Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Slicing up a sub!


This is Lancashire
By Nick Yates
March 12, 2008

ENGINEERS at a Westhoughton-based drilling and cutting firm have used their skills to create a unique slice of World War Two history.

Holemasters Demtech, a specialist diamond drilling and cutting firm that employs 33 drillers and an administration staff of six at its Bolton depot, was contracted to slice up a Second World War German U-Boat by its owners, Merseytravel.

The submarine, known as U- 534, was brought to Liverpool in 1996 and formed part of the Historic Warship Museum at Mortar Mill Quay, Birkenhead.

It was destined for scrap until Merseytravel, the Liverpool transport and tourism body, stepped in with a plan to make the U-Boat part of a new tourist attraction at Woodside Ferry Terminal on the River Mersey.

Holemasters has just finished slicing the aging submarine into sections, so visitors can get a real idea of what life was like inside the crafts so dreaded by Allied ships during World War Two.

Andrew Doyle, technical manager of Holemasters Sellafield, was responsible for designing and delivering the project.

He said: "We were contacted with a request to see if it would be possible to cut the U-Boat into five sections. We decided the best solution was to use diamond wire, so we designed a bespoke system to undertake the task which we have completed successfully."

He added: "We have cut steel previously, but not on this scale. The complexity is that you are not just cutting one face, you could be cutting six or eight faces at one time, including items of pipe work valves, ballast tanks, pressure hull and internal services.

"On the stern section, we cut through the drive shafts that were 300mm of solid steel. We used a series of pullies to control the wire's angle of attack, creating straight clean cuts and maximising the cutting potential."

The sections, which weigh 240 tons each, will each take a day to move by floating crane to the new home at Woodside. The first section, currently being removed, is a 23-metre length of the bow.

Huge glass panels will be installed at Woodside, over the end of each section, to allow visitors to see inside U- 534 from specially built viewing platforms.

The craft will be located close to a full scale model of Resurgum, the world's first submarine.


Monday, March 10, 2008

New destination for WWII U-boat


March 10, 2008

Work is under way to move the only World War II German submarine in the UK to a new location.

The U-534 has been stationed at Mortar Mill Quay, near Birkenhead, Merseyside, in the Historic Warships Museum, until it closed last year.

Now the 900-ton U-boat, which is too big to move in one piece, has been cut into five parts and is being floated to Woodside Ferry Terminal in Birkenhead.

Once it has been put back together it will become a tourist attraction.

Merseytravel, which owns and operates Mersey Ferries, bought the U-boat to house it at its terminal.

Work to divide the vessel into portable sections took a month to complete and it is expected to take barges another week to transport the parts along the River Mersey.

Historical importance

Neil Scales, chief executive and director general of Merseytravel, said: "It's a really important piece of history which we want to preserve."

The Imperial War Museum confirmed there are only four full-size WWII German U-Boats in existence, and that U-534 is the only one in the UK.

According to the museum's archives, the submarine, which was launched on 23 September 1942, was used as a training vessel in the Baltic.

However, it was sunk less than three years later on 5 May 1945 by depth charges dropped by an RAF Liberator.

The vessel was salvaged in 1993 and brought to the UK in May 1996, before becoming a popular tourist attraction in Seacombe, Wirral.

The new exhibition at Woodside, which includes artefacts from the submarine and an enigma machine, is due to open in July.


Sunday, March 09, 2008

U-don’t know how hard it is to take away a German sub


Liverpool Echo
By Kevin Core
March 08, 2008

SIXTY-THREE years after it was sunk, a German U-boat is making its reappearance.

Now divided into three sections, the U354 will be slowly moved to Woodside by the enormous floating crane Mammoth on Monday.

It will take up residence in a new £2.5m Merseytravel tourist attraction.

Engineers spent a month using a state-of-the-art diamond wire cutter to cut up the 240 ton U-boat.

The vessel was never involved in active combat but carried out meteorological operations, and was raised in 1993, eventually coming to Birkenhead where it was part of the historic warship collection.

It was sunk en-route to Norway by depth charges dropped by a Liberator aircraft from RAF 547 Squadron.


Horses on Submarines: A Transportation Nightmare


Equestrian Mag
By Raul Colon

When we talk about the submarine in a war, we immediately focus on the German U-boat effort during the colossal Battle of the Atlantic or the massive Soviet attempt to achieve parity with the United States in the nuclear delivery strike platforms during the Cold War. There’s even talk of Imperial Germany attempt to cut and starve the British Isles during the Great War, but seldom, if ever, the fact that submarines were used as transportation platforms for the transferring of, not only troops and war related materials, but animals, mainly combat horses; have not received any notice from historians. But such were the cases, especially during World War I. A conflict permeated by the transition of war technologies. From observation balloons to combat airplanes. From a surface navy to an underwater fleet. And from horse mounted cavalry and infantry, to an all mechanized force centered about a new tool of war: the main battle tank. As all these changes were occurring, transporting and supplying and expeditionary force was still the domain of the horses in those early years of the war. Such was the case in the battle for the Dardanelles, most commonly known as the Battle of Gallipoli. There, the largest concentration of submarines, outside European waters, took place beginning in the spring of 1915. The Dardanelles, a strait formation in what is today’s north-west Turkey, represented an opportunity for the then struggling Western Allies to inflict a major blow to Germany’s main allied in the Middle East: the Ottoman Empire. The British Admiralty knew that if the Turks could be dislocated from the Gallipoli peninsula, the Germans would have a hard time supplying their troops fighting the Russians on the Eastern Front, thus the planning for the Gallipoli invasion commenced at earnest in the fall of 1914. As soon as the plan was ready, the French jumped aboard enthusiastically. They saw the operation as distraction affair. One that, if it played out to their planning, would divert German attention from its incursion into northern France.

