design.

The submarine is made from planks of white oak held together by bands of iron that are wrapped around its oval frame. The sub's single propeller is powered by a foot-operated interior treadle similar to the ones used on manual sewing machines. A rudder, also operated from inside, steers the boat.

A rudimentary depth gauge and a compass tell the sub's captain roughly where he is and in how much water.

The submarine's interior is barely large enough to fit a single occupant. On Monday that occupant was Manstan, a retired engineer and U.S. Navy diver who was conducting the tests with the help of several active and reserve Navy divers. Manstan and Ken Beatrice, also a retired engineer and Navy diver, have assisted Frese and his high school students with the Turtle's construction.

Manstan had to carefully fold his 6-foot-plus frame into the cramped interior of the submarine. The Turtle was then lifted by crane and gently dropped into the waters of the Connecticut River at the Essex Boat Works shipyard.

Almost immediately Manstan reported tiny leaks in its hull.

That's to be expected, Frese said, from a wooden boat. One of the few changes Frese and his team made to Bushnell's original design was the inclusion of a battery-operated bilge pump inside the sub. While Manstan bilged out water from the slow leaks, Frese and his team came up with a centuries-old technique to plug the leaks — sawdust. Rubbed on the outside of the hull it will get sucked into the tiny holes and “stop leaks dead,” Frese said.

Minutes after Navy diver Jim Dennison applied the sawdust, the most serious leaks were plugged and Manstan took the submarine on a short but successful test run. He did so with the Turtle's hatch above water, his head poking out of the top.

With two Navy divers swimming alongside, Manstan steered the ship about 20 feet, turned it, and came back. The Turtle, bobbing like an oversized cork in the river, was pulled slightly off course by the tide and Beatrice pulled it back toward the dock with a rope that was attached to the submarine.

“This is a huge deal,” said Scott Schoonmaker, the high school's principal. He and Tara Winch, the school's associate principal, turned out to watch the tests. “It's been a long time in the making.”

Also attending was Jerry Roberts, executive director of the Connecticut River Museum. Roberts said the museum is set to kick off a program of events focused on the Turtle. They will include a christening of the submarine next month and a research project with participation by high school students from the region to determine what became of Bushnell's original invention.

The first Turtle was designed as a means for colonists to sneak up on moored British war ships and plant explosives on their hulls. Although Colonial forces tried to do that several times with the Turtle, they were never successful, Roberts said. The submarine worked, Frese said, but usually either the attachment of explosives on the ships' hulls failed or British sailors spotted the sub before it got close to their ship.

Bushnell, it is believed, hid the Turtle in his brother's barn in Old Saybrook, but what became of the submarine after that is a mystery, Roberts said. Trying to find out, he said, should prove instructive for students and adults.

“It's a good history lesson for everyone that the first submarine ever built was built about 20 miles away from where they are still being built today,” he said.


Monday, October 22, 2007

Approval for U-boat to resurface


October 22, 2007

Plans for a former tourist attraction to be handed a permanent home on the banks of the Mersey have been given the go-ahead.

Wirral council has approved Merseytravel's proposal to house a German World War II U-boat at the Woodside Ferry Terminal.

The submarine was formerly an attraction at the Historic Warships Museum at Seacombe docks.

Plans include the provision of a visitor exhibition centre at the site.

The submarine was sunk during the war when, on her way to Norway, she was attacked by an RAF Liberator aircraft in 1945.

Forty-nine of the 52 crew members survived, including five who escaped via a torpedo hatch as the submarine lay on the sea bed.

'Good news'

The boat will be cut into three sections to be transported and viewed.

At Woodside huge glass panels installed over the end of each section will allow visitors to see inside the submarine from specially-built viewing platforms.

Neil Scales, chief executive of Merseytravel, said: "It's very good news, not only does it give a home to the U-boat but it also compliments our work along the river with other attractions like Spaceport.

"We'll do a good job with this."

The exhibition in the visitors centre will display some of the four-and-a-half tons of memorabilia that was found on U534.

This includes an Enigma cipher machine, ammunition, uniforms, tools, charts and maps.

Work is expected to cost about £2.5m and will start next month and is to due to finish next year.


Friday, October 19, 2007

WW II sub oil leak threatens marine life


October 19, 2007

The wreck of a Second World War submarine, one of many littering the seabed around the Swedish coast, has been found to be leaking oil, posing a threat to marine life.

According to the Swedish coast guard, the submarine is a German U-boat which was hit towards the end of the war, and is one of 249 wrecks off the west coast of Sweden.

Authorities were alerted by a local man fishing in the area who spotted oil on the water.

The coast guard says the wreck lies at a depth of 65 metres, and that the vessel had 113 tonnes of diesel oil on board when she sank.

