By Baz Warner

By Baz Warner

14th June 2021

Well you couldn’t have ordered better weather! Sea conditions good with a light wind and plenty of sunshine all weekend. Lots of water, lashings of sunscreen and sun bonnets were the order of the day.

Day 1 - UB-55 and UB-78

Our first dive was on the wreck of WW1 U-Boat UB-55. The shot was quickly placed with the Seahorse trio entering first. Ascent down the shot was easy and tied pretty close to the visible prop. Light penetration of the water at this depth was very good and around 5m visibility. Perhaps surprising was the seabed depth to get a video of the prop at 37m. A bimble followed along the length of the sub over the pressure hull with notable damage at the bow. A few large lobsters reside here. Due to the initial time at depth, the dive was turned around 25 minutes. All divers returned successfully up the shot.
The second dive was on the UB-78. Getting a hook on the sub proved difficult due to the length of the sub lying with the current. After 3 unsuccessful attempts, a 56lb weight was dropped. It took a few extra moments for the shot to be completed. This time the Seahorse trio entered last. There was a slight current at the end of the shot. Depth low 30s with again 5m viz and useful light penetration. The gun is still there and we spent time exploring this, finding a shell container visible through one of the 6 to 12-inch damage holes in the hull. Also clearly visible is a torpedo in situ. Dive time a little over 30 minutes with ascent back up the shot.

Day 2 - UB-55 and the Mindora

Again a perfect day with a very small swell. Our first dive by unanimous consent was back to UB-55 again. The shot was 5m or so off the sub but not a problem. Strangely enough the depth this time was 30m to the seabed, nearly 8m different than yesterday at the time time of day! So a bimble up and down the sub with a gentle current easily done. Good chance to explore the conning tower with a view into the control room through the open hatch. Towards the stern damage, there is a view of one of the engines. Bottom time around 35 minutes and safe ascent up the shot.
Our second dive was changed to the Mindora, a copper-plated wooden sailing ship sunk in 1850 and discovered around two years ago. It carried various goods to and from the UK. Easily discovered are a collection of bottles, mainly wine but including rectangular section olive oil bottles amongst others. There are also items including candles, clothing, pipes and female garments. Descending along the shot it soon became very dark and at 30m it was pitch black. Viz therefore difficult to judge but only 3m at best. Bimbled along the length of the ship. Found a corked wine bottle with a small shell build-up. One of the team was diving on air with a single 15l cylinder, so after 20 minutes he hit deco. For this reason, a DSMB was deployed as turning to find the shot would take too long. It would be good to return to this site to explore and map the site, some interesting finds would be made for sure, including possibly boxed crates of wine. A backup torch and line laying capability are a must-have for these conditions.

In summary, a great weekend of four dives. Thank you to Mutiny Divers for their support and use of the boat.

The Fate Of UB-55

Aged 28 years old, Uboat SM UB-55 was commanded by Oberleutnant Z Ralph Wenninger, UB-55 added to the U-Flottile Flandern in August 1917. She left Zeebrugge on her final patrol on 21st April 1918 with 35 men, 28 crew and 7 trainees. In the early hours, she reached the Dover Barrage, diving to avoid searchlights. Shortly after leaving the surface, an explosion occurred on her starboard side between the engine room and stern. Two compartments flooded immediately, the submarine coming to rest some 33 metres on a sandy seabed.

One of her engineers tried to shut the watertight door between the engine room and torpedo room, but it was impossible. Every time he tried to close the door, the flooding water forced it back, water jetting into the compartment whilst the men were thrown to their feet.

As the starboard ballast tanks were ruptured, Wenninger could not bring his vessel to the surface. The crew in the stern sections and engine room had already drowned, while the survivors huddled near the hatches on the middle and foreward. Twelve men in the forward and eight in the middle command centre.

The lights went out and the survivors were forced to use headlamps and while the rising water increased the internal air pressure, they experienced immense headaches. Breathing became difficult and painful while the penetration of the seawater into the battery compartments lead to the leakage of chlorine gas. Panic ensued and two crewmen tried to commit suicide using a pistol, unsuccessful as the cartridges were damp.

An hour and a half passed and the cold water had reached a height of 1 metre, making it possible to equalise the pressure to open the foreward and conning tower escape hatches. Wenninger knew that there were only four Dräger escape sets, dividing the survivors into two groups. Six men beneath the conning tower hatch and twelve men under the hatch in the torpedo room.

When the hatches were opened, most of the crew were able to escape within the enormous air bubble. However, most suffered embolisms and lung overexpansion and were found dead on the surface. There were still eight survivors found floating on the surface, one being Wenninger, picked up and saved by the British trawler Mate and one who died without gaining consciousness on the trip back to Dover. Of the others, two of the survivors were vomiting blood and oil, whilst others would not stop screaming.

The survivors were Ralph Wenninger, Friedrich Dietrich, Fritz Jahnke, Alex Neumann, Ewald Kestner and Peter Hammel. After the war, Wenninger remained in the navy and joined the Luftwaffe on 1st March 1935 and died in Italy under unknown circumstances on the 13th March 1945. Topical in today's world of Covid-19, Dietrich died seven months later from Spanish Flu at the Shipton officers camp.

Tomas Termote - War Beneath The Waves