WWI German U-boat UB-122 emerges in Kent mudflats after 92 years

WWI German U-boat UB-122 emerges in Kent mudflats after 92 years

Photo story (Clockwise from top left): (1) UB-122 emerges in Kent mudflats after the Recent storms and tidal changes (2) Postcard depicting the sinking of British liner RMS Lusitania by WWI German U-boat SM U-20 on 7th May 1915 (3) UK’s battleship HMS Majestic sinking, torpedoed by WWI German U-boat SM U-21 on 27th May 1915 (4) UB-148 which is similar to UB-122 at sea during WWI

The Nazis called any of their submarines ‘Unterseeboot’ or U-Boot which meant ‘under sea boat’ or U-boat in English. German subs during WWI and WWII and subs of Austria-Hungary during WWI and those of Italy during WWII were known as U-boats. Germany used U-boats in both world wars to cut off UK’s North Atlantic lifeline to America. U-boats used to hunt for shipping in groups known as ‘Wolf packs’.

U-boat patrols used to take up to 6 months and the crews were not able to change cloths except for a single change of socks and underwear. Due to limited space in the subs, crews had to maintain roster schedule for duty and sleeping. They had to resort to ‘hot racking or hot bedding’. As soon as one person crawled out of bed, the next would crawl in and therefore the bed called hot.

Italy had 115 U-boat submarines when they joined the WWII Axis forces in June 1940 and 30 more were commissioned during the war. 88 subs or two thirds of the Italian U-boat strength were lost during the WWII. Austro-Hungarian U-boats mainly consisted of the German manufactured subs and lost 8 of their 28 U-boats during the WWI. 61 more German U-boats operated under the Austria-Hungary flag during the war.

Total 382 U-boats were used by Germany during WWI. In the 52 months of warfare, these subs sank 12,850,814 tons of Allied & Neutral shipping. On an average, Germany sank 247,131 tons of shipping each month. Out of the total German U-boat strength, 178 or 46.60% were sunk, 39 or 10.21% were lost due to other reasons and 5,000 U-boat crewmen were killed in action.

During the WWII, Nazi Germany commissioned 1250 U-boats, used 1172 U-boats and sank total 21,000,000 tons of Allied shipping or 6,000 Allied ships. In the first 27 months of WWII, the Nazi U-boats had to sink 300,000 tons of Allied shipping each month. But they managed to achieve their target in only the first 4 months. After U.S. merchant and marine shipping joined the Allied forces in December 1941, the Axis U-boats required sinking over 700,000 tons of Allied shipping each month. Only in one month, November 1942, the Nazi U-boats achieved their target.

By the end of the WWII, Allied forces built over 38 million tons of new shipping and the supplies resulted in an Allied victory. 784 or 68.89% of the Nazi U-boats were sunk, 30,000 or 75% of the total 40,000 U-boat crewmen were killed in action.

On 7th May 1915, the infamous WWI German U-boat U-20 sank the British ocean liner RMS Lusitania off the southern Ireland coast. With 1198 casualties including 128 Americans, Lusitania lies in its grave 300 ft under water today. It was one of the important factors that made U.S. to join the Allied forces in WWI.

British light cruiser HMS Pathfinder was sunk by WWI German U-boat SM U-21 on 5th September 1914. It was the first ship sank by a submarine using self propelled torpedo. Technically Germany was not allowed to have subs or submarine crew after the end of WWI. But they continued to invest on U-boats and prepared for the WWII.

Online edition of prominent British daily tabloid news paper, The Daily Mail reported that WWI German U-boat UB-122 emerged in Kent mudflats after 92 years. The hull of the German sub was earlier thought to be either one of U-122, U-123 or UB-122. An investigation discounted the first two.

According to the WWI armistice, Germany surrendered all the U-boats. 114 U-boats in home waters were taken to British submarine base at Harwich. Then these were examined, scrapped or some given to the Allied navies as reparations. Before being broken up, components of the U-boats were removed and recycled where possible. 6 of these U-boats were lost while under tow on their way to be destroyed.

One of these 6 WWI German U-boat, U-118 got washed up on Hastings beach and emerged there in February 2013.

English Heritage research team identified that 41 German U-boats and 3 British subs were sunk within the British territorial waters which is 12 miles from the coastlines. Recent storms and tidal changes made the UB-122 visible near Hublebee Creek near the Isle of Grain in Kent. On 19th December 2013, Marine archaeologist Mark Dunkley said that the U-boat had been there since 1921 and perhaps a storm might have parted it from its tow while it was being taken for scrapping.

The diesel engines removed from the UB-122 were reused in a cement factory at Halling, Kent. It’s the only known complete U-boat that can be seen in UK’s tidal waters. After the commemoration of centenary of WWI, English Heritage would work on what could be done with the sub.

UB-122 was a type UB III German submarine that could carry 10 torpedoes and 3 officers and 31 crewmen. It was commissioned on 4th March 1918 and surrendered to the Royal Navy on 24th November 1918. UB-122 had the speed of 25.7 kmph or 13.9 knots. The sub had displacement (weight) of 512 tons while surfaced and 643 tons while submerged.

It was 55.85 meter long, 5.8 meter wide and the distance from waterline to its keel was 3.72 meter. It could dive to 150 feet in 30 seconds. Though UB-122 made two patrols during WWI, it failed to sink any targets.

Dunkley said that the UB-122 served as a poignant reminder to those who had given their lives at sea during the WWI.
Video story: National Geographic documentary on German U-Boats & Sea Hunters hunting for Hitler’s lost U-boats

Mohammad Rafi Saad

Mohammad Rafi Saad is one of the authors writing for WAR HISTORY ONLINE