submarines

The Falmouth U-Boats, the factual story

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At the end of the Great War, the Keisers’s high seas fleet was interned at Scapa Flow, Orkney. Due to some miscommunication or maybe the lack of communication, Rear Admiral von Reuter ordered the scuttling of the entire fleet. Most were removed straight away, except some of the vessels that were in deeper water. The German U-Boats, in UK waters went to Harwich to surrender, receiving various fates over the next few years. Some were dispatched to Falmouth. The exact reason why any were sent to Falmouth does not seem to be documented too well. There are also misleading reports about the actual number sent, somewhere between five and nine. One supposedly broke it’s tow near Dodman point and started taking on water. So they used it for a bit of target practice. Apparently it was easier to sink it than try and restart the tow. There are two U-Boats near Dodman Point, UB113 and UB118. UB113 was on patrol when lost according to official records, UB118 was part of the convoy to Falmouth. The remaining U-Boats ended up moored in Falmouth Bay, awaiting whatever their fate would be. There are stories that a south easterly wind arrived and the U-Boats came adrift from their moorings. The large waves drove them onto the rocks. What we do know is that there are the remains of five left in the area.
Although the reason for the U-Boats being sent to Falmouth is not documented, it may well be that what happened to them once they arrived, was the actual reason for their trip to Falmouth. Naval records within the National Archive, state that they were used in experiments, to test for weaknesses in their construction. A huge lifting rig, Cyklops, carried them out into deep water, lowering them down to the seabed. Cyklops moved away. Charges were set off at various places around the U-Boats, the subs were then recovered and inspected for damage. This was repeated several times for each of the submarines. At the end of the tests, they were dropped off close to the rocks on Pendennis. Within the National Archive, there is a photo of UB86 and the stern of Cyklop, captioned “BEACHING U.B.86. STERN OF CYKLOP”. They were then manually hauled up onto the rocks, below the castle. The official records did not state whether this happened over a period of a few years, or just the one occurrence.
The official records stated that UB86, UB97, UB112, UB106, UB100, UB128 & UC92 arrived at Falmouth. So what is left now?

Over the years, many photos were taken of the submarines. Most offered no clues as to what they were. One photo, from an unknown source, shows a U-Boat in a gully, with it’s stern out of the water. On the side of the conning tower, it’s markings of UB86 are visible. Quite a bit of the submarine remains underwater. On a very low spring tide, some of it is visible from the surface.
A lot of the contemporary photographs showed both UB86 with another submarine close to that. Within the records at Historic England, they have a collection of photographs, taken by a British Naval submariner at the time. They are of UB86 and the other submarine, one of the photos shows the markings of that submarine, UB112. There are some remains of this submarine left, although most of it lies close to the sea bed. Divers notice a large three pronged fork, which is the highest point of the wreckage that remains. It is thought to be part of the hydrovane’s mechanism.
A little further east of these two wrecked submarines, there are remains of two more. Most of the time these lie hidden under the sand, only becoming exposed after some storms. These are virtually impossible to identify, although one may be UB106, according to an excerpt from the National Archive.
Wessex Archaeology spent two days in July 2013, investigating the Castle Beach site, taking photos etc. I assisted and even revisited to go and take a couple of extra measurements for their official record. There are six circular features near the shore end of the sub, measuring 1m in diameter and 9m from front of the first to the rear of the last. This was the last piece of data required to determine that it is in fact UC92. The six circular features are the mine shafts, UC92 was the only mine layer of the six. Records state it was lifted in 1971 and scrapped, it looks like it wasn’t lifted, just dragged up onto Castle Beach to be scrapped. The stern lies at 50.147027, -5.055695, the bow at 50.147299, -5.055984, it is visible on Bing maps or Google maps. On a low spring tide, the bow is visible out of the water.
Over the years the Falmouth U-Boats have had a hard time. They were gradually broken up and salvaged. Whatever was left was then possibly flattened by George Renton in 1966/7. Contracted by the Navy or maybe by the Harbour Master, George did a fine job of flattening the remains.

Details within the National Archive “Explosive trials on German submarines: 1921“ ref:ADM 189/102, are held at the National Archives, Kew.