Verschollen: World War I U-Boat Losses

Verschollen: World War I U-Boat Losses

by Dwight Messimer


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Until now, finding reliable information on U-boats lost during World War I required fluency in German and a great deal of time. Not only was little information available in English but also German sources were difficult to track down and provided the barest of facts. Long in the making, this new reference fills the needs both of researchers looking for details of lost submarines and readers who enjoy action and adventure. It provides a comprehensive examination of each of the 203 U-boats that the Germans lost in the war. Fluent in German and at home in war archives, Dwight Messimer offers for the first time individual narratives of the men who survived their boat's sinking. Several made difficult escapes from sunken wrecks, and one man bailed out just as his submarine plunged past the 100-foot mark. Others were on deck or atop the coning tower when their boat went under.

In the case of boats listed as verschollen, or lost without a trace, the author includes explanations given for what might have happened or in the case of conflicting evidence, analyzes the explanations for accuracy. Each boat entry is a narrative that stands alone allowing readers to easily focus on a particular submarine. Researchers will appreciate the convenience of the book's format and the all-inclusive nature of the information listed. Because Messimer provides the approximate locations of many of the wrecks, amateur and professional salvage divers wanting to visit wreckage sights also will find the book useful.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781557504753
Publisher: Naval Institute Press
Publication date: 10/28/2002
Pages: 304
Product dimensions: 6.82(w) x 8.76(h) x 1.11(d)
Age Range: 1 Year

About the Author

Dwight R. Messimer, a specialist on the German Navy and U-boats, is the author of several books published by the Naval Institute.

Read an Excerpt


WORLD WAR I U-Boat Losses
By Dwight R. Messimer

Naval Institute Press

Copyright © 2002 Dwight R. Messimer
All right reserved.

ISBN: 155750475X

Chapter One


Date Lost: December 1914 Commander: Kapitänleutnant Lemmer Location: Hoofden, off the Flanders coast Position: 51°23' N, 3°11' E (possible) Disposition: Verschollen

U-5 departed Zeebrugge on 18 December 1914 for picket duty off the Belgium coast. U-5 did not return.

Additional Information

The British had laid a large minefield on 2 October 1914 that U-5 passed through to reach its picket station; there is a strong possibility that U-5 hit a British mine. Until November 1917 British mines were unreliable and U-boats regularly passed through British minefields unscathed. Nevertheless, U-boat captains never entered a minefield with a cavalier attitude, and passage through a minefield was a stressful experience.


Gibson and Prendergast, The German Submarine War, 17. Groos, Der Krieg in der Nordsee, 3:46-47. Records, T-1022, Roll 13, PG61504. Spindler, Der Handelskrieg mit U-Booten, chart, 2:61.


Date Lost: 15 September 1915 Commander: Oberleutnant zur See Reinhold Lepsius Location: North Sea, off Norway Position: 58°55' N, 5°10' E Disposition: Torpedo

British submarine E-16torpedoed U-6 in the afternoon of 15 September 1915 off the Norwegian coast near Udfire Island. There were five survivors.

Oberleutnant zur See Beyer, U-6

I saw a periscope 150 to 200 meters away and immediately turned hard to starboard. At that moment I saw two torpedo wakes. The first torpedo passed forward, but the second hit at the officers' room. Those of us on the conning tower were knocked down and I was knocked unconscious. When I awoke it was dark and wet. I was under water, fouled in either the radio antenna or the flag halyards. I freed myself and rose to the surface. I found four other swimmers including the chief engineer who had been in the control room. The British submarine E-16 picked us up.


Records, T-1022, Roll 13, PG61505, "Gefechtsbericht des Oberleutnant zur See Beyer von U-6."


