Historic Sunken German Submarine Discovered Resting 3,000 Feet Below The Waves

VIIC submarine U 995 similar to U-581. Photo Credit

German researchers have discovered the ruins of U-581, a Nazi sub that sunk near the Azores in February 1942. The VIIC U-boat, 220 feet in length, identical to the featured in the classic films, Raiders of the Lost Ark and Das Boot, was found split in two, and at a near 3,000-foot depth.

Researchers with the German Rebikoff-Niggeler Foundation found the wreck last September, but remained silent to withhold the discovery until the exact identity of the sub could be verified, and because they wanted to make the announcement public on the 75th anniversary of the sub’s sinking.

Working aboard the dive boat LULA 1000, the researchers were able to take high-resolution photographs of the sunken vessel, revealing its condition and the numerous corals clinging to its outer casing.

An exterior mock-up of this type of sub was used in Raiders of the Lost Ark. Over 560 VIIC-class boats were put into operation from 1940 to 1945, appearing in most all areas where German subs operated.

A workhorse of the German Kriegsmarine, these subs had active sonar, and were powered using six-cylinder, four-stroke diesel engines. VIICs weighed 770 tons, could cruise above water at speeds approaching 39 km/h (20 mph) and had a 9,800-mile range.

During the Second World War, the Germans lost almost 800 submarines of every type, and in excess of 28,000 sailors.

About one or two subs are found by marine archaeologists annually, but approximately 100 U-boats remain unaccounted for.

The U-581 completed two missions in less than a year, and sank one auxiliary ship (possibly the armed British trawler HMS Rosemond.)

During the evening of February 1, 1942, U-581, working with another German sub, was assigned to sink the British squad carrier, Llangibby Castle.

The Allied vessel was to depart the port of Horta on the Azores island of Faial. Before it could complete its orders, however, U-581 was seen by a British the destroyer Westcott and struck by a depth charge close to the island of Pico.

Defeated and not willing to relinquish the submarine to the British, the sub’s commander ordered the crew to abandon ship then scuttled the boat.

Of the 46-man crew, four died when a water bomb was thrown at them while they were still in the water (apparently due to a communication problem). 41 were taken captive, and one escaped by swimming four miles (6 km) to land.

There, Portuguese officials repatriated him to Germany. He survived the war, as did the German POWs.

With the approval of Portuguese officials, researchers with the foundation began the search for U-581 in the spring of last year.

Sonar was used to create a high-resolution, 3D picture of the seafloor in the region where the sub likely went down. The sub was discovered on September 13 last year by a crew working on the LULA 1000, Gizmodo reported.

Pictures of the sub were used to check its identity.

The foundation is hoping to make a documentary about the discovery.

Ian Harvey

Ian Harvey is one of the authors writing for WAR HISTORY ONLINE