Thursday, 1 October 2009

U12 FANTASTIC WRECK DIVING

EARLIER THIS YEAR Martin Sinclair
and Jim Macleod, a couple of enterprising
divers got together with Eyemouth
skippers Jim and Iain Easingood of
Marinequest, who run the dive boat
North Star. They all had a long held wish
to find the wreck of the German submarine
U12. In January this year they found
it after five years of searching. Three and
a half months later, on the second trip
out to this new wreck, I had booked my
place on North Star and was eagerly
awaiting the chance to descend down to
the wreck.
On the long way out to the wreck, 18
miles out of Eyemouth, I took the chance
to ask Iain, our skipper for today about
the wreck and its history. I had seen
pictures of this early U-boat. It was
unusual in the fact that this submarine
carried a floatplane on the deck of the
sub. The plane would be launched on
the sighting of a target and sent to
investigate.
I would not like to have been that pilot.
If the sub could not surface, ditching in
the cold North Sea would be a frightening
prospect. This was never intended to
be the case though, as once the aircraft
was launched from the sub and its
observations were complete, it would
head directly back to Germany. The float
plane idea was only used a couple of
times before being shelved.
The History
U12 is a historically important U-boat, as
already said she carried an aircraft on her
deck, which could be deployed at sea.
U12 was the first ever submarine to do
this. U12 was also the sister ship of the
U9 which under the command of
Captain Lieutenant Otto Weddingen on
September 22 , 1914 sank three British
light cruisers HMS Aboukir, Hogue, and
Cressy in under 75 minutes. U9 was
instantly famous and survived the war.
Her sister ship U 12 did not and when
she had her run in with three British
destroyers HMS Ariel, Acheron and Attack
it would be the British that were victorious
on that day.
The day before the battle U12 was seen
on the surface by a trawler and this news
was eventually reported to the destroyers
that were hunting her along with the
light cruiser HMS Fearless. U12 did not
wait around to be found and carried on
her deadly business sending a steamship
to the bottom in the outer Firth of Forth.
The screen of destroyers, which had been
sweeping the east coast of Scotland
moved toward her newly reported
position, then they saw the sub on the
surface.
U12 saw the destroyers coming and
crash-dived to 25 metres, readying two
of her four torpedo tubes for use.
Kapitänleutnant Hans Kratzsch may
have seen the opportunity to emulate
Captain Lieutenant Otto Weddingen,
Germany’s U-boat hero, by sinking his
own three British warships. On this
occasion though, the destroyers were
aware of the presence of a Uboat in the
area.
Kapitänleutnant Hans Kratzsch gave
the order to come to periscope depth,
there was an ear splitting crash as the
periscope was blown clean off the
conning tower. Seconds later the bows of
HMS Ariel rammed U12 on the port side
just forward of the conning tower. The
sub rolled over 90 degrees and was
forced under. Ballast tanks were blown
and when the sub surfaced the destroyers
shelled her. 10 men managed to
escape the sub, 19 of their comrades were
not so lucky as the conning tower hatch
jammed. U12 had come to periscope
depth when HMS Ariel was almost on
top of her. U12 and 19 of her crew paid
the ultimate price.
Now she lies on the sea floor 47 metres
down. A remaining survivor of a very
famous class of submarine, that makes a
fantastic dive for a wreck diver.
The Dive
The run out to the wreck site aboard the
North Star had been relatively quick.
Conditions were good, flat calm seas and
sunny skies. It was a perfect mid May
day. The water above the site was a
strange turquoise blue colour. Being 18
miles off the coast underwater visibility
was expected to be excellent but on this
day a plankton bloom had started, due to
the weeks of good weather leading up to
the dive and this was the cause of the
strange colour of the water.
Dropping down the shotline the water
was bright and clear until we passed
through the 30 metre barrier where it
turned dark. I turned on my torch as I
neared the bottom. Viz was around six
metres and the shot had landed in the
sand just forward of the conning tower.
I immediately noted a brass porthole
with its windscreen wiper. The glass
reflecting my torch beam. The unique
pattern of portholes on the conning
tower was one of the details used to
identify this wreck.
A party of divers headed off to the
right, so I followed the hull to the left.
Soon old nets appeared, wrapped around
the wreck. I felt I had finned a long way
from the conning tower and as I was just
thinking that I must be finning towards
the stern when the twin brass screws
appeared at the back of the boat.
