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Wreck of the long lost WWI U-Boat SM UC-55 identified off the Shetland coast

Published: July 27, 2023 - 09:00
Updated: July 30, 2023 - 18:39
Wreck of the long lost WWI U-Boat SM UC-55 identified off the Shetland coast

A group of British divers have identified the wreck of the German U-Boat SM UC-55, which was sunk off the coast of Shetland in 1917.

The wreck of the WW1 German submarine SM UC-55 has been identified by a group of technical divers near Shetland. Reports revealed that the remains of the U-Boat are located at a depth of around 110 metres, eight nautical miles east of Lerwick.

 

SM UC-55
Wreck of the German submarine Photo: Martin Mako Janeček

 

A German submarine was on a mission to lay mines in a Lerwick Channel between Orkney and Shetland. At some point the ship suffered a technical problem and had to surface.

The submarine had buoyancy problems and at one point lost its trim. As a result it dived beyond the rated maximum dive depth. This resulted in flooding of the front compartments as well as battery malfunction and an outbreak of chlorine gas. The crew of the U-boat had to surface to ventilate the ship. Unfortunately, due to the battery failure, the rudder refused to work. In this situation, the ship’s captain Horst Ruhle von Lilienstern ordered the destruction of secret documents and codebooks, as well as the laying of explosive charges. During this last activity, the ship was spotted by British ships – the trawler Moravia and the destroyers HMS Tirade and HMS Sylvia.

Video by Jacob Mackenzie:

The first salvo from HMS Sylvia hit the SM UC-55 conning tower killing the ship’s commander, in turn after the second salvo the ship began to sink. The British then dropped two depth charges near the U-boat, leading to an explosion on the German submarine. The destruction was completed by the trawler Moravia, which dropped the last depth charge. The surviving 17 crew members were taken as prisoners.

The owner of the Valhalla boat, Hazel Weaver, from which the dive was carried out, had known of the surveyed position since the mid-1980s, when it came up during sonar scanning. However, it took as long as 10 years to prepare the dive expedition and conduct the exploration of the wreck.

The ship's position had been known since the 1980s.
The ship’s position had been known since the 1980s. Photo: Martin Mako Janeček

 

This has been known about for a long time, the question was: is this the wreck we thought it was?, Hazel Weaver told BBC Radio Shetland.

German SM UC-55
Sub was lost in 1917 Photo: Martin Mako Janeček

 

Nevertheless, a team of technical divers aboard the Valhalla was the first to reach the wreck, which rests at a depth of around 110m. It was a difficult and very challenging dive, but the photo and video documentation collected during the dive allowed to identify the wreck as the German submarine SM UC-55.

After three and a half hours of divers being in the water down to 110m (361ft), they came and confirmed yes, this is the UC-55.

Video by Jacob Mackenzie:

Jacob Mackenzie is one of the divers who explored the wreck of the U-boat. After the dive, he shared his thoughts that followed him underwater. After all, it was a dive on the wreck of a warship, which is the grave and final resting place of around 20 sailors.

You are aware of that, although I believe about 15 of the crew did escape, the rest of the crew of course didn’t – so they are still inside and that’s very obvious when you’re looking around it,” he said.

German Submarine from 1917
German Submarine from 1917 Photo: Martin Mako Janeček

 

Almost ever since I started diving I’ve been craving a first dive for a nice wreck. Now I had the opportunity to be part of the divers group that first saw the German UC-55 submarine from the First World War off the Shetland archipelago at over 100 meters depths. The whole expedition was accompanied by slightly adverse weather, but thanks to the great captain Hazel Weaver and the support of Helen Hadley we finally managed this unforgettable dive from the ship Valhalla. Did a dive with two CCR Liberty from Divesoft one was the primary and the other was the backup (Bailout) – wrote on his social media account Martin Mako Janeček

U-Boat SM UC-55

The ship was a Type UC II minelaying submarinewas and was part of the German Imperial Navy (Kaiserliche Marine). Ship took active role in the naval operations during the World War I. The 52.69-metre-long U-Boat was launched on 2nd of August 1916 and entered service on the 15th of November 1916.

Cover Photo: Jacob Mackenzie

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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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