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Home  > News  > WWI Submarine Wrecks Discovered

WWI Submarine Wrecks Discovered

November 22 2006

The wrecks of two submarines discovered just near the Orkney Islands may turn out to be German U-Boats from the First World War.

'U-boat' comes from the German word 'Unterseeboot' which means 'undersea boat' or submarine. U-boats were used to try and torpedo ships coming over from America and Canada with supplies to Britain.

Experts are very excited about finding these two submarines.

Two U-boats, U-102 and U-92, were reported missing in the exact area in 1918.

Could the wrecks be them?

© Maritime and Coastguard Agency

Showing a sonar picture with the site of a submarine wreck marked on it.

Showing a sonar picture of a submarine wreck from above.

'It's early days, but some people have been doing detective work and it looks like they are German U-boats sunk in 1918 on the Northern Barrage, a series of mines (bombs) east of Sanday Sound,' said Rob Spillard, Hydrography Manager of the Maritime and Coastguard Agency.

© Maritime and Coastguard Agency

'One of the subs was commanded by the man who sunk the ship that Lord Kitchener was on.'

Lord Kitchener was a famous British commander in WWI who appeared on the 'Your Country Needs You' poster.

On May 23 1916, U-boat U102's commander, Kurt Beitzen, took his then submarine U-75 on a deadly mission around the waters of Orkney. He secretly laid mines around the coastline.

Less than a month later, Lord Kitchener was on his way to Russia on HMS Hampshire. The ship hit one of the mines. Lord Kitchener was killed along with most of the crew.

If these are the missing U-boats, they might still have live ammunition in them.

This is just one of the dangers for the specialist dive teams who are getting ready to go down.

© Maritime and Coastguard Agency

Showing a sonar picture of a submarine wreck from the side.

They'll have to use mixed oxygen in their tanks to be able to make the 70-metre dive. They will take ROVs (Remote Operated Vehicles) to film what they find.

There is also the fact that this is a war grave to think about. The bodies of the dead crew will be down in the submarines, so the divers have to be careful not to disturb their remains.

Rusty U-Boat being towed across the sea on a barge.

To give you an idea of what the wreck may look like, this picture shows a WW2 U-boat which was sunk in 1945.

None of its crew drowned, so there were no bodies aboard.

Photo: Historic Warships Birkenhead

It was recovered from the seabed in 1993 then carefully restored.

Photo: Historic Warships Birkenhead

Restored U-Boat, on display outdoors, behind a fence.

If you'd like to find out more about submarines, the Royal Navy Submarine Museum is the place to go! And the Imperial War Museum's website has some amazing photos of submarines for you to check out.

We've also got some great info on shipwrecks and underwater archaeology in our Show Me Guide.

We'd love to hear what you think about this story. Maybe you've seen a submarine, or have an underwater picture to share? Just get in touch!

Rachel Hayward and Richard Moss