The submarine also contains unknown quantities of lead in large battery units.

An operation to extract the oil and lead is however unlikely, due to unexploded torpedoes on board.

The wreck is just one of the many submarines and ships lying in Swedish waters, and experts fear the high salt content in the area will ultimately erode many of the hulls resulting in severe environmental damage.


Monday, October 15, 2007

WWII Submarine, Helsinki, Finland



Vesikko was a submarine of the Finnish Navy in World War II. It was designed by Dutch Ingenieurskantoor voor Scheepsbouw den Haag (I.v.S) and built in 1933 by the Crichton-Vulcan shipyard in Turku, Finland. It served as a direct prototype (named as CV-707) for German Type IIA U-boats. Between the years 1933 and 1934 the German Navy carried out trials with the submarine in the Turku Archipelago. In 1936, the Finnish Navy bought it and named it as Vesikko.

Vesikko was one of five submarines to serve the Finnish Navy. The other four were the three larger Vetehinen class boats Vetehinen, Vesihiisi, Iku-Turso (named after Finnish mythology characters, see Kalevala) and the small Saukko (Finnish for otter). The word "vesikko" is the Finnish name for the European mink, a small predator now near extinction (already extinct within Finland).

Vesikko saw service during World War II. Like other submarines of the Finnish Navy, she patrolled the Gulf of Finland during the Winter War against the Soviet Baltic Fleet. On December 1 and 19 December 1939, Vesikko made attempts to attack the Soviet heavy cruiser Kirov and battleship Marat, both of which which had been damaged by Finnish coastal batteriers.

During the Continuation War, Vesikko continued her patrolling career but there were few targets of opportunity due to extensive minefields laid by Finnish and Germans forces on the eastern half of Gulf of Finland, which essentially blockaded the Soviet ships in their ports. Nontheless, in 3 July 1941, Vesikko managed to torpedo one Soviet merchant ship named Vyborg of 3,500 tons.

After the war Vesikko was decommissioned because of the obligations of the Paris Peace Treaties that forbade Finland having submarines. Vesikko was lying as a wreck for years. It was eventually put up for sale for anyone willing to buy it. Fortunately former crew members of the submarine managed to rescue and restore it. The submarine currently lies on the island of Suomenlinna and has served as a museum during the summers since 1973. (Wikipedia)


Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Team to recover U-boat diver body


october 02, 2007

Michael Hanrahan died during
the dive to the U-boat.

An operation to recover the body of a diver who died while trying to assess the chances of recovering a sunken German U-boat is to take place later.

Michael Hanrahan, a father of four from Dublin, died during a dive at the sunken submarine, 16 miles off Malin Head on the Donegal coast, on Tuesday.

The dive team was filming the U-boat when the diver got into difficulties.

Other members of the team tried to help him - but they were unsuccessful. It is not clear what led to the accident.

Later on Wednesday, a team will attempt to recover the body.

Paul Moore, from BBC Radio Ulster's Your Place and Mine, spent Tuesday with the divers at Malin Head, for a feature he was doing for the programme.

"It was just such a huge shock, because they were just so excited about it and they seemed to know just what they were doing," Mr Moore said.

"It's just such a tragedy for the family."

He said later he was looking at photographs he had taken of the divers.

"I was looking at these photographs and realising that one of these divers was still there, had had this accident and was now dead," he said.

"Four hours earlier I had been talking to these guys - just four typical guys just loving what they were doing."

Derry City councillor Shaun Gallagher paid tribute to Mr Hanrahan.

"He was a gentle giant and a lovely man - we're just devastated," he said.

It is the second fatal diving incident off the north-west coast in the last two months.

At the end of July, Paul Jackson, a police officer from Humberside, had been looking at wrecks off Tory Island but failed to resurface.

The U-boat, which did not see any war action, sank while being towed from Scotland to Londonderry to be scrapped.

Derry City Council plans to raise U-778 and house it in a museum. The boat is lying in about 70 metres of water.

It is estimated there are about 150 such boats lying off Malin Head, all vivid reminders of the Battle of the Atlantic during World War II.

The council said that "because of the depth of the waters involved, the procedure was expected to be highly technical".


Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Dive to film U-Boat off Malin Head finally gets underway


HighLand Radio
October 02, 2007

An exploratory dive to film a German Submarine sunk at the end of the Second World War 16 miles off the coast off Malin Head will go ahead later this afternoon.

This exploratory dive was post-phoned twice in September due to adverse weather conditions.

It's part of Derry City Council's plans to raise the Second World War U-Boat intact and install it as the centrepiece of a memorial to the Battle of the Atlantic

The Divers will film the U-Boat to assess its current condition for potential salvage companies.