It’s not easy to pronounce, but it’s an intact WW2 U-boat victim lying off north-west Wales with lots for divers to see, says JOHN LIDDIARD. Illustration by MAX ELLIS
THIS MONTH’S TOUR TAKES US BACK TO ANGLESEY, this time to the Vigsnes, a nicely intact 1945 steamship wreck from World War Two – which means it had plenty of anti-aircraft armament.
With the seabed at 43m and the deck at 36-38m, most divers will not be staying long enough to see the entire wreck from a shot placed near the middle of the ship. To see it all in one dive without having to double back, ask your skipper to shot the wreck towards the stern (the west end of the wreck).
When I dived the Vigsnes, Scott Waterman managed to hook the shot over the starboard side of the stern (1).
Making a mini-tour of the stern deck first, spanning the front of the deck is a single-spindle cargo-winch (2). Behind this, a pillar rising from the deck is possibly all that remains of a stern gun-mount (3).
The wooden decking is mostly intact, the few small holes being barely big enough to shine a torch through, let alone fit a diver through. Right at the back, a large steering-quadrant (4) spans most of the width of the deck, the hub obviously located at the top end of the rudder-shaft.
Dropping over the stern, the rudder-shaft ends in a stub (5) where the rudder has been removed, presumably to enable the propeller to be salvaged, because it has been cleanly removed from the propshaft.
While a bronze propeller would no doubt have been worth salvaging, the rudder would just have been cleared out of the way and left, perhaps quite close by and buried beneath the silt.
Ascending round the port side of the stern to the main deck (6), steps lead up to the stern deck and an open doorway leads into the cabins. With the amount of fine silt banked inside, doing anything more than poking a dive-light inside to have a look is not to be taken lightly.
Now heading forwards, both of the aft holds are filled with silt, the remnants of the coal cargo presumably buried below. Between the holds is the usual pair of cargo-winches set fore and aft of the mast (7). The mast itself has fallen to port, as has one of the cargo derricks.
Amidships, steps lead up to the main superstructure (8). The framework that would have covered the companionway along the side is just a skeleton, as are most of the exposed surfaces of the Vigsnes, the frames covered in a thick growth of orange and white plumose anemones.
Spanning the middle of the superstructure, though fallen slightly to starboard, a large section of reinforced deck supports the mount for an anti-aircraft gun (9), though the gun itself has been salvaged.
The usual engine-room ventilation hatches (10) and access to the engine-room can be found below the gun platform.
To the forward end of the superstructure, a second collapsed gun platform (11) would originally have been the wheelhouse roof. Like the other platform, the mount for the anti-aircraft gun is all that remains.
Between the two gun platforms, and particularly towards the starboard side, ammunition is scattered about the deck.
Forward of the superstructure, steps lead down to the main deck (12) and the two forward holds. Between the holds is another pair of winches (13).
When I dived the Vigsnes the mast was still standing, though I have heard an unconfirmed report that this has now collapsed. Unlike the aft cargo-handling gear, no derricks remain.
Either side of the deck are boxed areas (14) – I suspect that these are the foundations of small deckhouses that would have been made of wood.
While the coal in the other three holds is covered by silt, coal towards the front of the forward hold (15) is sufficiently banked up to rise above the silt, with substantial amounts of coal spilled on the deck to either side.
Perhaps when the Vigsnes was torpedoed by U-1172 it went down bow-first, at a sufficient angle and with sufficient impact to “bump” the coal forwards and out of the hold. Yet there are no signs of similar escape from the aft holds, and there are no signs of damage to the hull from such a bump.
Now at the bow, doorways to either side of the deck provide access to the forecastle. Like the stern cabins, inside is well-silted and not an easy wreck penetration. Steps beside the doorways lead up to the bow deck.
Rather than ascend to the bow deck right away, a swim along the port side of the bow leads to the port anchor (16), dangling by its chain from the anchor hawse-pipe. Round the tip of the bow, the corresponding starboard anchor is missing (17).
Now ascending to the bow deck, the anchor-winch is beautifully intact (18), even with the stems and handles for the winch-brakes standing from the back of it.
To finish the dive, one option would be to release a delayed SMB from here, though if the forward mast is still standing, a quick ascending swim back across the forward hold gives a mast to follow up to 30m before having to pop the DSMB (19).
