The German fleet
With the end of WW1, German warships were interned by Britain and France. The story behind the wrecks at Scapa Flow is well-known, so I won’t go into detail here.
The German officers and crews became tired of waiting for their fate to be agreed, concerned that peace talks would fail and that the Royal Navy would gain use of their ships. So on 21 June, 52 ships were scuttled. Many were subsequently salvaged, and now only seven remain, four cruisers and three battleships, at a perfect location for divers.
You can read more about these wrecks in Scapa Flow 100, Mike Ward’s feature in the June issue of diver.
While the best-known, Scapa Flow is not the only location where you can dive German warships sunk after the war. Scapa divers might have dived the turrets of the battleship SMS Bayern, the rest of the vessel having been salvaged for scrap, and Bayern ’s sister-ship was SMS Baden, scuttling of which was prevented by British sailors boarding and beaching her.
The Baden was subsequently refloated and in 1921 used as a target through two rounds of gun trials, testing new ammunition for the RN guns. After the second round, she was scuttled in Hurd Deep, a 180m-deep scour north of the Channel Islands. To my knowledge, the wreck has been dived only once.
For a more accessible wreck-dive, the light cruiser SMS Nurnberg was also saved from scuttling in Scapa Flow. Nurnberg was a light cruiser of the same Konigsberg class as the Karlsruhe in Scapa Flow.
In 1922 she followed the Baden to be used for gunnery tests off the Isle of Wight. Fortunately for divers the wreck stands 10m clear of a 63m seabed, so is only just into trimix range.
It can be found mid-Channel between the Isle of Wight and Cherbourg.
It wasn’t only the fate of the German surface fleet that had to be decided.
Control linkage where it passes through the hull of UB-130.
Some 100 U-boats survived the war to be appropriated and shared out between the Allies. Many were simply sold for scrap; others were used in various trials before being scrapped.
Submarines are remarkably unstable to tow, and there are many stories of them breaking tow and washing ashore. Both U-118 and UB-131 washed ashore at Hastings, and U-118 became a summer tourist attraction. YouTube carries an old Pathé News clip from 1919.
For those wanting to dive a sub, UB-130 sank in 1921 while under tow off Beachy Head. The wreck lies broken in 38m.
UB-122 suffered a similar fate while under tow up the River Medway in Kent but, at a tricky location on the mudflats, was never salvaged. Remains can be seen at low tide, but it’s not the sort of wreck-site you would want to dive.
A small flotilla of seven U-boats was taken to Falmouth to be evaluated. After various trials these were hauled ashore to check for damage. The wrecks were subsequently salvaged for scrap, leaving
a scattering of debris from the lower parts of the hulls in shallow water among the rocks. Mark Milburn provided the detailed history in diver, August 2018.
Much of the German U-boat knowledge and strategy in WW2 originated in the earlier conflict, and former U-boat commanders went on to play major roles.
Commander of the German Navy Admiral Karl Doenitz had commanded a WW1 U-boat, as had the head of the Abwehr, German military intelligence, Admiral Wilhelm Canaris.
Having begun WW1 sceptical about the value of submarines, by the middle of the war Britain was developing new concepts in their design and tactics. One such innovation was the M-class, a large sub armed with a 12in battleship gun. The operational role was to pop up with only the gun showing close to a battleship, and put a shell through its side.
Torpedo tubes on the M2 submarine.
Four were ordered, but only M1 was completed before the Armistice, and saw no action. M-class was not a success.
The cumbersome gun armament was a liability, and improvements in torpedo technology made the gun obsolete.
M1 was lost in a collision with the Vidar off Start Point in 1925 as the steamship ran across the gun-turret, tearing it from its mounts and flooding the submarine. The wreck is diveable in 73m.
In 1925 the M2 was converted to carry a seaplane, with a hangar replacing the gun-turret.
On 26 January, 1932, M2 sank during a training accident, diving when the hangar doors were not fully closed. The wreck is now a popular dive in Lyme Bay, rising 10m from a 35m seabed.