The operation, mounting an invasion on a far away strip of land occupied by a determinate and well defended enemy, was a planning and logistical nightmare. The Dardanelles straits where well defended by the Turks. They recognized early on the importance of the peninsula to their own war effort and made a conscious decision to fortify it. Naval guns were mounted on each approaching ridge. Heavy minefields were laid out near the strait’s gateway. Thousand of troops were available within a five mile radius. Even combat planes, a first for the tradition rich Ottomans, were dispatched to Gallipoli. How then will the vaunted Royal Navy and elements of the French Navy ship tons of supplies, thousand of combat troops and thousand of combat horses without being detected by a suspecting enemy? The logical answer was the submarine. The submarine could penetrate Gallipolis’s defenses at night, unload its cargo and leave the area before the enemy knew it had been there, so the thinking was. A series of small submarine incursions began in December 1914 in order to test the concept. They meet with unexpected success paving the way for a large scale deployment of submarines in the area. Boarding men and equipment into submarines of that era, they were crude vessels fitted with just the basic systems needed to perform an assigned task, was a tall order, but the housing of a horse force inside those steel monsters was an almost impossible feat. A feat that, not only was accomplished, but will be respite many times during the Gallipoli campaign. The British selected their newly commissioned E class submarines. The E class boats represented a major leap in submarine design and development. It was bigger than the previous classes, the dreaded C and Ds, and could hold more cargo due to an expanded cargo hold in the aft section of the boat. The E class was destined to become the British main submarine platform during the four years of the struggle.

Back in England, the British Imperial Army began a massive effort to recruit as many horses as possible for the impending Gallipoli expedition. But by this time, horses were a hot commodity. Purges of horses for deployment to northern France lifted the once vigorous horse breeding industry in a flat state. No major horses were available for operation in the straits. Scotland and Wales were also purged of their horses in an attempt to fill the assigned quota. Fortunately for the British, there was the Commonwealth. Australia filled the requirement gap shipping between December 1914 and February 1915, 8,450 horses to the British bases at Dover where they would be prepared for the fifteenth day journey to the Dardanelles straits. Due to the smallness of the cargo hold, it was never intended that live stock or even humans could be placed in the hold for a medium to long range voyage, and the fact that the horses needed space to eat and stretch, the Royal Navy decided to ferry just one company of horses, (10) per trip. At this rate, it would take the entire E fleet twenty five trips in order to supply the estimated 250 horses needed to support one fully manned expeditionary combat brigade. A real tall order indeed. Nevertheless, the journeys began in earnest on March 21, 1915.

The loading of the horses by itself was more difficult than shipping horses on commercial cargo ships. The E boats used were modified to use a loading ramp, instead of the regular loading hatch. The loading compartment was enclosed to avoid the horses to divert to sensitive areas where cables and pipes were exposed. Provisions for the horses were stored in the front of the sub, in the area where torpedoes were stored. This deprived the boat of its full capacity of torpedoes. In fact, some E boats would carry only the torpedoes already placed on their firing tubes, a fact not lost on the submariners. And a fact that would make them resent the gallant animal’s role in the eventual loss of some of their shipmates. Once onboard, the caring of the horses began an imposing proposition. Due to the lack of space, soldiers assigned to feeding and caring for the animals usually found themselves in precarious spots in the hold. The journey was a tenuous one for both crew and cargo. The E boats would depart the Dover area in route to the Mediterranean by way of Spain. That route was infested with U boats. When and if they survived the trip to Gibraltar, the subs would make out for the Island fortress of Malta, where they would be re-fueled and re-supplied for the last leg of the trip. On Malta, the horses where off boarded for stretching and carrying. A waiting team of veterinaries, shipped from the main British naval base at Scapa Flow three weeks before, was tasked for the evaluation of the horse’s condition as well as caring for any sick or injured animal. Many of the horses received thigh cuts due to the smallness of the cargo hold. They would collide with with each other or just simply collide with with one of the exposed sharp edges of the welded hatches. The horses that stayed on Malta was a matter of hours, not days. In those pressure hours, the vets sometimes worked miracles. The veterinary service tried to prepare the horses the best they could. Sometimes the cuts on the animals were such that the horse was deemed unfit for combat, thus relegating it to pastoral duties. When the animal was fully recovered, it would be shipped aboard another E boat to the combat zone.