TRIUMPH OF MANNERS
OBERLEUTNANT JURGEN KUHLMANN took over U-1172 in April 1944 when she was first commissioned, and commanded the U-boat for the whole of her short operational life. In fact he died with her and all his 38 crew when caught by Royal Navy escorts as he attacked coastal shipping in late January, 1945, writes Kendall McDonald.
Kuhlmann’s command was one of hundreds of VIIC boats turned out during the war, with yearly improvements on each batch.
U-1172 was a VIIC (1944 type) of 860 tons, 67.2m long, with a beam of 6.2m, driven by two 1,400hp diesels on the surface giving 17 knots, and two 375hp electric motors when submerged, at just 8 knots. She carried 14 torpedoes for one stern and four bow tubes. In 1944 they changed the guns for a 3.7cm, with two twin 2cm guns for anti-aircraft use.
On 21 January Kuhlmann was working with Kapitanleutnant Rolf Nollman in a sister-sub, U-1199, attacking the UK coastal convoy TBC 43 near the Lizard. After claiming to have sunk the US Liberty ship George Hawley (it was only damaged and was towed to Falmouth, beached and later refloated), Nollman suddenly stopped transmitting and was reported as sunk by the convoy’s anti-submarine escorts.
Kuhlmann on the same day claimed to have torpedoed the Norwegian steamer Galatea from the TBC43 convoy. Two days later, he reappeared attacking ships in MH1, another coastal convoy in the Irish Sea.
One ship in that convoy was the 1599-ton Norwegian steamer Vigsnes. She left Cardiff with a cargo of 1,936 tons of Welsh coal on 21 January, and headed north for Glasgow.
Travelling in a similar direction was U-1172. U-boat met collier in the Irish Sea just after midnight on 23 January, 21 miles from the Isle of Man.
The captain of the Vigsnes spotted something light-coloured in the water to port. He must have glimpsed the wake of a torpedo from Kuhlmann’s bow tubes, for moments later one exploded in the engine-room, bringing the Norwegian to a swishing halt.
The Vigsnes was filling with water, so the captain ordered his crew to abandon ship. The vessel seemed to stabilise on an even keel, so the routine was straightforward. Vigsnes didn’t founder until 4.50pm.
Kuhlmann went deep, surfacing only to radio his success back to base and then set off in the convoy’s wake in search of other victims. He fired a torpedo at one of the escort ships, the lease-lend frigate HMS Manners, but was wildly inaccurate in claiming to have sunk it.
In fact, on 26 January, Manners, along with three Lease-Lend frigates, HMS Aylmer, Bentinck and Calder, depth-charged U-1172 out of existence in the Irish Sea, 32 miles north-east of Dublin.
GETTING THERE: Follow the A55 across North Wales to Anglesey. Once over the bridge, take the slip road and turn right to Menai Bridge (the town, not the bridge itself). Turn towards the waterfront by the newsagent and post office opposite the HSBC bank. The boat picks up from the pontoon in front of the harbour office.
TIDES: Slack water occurs at high water and low water Liverpool, lasting 15 minutes on springs and 60 minutes on neaps.
HOW TO FIND IT: The GPS co-ordinates are 53 32.624N, 004 11.142W (degrees, minutes and decimals). The bow is to the east.
DIVING & AIR: Scott Waterman’s Quest Diving Charters operates a Lochin 40 for group bookings and a 7.5m RIB shuttle, 01248 716923 or 07974 249005.
ACCOMMODATION: Quest can put you in contact with the whole range of local accommodation, ranging from B&B in the pub by the harbour office to camping outside town.
QUALIFICATIONS: This advanced dive is best suited to those prepared to do a fair bit of decompression.
FURTHER INFORMATION: Admiralty Chart 1977, Holyhead to Great Ormes Head. Admiralty Chart 1978, Approaches to Liverpool. Ordnance Survey Map 114, Anglesey. Anglesey Wrecks and Reefs by Andy Shears & Scott Waterman. Anglesey Tourist Information, 01407 762622.
PROS: Pretty much intact, with gun-mounts and lots to look at.
CONS: Popular with angling skippers, who may already be fishing the wreck when you arrive. If so, the wreck of the Cork is only 250m away at 53 32.516N, 004 11.389W.
Thanks to Scott Waterman.
Appeared in DIVER July 2006
Other Anglesey Wreck Tours on Divernet: Albanian, Bangor, Derbent, Kincorth, Torch & Chacabuco