WWI German U-boat surveyed over 100 years after wartime sinking

Image of high-resolution survey done on the World War I German submarine UC-47 (Photo: Tolmount Development)

A German submarine from World War I has been surveyed for the first time since its loss in 1917.

Sophisticated scanning techniques and deep-sea video footage have revealed a large hole in the U-boat’s hull, which is believed to have been caused by an attacking British naval vessel.

Scientists led by deep sea archaeological expert Dr Rodrigo Pacheco-Ruiz of the University of Southampton, in collaboration with offshore survey companies MMT and Reach Subsea, investigated the wreck of the Type UC II minelaying submarine UC-47 on behalf of Tolmount Development during offshore operations to prepare for the laying of a new pipeline in the North Sea, some 20 nautical miles off the coast of Yorkshire.

The wreck, which lies 50 metres below the surface, was mapped and inspected using robotic vehicles and high-resolution geophysical equipment.

The inspection of UC-47 showed that it had become well-preserved after lying on the seabed for more than 100 years.

UC-47 was credited with sinking more than 50 vessels in its year-long career with the German Imperial Navy. However, on November 18, 1917, the U-boat was rammed and then depth charged by the Royal Navy patrol boat HMS P-57, resulting in the former’s sinking with all hands on board.

Dr Pacheco-Ruiz said the U-boat is only marked on the navigation charts as a shipwreck and that very little had been known about its condition prior to this recent survey.

Maritime historian Stephen Fisher added that the sunken UC-47 is reputed to have been visited by Royal Navy divers who retrieved valuable intelligence, including code books and charts.

The remains of the main hull, which is intact along its length, are visible above the seabed.

The damage it suffered during its sinking is also clear to see. A large hole on the port side of the hull is indicative of an explosion, and scattered around the wreck site are components of the vessel, including one of the torpedo tubes.

The survey of UC-47 was conducted under the University of Southampton’s Offshore Archaeological Research (OAR) project, which aims to study archaeological sites that are often inaccessible to traditional means due to being hundreds of kilometres offshore.

Archaeologists are now hoping it will be possible to return to the wreck in the future to gather more evidence about its past and help train students in maritime archaeology.

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