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German submarine examined for first time 103 years after sinking

The WWI-era German submarine UC-47 has been examined for the first time since it sank in 1917. Advanced scanning techniques and video recordings carried out using ROVs allowed detailed documentation to be made and the cause of the sinking to be confirmed. Researchers led by deep-sea archaeology expert Dr Rodrigo Pacheco-Ruiz of the University of
Published: August 9, 2020 - 07:00
Updated: July 22, 2023 - 20:41
German submarine examined for first time 103 years after sinking

The WWI-era German submarine UC-47 has been examined for the first time since it sank in 1917. Advanced scanning techniques and video recordings carried out using ROVs allowed detailed documentation to be made and the cause of the sinking to be confirmed.

Researchers led by deep-sea archaeology expert Dr Rodrigo Pacheco-Ruiz of the University of Southampton, in collaboration with marine research companies MMT and Reach Subsea, examined the wreck of UC-47 on behalf of Tolmount Development during offshore operations conducted in preparation for the laying of a new pipeline in the North Sea, some 20 nautical miles off the Yorkshire coast of England.

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Wreck exploration using ROV divers24.pl
MMT SROV, Havila Subsea

Using state-of-the-art technology, robots and high-resolution geophysical equipment, the wreck located at a depth of 50 metres was investigated. The sunken German submarine was mapped and surveyed in unprecedented detail, showing an astonishing level of preservation for such an old vessel.

UC-47 was a true predator from the deep. In just one year of her career at sea, the ship and her crew were responsible for sinking over 50 vessels! Because of its achievements and elusiveness in the German Navy, it quickly acquired the patch of a lucky ship.

German submarine UC-44 divers24.eu
UC 44, sister unit of UC 47 photo US National Archives and Records Administration

However, everything has its end, and UC-47’s good fortune came to an end on 18 November 1917, when a Royal Navy patrol boat, HMS P-57, appeared in her path, first ramming the enemy vessel and then launching a depth charge attack. The German submarine did not have a chance to survive and together with her crew set off on her last journey, which ended at the bottom of the sea.

“Currently the ship is only marked as a wreck on navigation charts and until now very little was known about the ship’s state of preservation. It was an honour to be able to examine a wreck in such good condition and have the opportunity to learn more about its past,” said Dr Rodrigo Pacheco-Ruiz, co-director of the Offshore Archaeological Research (OAR) project from the Centre for Maritime Archaeology at the University of Southampton.

It is clear from the archaeological survey that the wreck is well preserved. The remains of the main hull, which is intact along its entire length, are visible above the seabed, and the damage the ship sustained when it sank is clearly visible. A large hole on the left side of the hull indicates an explosion. Scattered around the wreck are its components, including one of the torpedo launchers.

3D image of the UC-47 submarine wreck divers24.pl
High-resolution 3D image of the ship photo by Tolmount Development

“The day after UC-47 was sunk, the wreck was reportedly visited by Royal Navy divers, who then obtained valuable information, including a code book and maps. Further examination of the historical sources – when access to them becomes possible – combined with detailed photographs of the wreck may allow us to determine whether this was indeed the case.” – Maritime Historian Stephen Fisher said

The OAR project aims to investigate archaeological sites, such as UC-47, that are inaccessible to traditional archaeological work. All using modern technology and resources within industry partnerships – as in MMT / Reach Subsea.

Topaz Tiamat wreck research vessel divers24.co.uk
The state-of-the-art marine research vessel Topaz Tiamat used during the expedition photo MMT Reach subsea

“These sites are usually hundreds of miles from shore and can only be reached with specialised underwater equipment, which is usually an obstacle to exploring them. Projects like ours show that these sites can be explored even in these very difficult times when the world is facing a pandemic,” said Dr Rodrigo Pacheco-Ruiz

Archaeologists now hope to return to the wreck in the future to gather more data about its past and help train students in marine archaeology.

Source: University of Southampton

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About author

Tomasz Andrukajtis
Editor-in-chief of the DIVERS24 portal and magazine. Responsible for obtaining, translating and developing content. He also supervises all publications. Achived his first diving certification – P1 CMAS, in 2000. Has a degree in journalism and social communication. In the diving industry since 2008.
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