I’VE BEEN STUDYING SOME OLD PHOTOGRAPHS, as well as the documented history, of the U-boats on Pendennis headland at Falmouth in Cornwall.
From these pictures, dated between 1920 and 1964, I’ve worked out where each of the U-boats was when it originally came ashore in 1920. I’ve even worked out which was which.
Having seen only the parts of three of the subs before, was there anything left of the others? I wondered. Maritime archaeologist David Gibbins came along with me to see what we could find.
The forecast was good, the tide was high and the in-water visibility had been improving. We parked in the usual lay-by, and walked down to check out the conditions.
The site was quite busy. Several local university students were taking photos for their marine and natural-history photography course. I had turned up with another photography student, who required pictures of a diver for his course. After spending a while posing in and out of the water, it was time to start the dive.
David and I snorkelled out past the students and their plethora of SMBs to the nearest U-boat remains, a section of UB112 in the next gully to the east of the Silver Steps entry-point.
Most prominent there is a three-pronged cast-iron object resembling a fork, thought to be part of a hydrovane mechanism. Otherwise, most of UB112 is very flat.
From the historic photographs the “fork” seemed likely to be part of the bow section. The earliest pictures show the sub quite intact, but in later ones, taken not that long after, the 6-8m bow section is no longer visible.
The visibility was some of the best I had ever had at the site, although kelp had started to cover the wreckage.
We then headed along the small gully to the east towards UB86. On the way I came across a black piece of pipe in the gully. I picked it up, and found it quite heavy.
Closer inspection revealed a clasp, which I recognised. I had a good idea what and whose it was – a neck-weight belonging to one of my freediving friends. He’d be happy.
The small gully runs east-west across the rocks, and as it nears UB86 gets quite shallow. It leads to the largest and shallowest part of the sub.
UB86 is the most dived U-boat, easy to find because it breaks the surface at low tide. There is a second set of steps near the Silver Steps, and if you’re looking straight up them you’re in line with the U-boat – it’s an easy transit.
The visibility was the best I had ever seen there, too. We spent a long time photographing and filming, because some sand had been removed by the winter’s storms, exposing more of the wreckage.
Several free-swimming cat sharks and some large wrasse joined us as we had a little rummage around some of these recently uncovered parts. We even had a school of pilchards darting overhead.