Picture of By Piers Boileau-Goad

By Piers Boileau-Goad

27th July 2023

In Kiel on the 18th March 1920, a new baby boy was brought into the world, that baby was given the name Erwin. As the years progressed the child grew to become a man and joined the German Navy in 1938, not starting in the U Boat arm until March 1943, continuing to the Commanders course between February and May 1944 and then commissioning U 325 in Lubeck. After the usual working up training he took the boat to Horten and started his first patrol on the 9th December 1944, returning to Trondheim in February 1945 before making her final departure weeks later, on the 20th March as part of the 11th U Boat Flotilla. The last time Bdu (U Boat Command) heard from them was on the 7th April 1945.

The anatomy of a Type VII/C U Boat

Their final patrol started on the 20th March with an objective of intercepting shipping using the convoy routes along the north coast of cornwall where minefields had been laid in order to act as defence against seabourne invasion. These minefields across the Irish Sea were well documented so the U Boats would use these open lanes (near Cornwall called the ‘Southern Gap’) to decimate convoys such as happened with SS Ezra Western and then immediately after with HMCS Regina. However, what the U Boats did not know was that a deeper minefield of roughly 1,200 mines in 11 fields had been laid beneath the convoy routes by HMS Apollo off Trevose Head. It was one of these mines that sealed the fate of U325 and her 52 Crew on the 30th April 1945

Oberleutnant zur See Erwin Dohrn 18th March 1920 – 30th April 1945, aged 25.

On the 25th July three guys met up down in Newquay harbour waiting for high water to load kit, equipment and of course themselves onto the boat ‘Desert Moon’, a small ‘Offshore 105’ capable of carrying 13. As loading commenced down the stairs inhabited by local fishermen and boat tours, not to mention a group of canoeists and something akin to kneeling on a surfboard and paddling at a rapid pace, a very strong smell of rotting fish hung in the air. In turn, two other divers arrived, so five divers overall was a good number, more and it would have been too crowded unless everyone was diving with a single cylinder, there simply would not have been sufficient space for a CCR and two bailout cylinders on the benches. Rather unusually one of the divers was diving Open Circuit which to these depths is now rare where before it was common place. 

My Open Circuit Trimix dives were all below 50m back in 2005 but the pendulum had already started to swing to CCR for depths like that, still a full fill only cost about £100 for all cylinders then!

With 8 on the boat, five diving and three ‘crew’ Pete Harrison our boss had a chat with us all about the safety features, as well as what to expect on the trip out. He is a current Lifeboat Man so I knew we were in good hands.

After roughly an hour or so of transit , we arrived out our destination, rather warm to be honest as it was a sunny, almost hot day to be in thick undersuits etc. Still, a last bottle of water was inhaled before kitting up, mentally going through the dive plan and my units settings. Have I turned everything on? What’s my setpoint programmed to, is this on both handsets? Are my sliders up or down and a myriad of other things as I sat waiting for my buddy to organise and mentally prepare himself.

Trip out

The first diver splashed in, the boat went around on the flat calm (but for a low easterly setting swell) seas as we waited on the lift ready for the signal. Splash..in we went at 11:55, engulfed by a cooling, blue sea. Bliss after the burning sun above us. Down the shotline we go, vertical visibility wasn’t great but it was a good 5-10m, how was horizontal visibility I wonder, going to be on the wreck? As we neared the bottom, coming to about 30m we could start seeing shadows and shapes coming from the gloom and then at 45m we see the wreck, sitting on her port side in the beautiful white sand. Getting closer to the bottom, our strobes go onto the line and we head off to see what can see. Horizontal visibility was roughly 15m or so allowing us to see huge swathes of the 67m long weapon that Churchill himself claimed to have feared so much. We swam along her Port side, past the open forward Torpedo loading hatch, past the conning tower, towards the Engine spaces which are now open, with a chunk removed as though bitten out of it.  Continuing aft, we find the starboard side propeller and hydroplanes while my buddy decides to take some photos and get some video. This is a huge boat, the scale always gets me and just being so close to a piece of real history that you can touch is a feeling that’s simply amazing for me. Heading back forward I see a closed hatch in the wreckage. I think this was the torpedo loading hatch for the aft torpedo room which would have sat above the forward bulkhead of the Electric Motor Room and the aft bulkhead of the Diesel room, which confirms that the explosion took out the diesel motor room and would have probably destroyed the E Motor room as well.

Moving further on, we arrive at the tower, with her attack periscope now bent towards the seabed but very much intact. It is even looking in the direction of her starboard quarter. Was Captain Dohrn looking at the coast to confirm a position perhaps? The Hatch into the  Conning Tower is now open to an extent so naturally curious I shone my light in, seeing pipes and other equipment in a wide beam I decided to try and narrow the beam to see into the control room if possible. Is this ethical as it is a war grave I wonder? All I saw was sand and silt on the bottom, yet I doubt that I was the first diver to violate the dead’s rest. That said, when I was taking my torch out of the hatch cover, I noticed something chilling. A skull, looking up at the starboard side of the tower, as if looking through it to the surface above. Was this Captain Dorhn? Frankly, I didn’t want to find out, it felt that I had already gone too far searching for something so my buddy and I headed forward once more, We had planned a fourty minute bottom time which was rapidly running out, where had this time gone? We were already at 35 minutes! Still coming forward we see the strobes marking the shot line and at minute fourty head up, strobes in hand. We started our stops at 45m, with the next at 33 and then 25m, after which they became more regular, intervals of 3m yet the shotline was moving up and down a fair bit. My buddy mentioned after the dive that he felt someone had tugged the line intentionally up and down, yet we never found out who or why, could this have been the ghosts of the past?

As we arrived at 6m the line was bouncing up and down a little more than desired so we decided to bag off and sit on the reels for the duration. When I bagged off I was trying to be gentle and avoid hitting my buddy as the bag went up, so I inflated a little with the desire to hang on this and then finish inflating a few metres away from the shotline. Needless to say this wasn’t achieved, but my bag went up anyway.

Hanging on the bags we drifted in the current, surrounded by fish of all sorts, generally only small ones, roughly 5-10cm long and a sort of bluish colour. Something that struck me was the colour of the water, there was an area of blue water to our right and to the left of us it was all green, much like a dividing line in the water, odd. My buddy finished his deco before me so went up into the sunshine, leaving me with about five minutes more to do. As the time ticked past and my deco finished I decided to make a short stop at 3m, why not? With a minute or so done there I headed to the surface and back to the sunshine. As the boat came over it was a tiny bit awkward getting onto the lift as it doesnt go very deep into the water, am I taller than most I wonder, and is quite narrow with two cylinders on one side, but as I left the lift and waddled forward the stages were removed from me and I plonked myself down on the bench. Bliss. What an interesting dive that was!

  • Dive Site: U325
  • Bottom Time: 40 minutes
  • Run Time: 123 minutes
  • Max Depth: 59.3m
  • Boat: Desert Moon with North Coast Diving.