This was quite a find for me, as I had
never seen intact screws on a U-boat
before. This was an early class of boat
and I was surprised at how small the
screws were. The power plants that
drove the screws were two stoke engines
fuelled by paraffin.
Unbeknown to me above my head,
whilst I was taking pictures of the
screws, were to be found the twin stern
torpedo tubes. This was the other
unique identifying feature that confirmed
this wreck was U12. I wish I had
looked at more old photographs of U 12
before I dived her. The design of the two
stern tubes was quite unusual, being at
surface level when the boat was on the
surface, rather than being submerged
further down the hull, as you might
expect.
I certainly would have liked to have
had a look at this unusual feature of the
wreck, especially when I saw an image of
said area. One picture in particular was
showing a nice big lobster that had set
up home in the tube, with one of the
readied torpedoes that Kapitänleutnant
Hans Kratzsch didn’t manage to fire on
the day of the battle. Reports published
in the New York Times at the time
however confirm that Kratzsch did
manage to fire one of his fish even
though he had lost all sight above the
surface with the loss of his periscope.
I now finned on under the stern and
back up to deck level keeping just away
from the nets. I soon came across the
hatch at the stern section, which was
open. Schools of bib and pollack passed
by the hatch unafraid of the nets that
were wrapped hard into the wreck at this
point.
Further forward the outline of the
conning tower soon took shape again
and I noted more brass portholes and
their wipers. I wondered about their
effectiveness even when used on the
surface. The hatch on top of the conning
tower was fully open, once again
surrounded by fish. This didn’t concur
with the reports of the sinking, which
stated that the hatch had partly jammed.
Perhaps a snagged net at some time had
ripped it open. Or perhaps wartime
Hydrophone and net U12 deco stops
One picture in particular
was showing a nice
big lobster that had set
up home in the tube, with
one of the readied torpedoes
that Kapitänleutnant
Kratzsch didn’t manage to
fire on the day of the battle.
Reports published in
the New York Times confirm
that Kratzsch did
manage to fire one of his
fish even though he had
lost all sight above the
surface with the loss of his
periscope.
Grey seal in Eyemouth Harbour
Page 14
A very happy Mike decompressing
after diving the U12
divers looking for information visited
the wreck.
There were certainly no remains of the
periscopes, which confirms they were
shot off. Finning further forward, my
computer now beeping, I passed the
port side of the conning tower and did
note a distortion in the hull where
Ariel’s bows had rammed the boat.
I eventually reached the bow where
the other two torpedo tubes were
visible. Martin later suggested that this
might mean that the prow of the Uboat
lies broken off just forward from the
main wreck. That’s certainly something
for exploration for another day.
The forward hatch on this section of
the wreck is also open and once again
fish are plentiful. It is also at this
section of the wreck that two large brass
hydrophones can be seen although one
is partially obscured by the net.
I was very happy with the dive as I headed
towards the shotline. U12 is a fantastic dive
with so many artefacts on display. As U12 is
a war grave the diving on the wreck was
carried out with the utmost respect. The
wreck was not entered and nothing was
removed from the site.
A week later I caught up with Martin and
got some more details about the wreck. I was
told a good wee story about one of the
survivors of U12 - war pilot Volker. He
managed to escape from his prisoner of war
camp and made his way to Hull where he
gained employment as an able-bodied
seaman, on the Swedish bark Ironstrop.
On October 1, 1915 Ironstrop was stopped
and searched by U16. This was excellent
news for Volker who completed his escape by
boarding U16. He was then assigned the role
of war pilot for U44 but he did not manage to
see out the war. He went down with U44
when it was sunk on August 12, 1917.
Range BURNMOUTH TO
FASTCASTLE/ BELL ROCK &
THE FORTH WRECKS.
Jim and Iain now offer fantastic
accommodation and run a small dive
shop and compressor. This enables you
to book the whole package. (NOTE
Mrs. E’s home baking is not to be
missed).
DIVE BOAT - NEED TO KNOW
Dive Boat NORTH STAR
Contact IAIN OR JIM EASINGWOOD
018907 52444 / 077808 23884
info@marinequest.co.uk
www.marinequest.co.uk
Rates £30 - 2 DIVES
3, 4 & 5 day packages from
£150pp (group discounts)
Tech. wreck diving from £25

1 comment:

Peter Cares said...

Wreck diving is really a fantastic activity. I thank everyone who helped me learned it here.