Date Lost: 21 January 1915 Commander: Kapitänleutnant Georg König Location: German Bight, off the Dutch coast Position: 53°43' N, 6°2' E Disposition: Torpedo (German)

On 20 January 1915 U-7 departed Ems en route to Zeebrugge where it was to become a part of the Flanders command, which the Germans called the Marinekorps. On that same day bad weather and heavy seas had forced Kapitänleutnant Bruno Hoppe in U-22 to leave his picket station off the British coast and return to Ems. On 21 January both boats were in sight of one another off the Dutch coast north of Ameland, which is one of the West Frisian Islands.

U-22 flashed a recognition signal challenge to U-7 but received no reply. Hoppe tried to close on U-7, but U-7 turned away and opened the distance. Hoppe now became suspicious and the heavy seas prevented him from recognizing the design features that identified U-7 as a German boat. For example, Hoppe did not see the tall ventilator over the engine room that was unique to all the boats that were equipped with Körting engines. The fact that the boat Hoppe was pursuing did not dive puzzled him, but he thought that it might be having problems with its diving controls. He sent another recognition signal that went unanswered.

Hoppe ordered the torpedoes in both bow tubes made ready and maneuvered to make a surface torpedo attack. He sent one more challenge, and when there was no reply he fired both torpedoes at nine hundred meters. One torpedo either missed or failed to explode, but the other torpedo hit U-7 just forward of the conning tower, sinking it almost instantly. When U-22 picked up the only survivor Hoppe learned that he had killed his best friend, Georg König.

Additional Information

The German navy did not hold Hoppe responsible for the accident and he continued in command of U-22 until 6 September 1916; he then took over the newly commissioned U-83. Hoppe and his entire crew were lost on 17 February 1917.


Groos, Der Krieg in der Nordsee, 2:181.

Records, T-1022, Roll 23, PG61506 (U-7); T-1022, Roll 24, PG61540 (U-22).


Date Lost: 4 March 1915 Commander: Kapitänleutnant Alfred Stoss Location: English Channel, between Dungeness and Tréport Position: 50°41' N, 0°6' E Disposition: Indicator Net, Explosive Sweep, Gunfire, Scuttled

U-8 departed Ostend on 4 March 1915 in company with U-20 for operations in the English Channel. Shortly after noon on 4 March HMS Viking sighted U-8 five nautical miles east-northeast of the Varne buoy, and opened fire, forcing U-8 to dive. The sea was calm with a light fog.

The drifter Ma Freen was stationed near the Varne when at 1230 its crew saw the pellets that marked its net moving eastward at four knots. Ma Freen reported the contact to HMS Cossack, whose captain passed the information on to Capt. C. D. Johnson, commanding the destroyers at Dover. Johnson left Dover in HMS Maori at 1330 and joined HMS Viking in pursuing the visual contact.

About an hour later the drifter Roburn saw an indicator buoy moving eastward. An hour later the destroyers spotted a periscope. Viking fired its explosive sweep without result. An hour later Maori saw the periscope farther down the channel and at 1700 HMS Ghurka exploded its sweep across the projected track. U-8 shot to the surface stern-first at an almost vertical angle. Gkurka and Maori fired at it and scored two hits on the conning tower. The submarine's crew and officer abandoned the sinking U-8 and were taken prisoners. U-8 sank approximately twenty-three nautical miles southwest of the Varne Bank Lightship.

The Official British Report

For thirty minutes the destroyers followed surface disturbances that indicated a U-boat's submerged passage moving northwest. At 1522 a periscope was sighted one mile north of the Varne buoy. The disturbances turned westerly and continued on the new course for fifteen minutes, before turning ESE. At 1550 Viking fired her sweep. The disturbances continued for about 150 yards and disappeared completely 4 1/2 miles northeast of the Varne buoy.

At 1555 the periscope was again seen. The destroyers Cossack, Ghurka, Syren, Mohawk, Ure, Viking and Maori were now involved in the hunt. At 1640 Maori sighted the periscope again and at 1710 Ghurka fired her sweep. Thirty seconds later a U-boat's stern rose above the surface at a 45° angle, and then the rest of the boat appeared on an even keel. The U-boat was immediately taken under fire. The crew abandoned the hulk, which sank quickly.

