Our July Wreck Tour of the U-boat U480 went down well, if you’ll pardon the pun, so this month JOHN LIDDIARD offers a double helping of submarines, with an unusual German U-boat minelayer from World War One, lying in 45m in the Firth of Forth. Illustration by MAX ELLIS
THIS TOUR BEGINS at the rather bulbous bow (1), the highest point of the wreck at 42m, and where skipper Iain Easingwood dropped his favoured shot alongside, a cat-o-nine-tails with rings of lead threaded on each tail. At 100kg, this isn’t the sort of shot that can drag off anything.
The bow is bulbous because of the single external torpedo-tube (2), located above it on the port side so that it could be reloaded from the deck of the surfaced sub. The hatch on the front is still closed, with no external door, for streamlining.
A pole resting against the bow is from a trawl that has caught on the wreck. You may have seen a small tangle of netting floating above it on the way down the shotline.
Below the bow, the forward hydroplanes (3) are close to the seabed, the bow bottoming out in a slight scour at 45m.
Behind the bow the hull billows out, with the ballast tanks and cladding on either side of the main pressure hull.
Back on the main deck, the remains of a framework to support the cladding for the deck lead back along the port side, with a shorter stretch on the starboard side.
Below this, a cradle (4) for holding the spare torpedo is visible as a set of shallow V-shaped brackets.
The crew would have reloaded the external tube through the domed hatch at the back of the tube, hidden beneath the outer cladding of the bow.
Further back, the hatch (5) used by the crew to get out and re-load while U74E was surfaced is located at the top of a wide tube protruding from the hull.
Just aft of this, the remains of the outer cladding ends completely. Perhaps the small anchor (6) snagged across the hull was partly responsible for this.
Next we come to a ventilator (7), obviously closed as the U74E was dived when it disappeared in the Firth of Forth in 1916.
Another hatch (8) is set into the hull. With no protection from the sea, this may have been used only in port, or in very calm conditions, as the previous hatch is so obviously raised above the deck.
The U74E was fitted with two periscopes, the first of which is the search periscope (9) standing just forward of the conning tower.
The tower is tiny, with room for just one man inside at a time. Novel features not found on more recent submarines are tiny portholes with windscreen wipers (10), so that the captain could command U74E on the surface or part-submerged without having to open the conning-tower hatch.
A hatch (11) towards the back of the tower provides access upwards so that the submarine could be commanded from above. Again, there would have been some open cladding or a railing about the upper part of the conning tower, but this has also decayed.
The second periscope, the attack periscope (12), stands up from the top of the tower.
Behind the conning tower, another short section of framework on the starboard side of the hull marks the extent of cladding aft (13). Behind this, U74E‘s 88mm gun (14) is just above the bank of silt into which the hull disappears at 44m.
The hull of this type of mine-layer extends a similar length further aft to accommodate long internal mine-laying tubes, so mines could be ejected through hatches either side of the stern.
Previous designs of mine-layer had vertical tubes in the forward part of the hull (see UC70, Wreck Tour 10).
The disadvantage of this arrangement was that the mines had to be pre-set before leaving port. U74E‘s internal tubes were designed to allow the crew to work on the mines from inside the sub, so increasing the flexibility of operations and reliability of mines laid. Nevertheless, this may have led to U74E‘s downfall, one theory being that it detonated one of its own mines.
Perhaps, as the silt bank shifts, more of the U74E will be revealed. At the end of the dive, any time remaining could be used to explore further out across the silt (15) to see if any more of the hull has emerged. This would mean ascending on a DSMB rather than returning to the shotline.
SHORT-LIVED SUB WITH A SAIL
U74E, submarine. BUILT 1915, SUNK 1916
U74E WAS ONE OF THE “Children of Sorrow”, a German nickname given to boats of the mine-laying UE class. She was launched on 10 August, 1915, and put into active service the following November under Kapitanleutnant Erwin Weisbach, writes Kendall McDonald.
The 755-ton sub was 187ft long, 19ft in the beam, and drew 16ft. She was crewed by 34 men and carried the same number of mines, in a dry compartment near the stern, laying them by a cog drive through two hatches at the stern.
U74E had only two torpedo-tubes, both above water, one to port at the bow, the other at the stern, offset to starboard. Her 88mm gun was replaced with a 105mm aft of the conning tower.
There were no survivors when she was sunk by gunfire from four Royal Navy trawlers, while laying a minefield to trap an RN attack on a sortie by ships of the German High Seas Fleet near Peterhead.
It was 27 May, 1916, when the trawlers spotted U74E, apparently trying to disguise herself by hoisting a sail. They pumped shells into the sub, which sank, surfaced “drunkenly weaving about”, and then sank for the last time.
The wreck was long thought to be that of a dredger named Cyclops, which sank in 1924. Only in 1990 did diver Gordon Wadsworth recognise it as a German submarine.
GETTING THERE: Eyemouth is on the A1107, just off the A1. Once in the town, follow signs for the harbour. As you enter the area, the Harbourside is on the north side.
HOW TO FIND IT: The U74E sits on a flat seabed, bow to the south-east. GPS co-ordinates are 56 03.707N 002 29.717W (degrees, minutes and decimals).
TIDES: Slack water is 1 hour before high or low water Eyemouth.
ACCOMMODATION: The Harbourside has bunk-rooms for up to 15 divers, lounge, TV, free Internet and a very efficient kit-drying room.
QUALIFICATIONS: A deeper wreck suited to those with technical qualifications such as Advanced Nitrox or Decompression Procedures.
LAUNCHING: Slips at North Berwick, St Abbs, Eyemouth.
PROS: Interesting small U-boat with some unique features.
CONS: Fine silt can easily ruin the visibility.
Thanks to Iain Easingwood and Jim Easingwood.
Appeared in DIVER October 2010