In just four days, the horses would be asked to depart the un-comforts of the submarines for the treacherous beaches of Gallipoli. They needed all the stretching and preparing that the soldiers could give them. The journey from Malta to Gallipoli was relatively easy. No major U-boat concentration was expected and what ever force the Turks could muster, was utterly defeated. The problem for the E boats and its precious cargo, was not getting into Gallipoli, it was disembarking on a heavy defended peninsula. Once the sub arrived on the area, it would make for the upper left corner of the Dardanelles where it would distribute its precious cargo to a gathering of soldiers in dire need of it. Having traveled for nearly sixteen days, the horses welcomed the respite of an open area, not knowing of course that this would probably be their last ride. Once on land, the British, Canadian and French troops already fighting the Turks, would use the horses as transportation vehicles around the rugged Gallipoli terrain. Unfortunately for the allies and their animal comrades, the expedition was a complete failure. The combine British and French force was unable to establish a sustained beach head in the peninsula, furthermore, they were being pushed to the sea and by the end of the spring a complete evacuation of the Gallipoli beach head was ordered. The Dardanelles operation would cost the British much. It would cost Winston Churchill his post at the Admiralty and would seed the idea on the Germans that if the poorly trained Turks could out gun and out perform a professional British army in a remote location, they could certainly destroy in France.

For the horses onboard these submarines and the voyage itself proved deadly. Of the twenty-one horse-carried E boat trips to Gallipoli, three were lost at sea. One near the Canarias Islands, the cause of its loss is still unknown; and the other two near the strait itself. These were probably lost due to minefield engagements. All three boats went down with all hands, humans and animals. Of the nearly 2,100 horses deployed in Gallipoli, only five hundred survived the affair, even less made it back to England, and the ones that did make it, were shipped to northern France, where they would battle a more savage enemy, the dreaded trenches. Today, we can see the valor of this animal entrenched on a monument atop of A4 ridge in the Gallipoli peninsula. The monument, described the valor of the invading soldiers and its four-legged comrades.

Submarines of the World, Robert Jackson, Friedman/FairFax Books 200

The First World War, New Strachan, Penguin Books 2003

Dreadnought: Britain, Germany and the Coming of the Great War, Robert Massie 1991


Friday, March 07, 2008

Fresh waters for museum chief


The News
By Matt Jackson
March 07, 2008

HIS office is now just a sparse collection of packed boxes, but Commander Jeff Tall will forever remember the view from his window.

After 14 years in charge of the Royal Navy Submarine Museum in Gosport, he still cannot suppress a smile as he looks at the heritage gems framing the waterfront.

The 65-year-old from Eastney is moving on to lecture on cruise ships, but nothing will change about the passion he has for submarines and those who serve in them.

'There is a bond forged under the most strenuous conditions you can imagine, and that never leaves you,' he said.

'Submariners are at best like pirates, eager to throw themselves back into the fray and pit themselves against a huge technological challenge.'

Cdr Tall saw action in the Falklands and was in charge of four submarines before he applied for the museum job.

'There was a great deal of competition, but perhaps because of my experience I was chosen,' he said.

'When I arrived the facilities were limited to say the least, and that represented a huge challenge.'

Cdr Tall has welcomed thousands of visitors to the museum and bargained for millions of pounds offunding during his time, but saving the 1901 submarine Holland 1 stands out as a highlight.

'Saving Holland 1 from falling into disrepair has to be the legacy of my time here. It was a five-year project and took enormous effort from the team,' he said.

'It is quite simply the most historically significant submarine in the world, and there was a real risk it would be ruined if we didn't take action.'

In 2001, the restored boat was displayed to the public in a specially controlled hall, and similar plans are afoot to improve the other attractions.

'The challenge for Marion Budgett, who follows me, is to get to work on HMS Alliance,' he said.

'It will be another large project and I think that stands as a good reason for me to hand over.

'I like to think that during my time we managed to put the family experience into the museum, because getting children here has been so important.'


Thursday, March 06, 2008

Submarine pigeon traps criticised


March 06, 2008

A Hampshire museum has been accused of animal cruelty after setting up nets to trap a flock of 100 pigeons living inside one of its prize exhibits.

The birds are in HMS Alliance, a submarine from World War II which has been at the Royal Navy Submarine Museum in Gosport for 25 years.

The museum has set up nets to trap the birds before releasing them.

But the approach has angered some bird lovers who say the trapped pigeons are showing signs of distress.

The museum is planning a £4m project to conserve and repair the submarine, but that is being hampered by growing layers of corrosive pigeon droppings.

Last year, it attempted to solve the problem by shooting the pigeons, but that was unsuccessful.

A pest control company has now been brought in to put up nets over the bow and the stern, places where years of corrosion have left gaping holes.

Traps with food and water have also been set up to catch those birds inside the submarine.

Once their entrance holes have been blocked, the birds will be shooed out of the hull.

Emma Haskell, from Pigeon Control Advisory Service, said in the meantime the birds were suffering.

"It's very distressing, she said.

"The birds are throwing themselves at the net and doing everything they can to get out."

Bob Mealings, curator at the Royal Navy Submarine Museum, said: "We are following the recommendations of the RSPCA and we are working with a licensed contractor who is working within guidelines laid down by the law."

The removal is expected to take several weeks and the trapped pigeons are being given food and water.