Kapitänleutnant Alfred Stoss, U-8

Departed Ostend 4 March 1915 en route the English Channel to attack shipping. The plan was to sink as much shipping as possible in the shortest possible time and return to Ostend to refuel and rearm. We sailed in company with U-20 [Kapitänleutnant Schwieger] until we reached the minefield off Ruytingen Bank. There we parted company. We crossed the minefield on the surface and immediately encountered a second, new, minefield that was extraordinarily thick.

Visibility dropped as heavy fog developed. I decided to remain on the surface for as long as possible in order to obtain an accurate position fix before entering the Dover Straits. Visibility deteriorated to the point that I decided to dive and lay on the bottom close to South Foreland. This proved impossible because of the rocky bottom and the very strong current created an alarming situation. We surfaced and proceeded on a westerly course, trimmed down, ready to dive, and running on electric motors.

An hour later visibility suddenly improved and we spotted a destroyer about 1.5 nautical miles away. We saw a second destroyer about four nautical miles away. The nearer destroyer turned toward us and came on at high speed, forcing us to dive.

We had been discovered at the entrance to the Dover Straits and behind us lay the minefield. We could not recross it on the surface because of the presence of the enemy. The tide was set to turn in an hour and flow in a westerly direction and we would be unable to make any submerged headway against it. Due to the rocky bottom and strong current, lying on the bottom was not an option.

The entire Dover destroyer flotilla had been mobilized against us and every time I showed my periscope to obtain a position a destroyer saw it. The weather was clear, the wind light and the sea calm. I decided not to use the periscope again and went down to twenty meters and made several course changes over a distance of about four nautical miles. Then I laid a course that would bring us abeam of Dungeness. During this time several destroyers passed directly over us and we heard the sounds of high-speed propellers.

At 1530 I heard a distant explosion. At 1600 first watch officer, Oberleutnant zur See Sauerland relieved Leutnant zur See Morgenroth on the diving controls and immediately reported a problem. The diving planes were not answering the controls and the controls felt "irregular." Oberleutnant zur See Sauerland suggested that we had fouled a net. I inspected the boat through the periscope, but saw nothing unusual or suspicious.

At 1730 I heard a faint but clearly audible noise that sounded suspicious. I went forward to the torpedo room to listen. At 1745 a tremendous explosion, accompanied by a brilliant white-yellow flash, shook the entire boat. The lights went out and only the emergency lights in the forward and after sections of the boat came on. All the lights in the central part of the boat were destroyed. Water poured in through several openings in the conning tower and flooded the control room. A fire broke out behind the starboard breaker panel and water poured through the main induction valve, cascading down on the electric motors.

An attempt was made to couple the port electric motor to both shafts, but the result was thick smoke and the odor of burning rubber, calcium, and sulfur. The main switch was immediately opened and the boat stopped. All electrical power failed. Oberleutnant zur See Sauerland reported that the diving controls were not functioning and the boat was starting to sink. The fire in the control room was spreading and the heavy flooding was forcing the bow down. We quickly went from 25° down angle to 50° and then 60° and the boat started sinking rapidly. Things started breaking loose and Oberleutnant zur See Sauerland ordered the crew to move to the stern to shift weight aft. The batteries toppled over, spilling acid that mixed with seawater and formed chlorine gas.

Leitender Ingenieur Pelz ordered the tanks blown with compressed air and U-8 started upward stern first, still 45° down by the bow. We broke surface with only the conning tower and after deck above the surface. Two British destroyers immediately opened fire, scoring two hits on the conning tower that wounded Obersteuermann Ryman and caused me flash burns. I ordered the crew to abandon ship through the conning tower hatch while Oberleutnant zur See Sauerland, Leitender Ingenieur Pelz and I scuttled the boat. The flooding valves were still open and I ordered Pelz to shut off the compressed air that was still blowing through the tanks. At the same time I opened the main induction valve. By the time we emerged from the conning tower, boats from the British destroyers were taking the crew off the stern as the U-8 settled deeper in the water. Moments after I stepped into a British boat, the U-8 sank beneath the surface.