M3 was converted to a mine-layer in 1927, then scrapped in 1932. M4 was broken up before completion.
Trains & train ferries
Getting supplies from Britain to the trenches was a complicated process. Freight trains would carry them to the docks; dockers would shift the supplies into the holds of cargo-ships; then, on the other side of the Channel, the process would be reversed for onward shipment by train.
Winch by traversing cradle on HMS Daffodil, a rail ferry converted into a landing ship.
All that loading and unloading formed a bottleneck in getting supplies to the front. The concept of the shipping container did not exist. One way to speed the process was to unhitch freight wagons from the locomotives, roll them onto ferries, then hitch them up to form a new train on the other side.
With this in mind, the British Army ordered three train ferries: TF1, TF2 and TF3. All saw service in 1918 carrying freight wagons from Southampton and Richborough. After the war, they were sold to civilian ferry companies and ran cross-Channel services.
TF2 was lost off Normandy in 1940 during the evacuation of France, struck by onshore German artillery.
TF1 and TF3 were requisitioned back into military service and renamed respectively HMS Iris and HMS Daffodil. Both were converted to carry landing craft and supported the Normandy landings of June 1944.
Once ports were captured, Iris and Daffodil reverted to their original role to carry freight wagons across to France. TF3 struck a mine off Dieppe in March 1945, and TF1 survived the war.
TF2 and TF3 can both be dived in less than 20m off the French coast.
Standard ships on the slipway
From the opening of the U-boat campaign in 1914 the British Government started ordering new merchant ships from yards in the UK, Canada and neutral USA.
From 1916 these orders were for a few standard designs, predecessors of WW2’s Liberty ships.
When America entered the war in 1917, political obstacles to increased shipbuilding were quickly overcome, and massive new yards were established purely to build standard ships.
Ships already under construction were now requisitioned by Uncle Sam.
The largest of these shipyards was Hog Island on the Delaware river, a few miles from Philadelphia.
Among dodgy land deals, profiteering and alleged Mafia involvement, the first standard ship was launched at Hog Island on 5 August, 1918, but fitting-out was not completed until 11 November, the day the war ended.
With other ships under construction and orders too far along to cancel, 122 “Hog Islanders” were completed, with the yard being closed in 1921. Philadelphia International Airport now occupies the site.
Between Hog Island and other shipyards in the USA, Canada and the UK, 695 standard ships were completed. Only 14 were lost during the war, including the War Knight on the back of the Isle of Wight and War Monarch off Sussex.
But these are beyond the scope of this article, so it’s wrecks from among the other 681 that we seek. Standard ships were by far the greatest single type of ship for the first few years of WW2, and there were many losses in the depths of the Atlantic.
Swimming through the propeller-shaft tunnel of the Persier.
Fortunately for divers, some were also lost closer inshore. Only a wreck geek is likely to recognise the name War Buffalo, launched in Newcastle in 1918. Most divers will know this South Devon wreck better as the Persier, torpedoed by U-1017 on 11 February, 1945.
In February, 1944, off Haugesund in Norway, the Anne Sofie, originally the War Cove, ran aground and sank while carrying iron ore from Narvik to Emden.
As with many shipping “accidents” that occurred with Norwegian ships carrying German cargo, there were rumours of deliberate sabotage. The wreck lies on a slope from 37 to 52m.
For a real “Hog Islander” wreck, you need to go a little further, to Bali, where the Liberty Glo rests just off the beach at Tulamben. She was torpedoed by Japanese submarine I-166 on 11 January, 1942, while underway from Australia to the Philippines.
The wreck of the steamship Liberty Glo.
The damaged ship was towed to Bali and beached, where she was partially salvaged until a volcanic eruption in 1963 tipped her off the shore to rest just short of 30m.
While British standard ships were originally named War-something, names were changed as surplus ships were sold further afield. Sold to Japan, the War Lemur became Hokutai Maru and sank with the Japanese supply fleet at Palau during Operation Desecrate in 1944.
Following the D-Day landings of 1944, many old and worn standard ships served their last mission as Gooseberry blockships for the Mulberry harbours.