PAUL WEBSTER

U-86

It's the fourth day of the SUDG's annual trip down to Littlehampton to dive some of the Channel wrecks. Divers have come and gone as the week has progressed, as commitments drag them away, but others have filled their places. Previous days the boat has been full, but today there are only 4 of us diving, even Paul the organiser is missing. Ivan the skipper of the Michelle Mary gives us the option of what we would like to dive next.


Having dived the SS Moldavia, and The Duke of Buccleuch, both excellent wrecks in their own right, we chose to dive something different. One option was to dive an unknown sounding in 56m. We all understood the possibility that the target might amount to nothing (and what a waste of a trimix fill that would be), but there was always the hope that it might be something worthwhile.


The weather was excellent and the viz superb as we dropped down the shot, spot on slack. Even so as we hit the flat sea-bed all we could see was gravel (the shot having just missed the narrow target). We made a sweep of the area, and then in the distance we could make out the shape of something man-made. A long low lying tube started to appear. It didn't look much like a shipwreck, our initial thoughts were barrels or some pipe. When the bow gun became visible it was obvious it was a submarine, sitting perfectly upright as if on display in a museum.


Starting at the bow we began to explore. The bow was completely broken up, forward of the pressure plate, with two torpedo tubes visible in the vertical steel plate. Swimming along the hull the first thing to strike home was the fact that all the thin steel of the outer hull had corroded away, so rather than the usual sleek outline that you might expect on a submarine, there was a network of tubes, pipes and cylinders, both attached to the hull and lying on the sea-bed.


The bow gun was still intact, with the hatch just behind. Without the skin it was easy to see the structure that attached the gun to the pressure hull.


The conning tower looked gaunt and emaciated without the outer hull. Each of the periscope tubes contained crabs. To say the wreck was covered in life is an understatement, no anemones at that depth, but plenty of sea firs, ling, shoals of bib and every single hole or tube contained crabs, lobsters or congers.


With no plankton and a bright day the light levels were amazing, which meant all the photographs were taken with ambient light and no flash. Looking at the plans of the sub subsequently and the photographs it is easy to estimate viz of 20 to 25 m.


Past the conning tower there was much more debris, lots more tubes and pipes, in some parts totally obscuring the sleek line of the hull. There was also evidence of fishing with both line and nets.


Passing further back along the hull towards the stern, more hatches and the stern torpedo loading hatch. The propellers and rudders were also intact.


On surfacing and back on the boat, the skipper and Paul were interested in what we had found. I'm sure they thought we were winding them up when we told them we had found a U-boat, I don't think they really believed us until I showed them the photographs.


Subsequently the wreck was identified as a WW-I German submarine, the U-86.


Technical U-86 was of type Mittel U. These boats had excellent seagoing abilities and generally handled very well. The boats had various arrangements of deck guns. Some had only one 88mm gun while others had a single 105mm gun - but most had both originally. In 1917 some of the boats were refitted with a single 105mm gun (220 rounds).


Technical information for type Mittel U


Displacement: 808 tons (surface) 946 tons (submerged) Length: 70.06 m (overall) 55.5 (pressure hull) Height: 8 m Power: 2400 hp (surface) 1200 hp (submerged) Crew: 39 men Max depth: 50 m Torpedoes: 16 4 bow tubes 2 stern tubes


Infamy


By summer 1918, much of Germany was in rebellion, and the government began to move toward armistice. It was during this period that U-86 was involved in one of the worst atrocities of WW-I.


About one hundred and sixteen miles south-west of Fastnet (Ireland) at around 9:30 pm on the 27th June 1918, Oblt.z.S. Helmut Patzig, against international law and standing orders of the Imperial German Navy, sank the hospital ship Llandovery Castle.


The Llandovery Castle was commissioned as a hospital ship in 1916 for the transfer of sick and wounded Canadians from Europe to Nova Scotia. She was clearly identifiable since all lights were burning, with the large Red Cross signal prominently displayed amidships.


On top of that, in an attempt to hide the evidence, Patzig ordered his U-boat to shoot the survivors.


Only one lifeboat escaped saving 24 lives, including the Captain. In all there were 234 victims, all non-combatants, including 14 nursing sisters, medics and crew.


Patzig seems to have been convinced that the Llandovery Castle was being used for transporting troops as well as munitions. After the torpedoing and sinking the ship, he repeatedly questioned the crew as to the cargo to try and justify his action. After the war, trials of suspected War Criminals began. Implicated in the Llandovery Castle incident were First-Lieutenant Helmut Patzig and the first and second officers of the watch Dithmar and Boldt. Patzig was a native of Dantzig. When war criminals were being sought, he had disappeared; but as his country had then been separated from Germany by the Treaty of Versailles he was no longer came under German jurisdiction even if he could have been found. The Germans arrested Dithmar and Boldt and put them on trial at Leipzig. The Court found Patzig guilty. Dithmar and Boldt were held to be accessories, and they were sentenced to four years imprisonment. Although both escaped relatively soon after. A fourth person, the first boatswain's mate, Meissner was also implicated, but died before the trial. History The U boat campaign during WW-I had mixed results to say the least. Over 170 U-boats were lost during the war, with nearly 5,000 men killed, approximately one third. Conversely U-boats sank more than 4,000 ships, more than 11 million tons, about one quarter of the world's total supply. U-86 was a Mittel U Type boat, launched on 7 Nov, 1916 and commissioned 30 Nov, 1916, she made 12 patrols with 33 ships sunk for a total of 125.580 tons (warships excluded). Helmut Patzig was commander from 26 Jan, 1918 - 11 Nov, 1918 U-86 surrendered on 20 Nov, 1918. She was then temporarily commissioned into the Royal Navy for experimental work. She sank in the English Channel on the way to be broken up in 1921.


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