Additional Information

The explosive sweep that sank U-8 was an enormous looped cable that the destroyers towed three hundred yards astern. The upper part of the loop had nine large floats that were submerged twenty-four feet below the surface and were held at that depth by a hydroplane device called a kite. Nine eighty-pound guncotton charges spaced one hundred feet apart were attached to the lower part of the loop, and they were held at about fifty feet below the surface. The charges either exploded on contact or an operator aboard the destroyer could detonate them electrically. The goal was to foul the U-boat so that the charges exploded or to place the charges close enough to the boat to damage it when the operator fired the charges electrically. The system rarely worked and there are several examples of U-boats being struck by the sweep without the charges detonating.


Records, T-1022, Roll 23, PG61507, "Official British Report on the Sinking of the U-8, 4 March 1914, Enclosure No. 1, letter British Naval Attaché, Berlin to Rear Admiral Arno Spindler, 25 October 1928" and Kapitänleutnant Alfred Stoss, "Gefechtsbericht über die Versenkung S.M. Unterseeboot U-8, Rotterdam den 15. Juli 1918."


Date Lost: May or June 1916 Commander: Kapitänleutnant Stuhr Location: Baltic Sea or Gulf of Finland Position: Unknown Disposition: Verschollen

On 27 May 1916 U-10 departed Libau in the Baltic to attack Russian warships in the waters north of Gotland, and simply vanished. The Germans did not know if U-10 had hit a floating Russian mine, or if a navigation error had put it in a German minefield. There was also the possibility that U-10 had suffered a diving accident.

Additional Information

Russian antisubmarine warfare measures were poorly developed and inefficient, but their mines were among the best in the world. The Russians made extensive use of defensive mines and laid enormous minefields across their harbor entrances and in the Gulf of Finland. Russian mines represented the most serious threat to German submarines operating in the Baltic.


Records, T-1022, Roll 31, PG61513.

Spindler, Der Handelskrieg mit U-Booten, 3:179.

Von Gagern, Der Krieg in der Ostsee, 3:33.


Date Lost: December 1914 Commander: Kapitänleutnant von Suchodoletz Location: Hoofden, Dover Strait, or English Channel Position: Unknown Disposition: Verschollen

U-11 departed Zeebrugge on 9 December 1914 for operations in the English Channel. There was no word of U-11 after that date and there were no survivors. A postwar German study failed to turn up any British action reports that could possibly explain the loss. It is possible that U-11 hit a mine or had a diving accident.

Additional Information

Bruges was the Germans' main naval base on the Flanders coast and the headquarters of the Marinekorps, an independent command that included the Flanders U-boat flotilla. Bruges lay eight miles inland and two canals connected the main harbor to the entrance harbors at Zeebrugge and Ostend. The U-boats based at Bruges used Zeebrugge and Ostend to refuel, rearm, and take on stores for their operations in the Hoofden, the Dover Strait, the English Channel, and the western approaches.

In September 2001, parts that were purported to have come from the wreck of U-11 appeared on eBay, an online auction firm. The seller, who identified himself only as stevo427, claimed that the parts had been removed from U-11's wreck off the Flanders coast. He did not reply to e-mail questions about the wreck's position, who discovered the wreck, or when the discovery was made. The parts consisted of what appeared to be water valves, one of which was stamped U-11, and a tank filler plate that was also stamped U-11.


Records, T-1022, Roll 31, PG61514.

Spindler, Der Handelskrieg mit U-Booten, 1:170.


Excerpted from Berschollen by Dwight R. Messimer Copyright © 2002 by Dwight R. Messimer
Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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