“Here Be Monsters”

“Here Be Monsters”

By:  Garland Davis

 

On April 30, 1918, during the waning days of World War I, the British patrol ship HMS Coreopsis, while patrolling off the Belfast Lough in Ireland, spotted a disabled German Submarine, the UB-85, disabled on the surface of the North Atlantic.  This was very unusual, as submarines were rarely sighted during daylight,

The crew of UB-85 was picked up by Coreopsis after they abandoned ship.  The UB-85 commanding officer, Captain Gunther Krech, after being taken aboard Coreopsis was immediately interrogated. He was asked why UB-85 did not submerge once Coreopsis was sighted.

According to Captain Krech, UB-85 had surfaced at night to recharge the boat’s batteries.  Krech was on deck with some crewmembers and a few of his officers getting some fresh air and smoking when an abrupt surge rocked the ship and a heavy weight seemed to pull the starboard bow downward.  The Captain said that a strange beast climbed from the ocean and onto the side of the U-Boat.

He described the beast as having large eyes set in a horny skull. It had a small head with teeth that could be seen glistening in the night.  All the officers and crewmen on watch commenced firing their sidearms at the beast, but the animal had the forward gun mount in its teeth and refused to release the boat.

Captain Krech continued, stating the proportions of the beast were so immense that the U-Boat rocked and listed greatly to starboard.  Fearing that the boat’s open hatch would be pulled below water and subsequently flood the U-Boat and sink it, the Captain ordered his men to continue firing.  The crew maintained fire until the beast finally released the forward guns and disappeared back into the sea.

Krech said that during the struggle, the forward deck plating of the U-Boat was damaged so severely that it was incapable of submerging and why Coreopsis was able to catch the submarine on the surface.  The British cleared UB-85 of any remaining crew and sank the submarine.

Until recently there was no explanation for the events resulting in the sinking of UB-85 and the capture of her crew.  But now, nearly a century later, it looks as if the secrets of UB-85 may finally be revealed. Last week it was announced by energy firm Scottish Power that engineers laying undersea cables had discovered the wreck of a U-boat lying close to the last position of UB-85 reported by the Coreopsis.

Although no photograph of the submarine has been taken, a remarkably clear sonar image certainly shows the unmistakable form of the 180ft craft lying 340ft below the surface.

Unfortunately, the image is not sufficiently defined to show whether the foredeck has been damaged by the monster in the way supposedly described by Krech.

Despite the absurdity of the German commander’s claims, plenty of Scot and Irish locals maintain that UB-85 could well have been set upon by a savage sea serpent.

Among them is Gary Campbell, the keeper of the Official Sightings Record for the Loch Ness Monster. ‘The area of sea where the attack took place has a history of sea monster sightings – they range from the north coast of Wales to Liverpool Bay,’ he said. ‘What the captain said could well be true. It’s great to see how Nessie’s saltwater cousin clearly got involved in helping with the war effort – she even managed to do the damage without anyone being killed.’

It seems like a hoax, but where had it come from, and why was a more plausible story not readily available?

It seems an American naval historian and retired detective from the San Jose Police Department in California called Dwight R. Messimer had done all the hard work to answer that question. He presented it in an obscure 2002 tome called Verschollen [Missing]: World War I U-boat Losses. Captured German files contain at least four interviews with crew members, including Krech himself.

In his account, Krech recalled how he decided to crash-dive the U-boat after he spotted Royal Navy patrol boats. ‘The Navigator reported the conning tower hatch closed,’ he said, ‘but as we went under, heavy flooding occurred through the hatch.’

Now unable to close the hatch, the submarine was clearly in trouble. Water poured from the conning tower into the U-boat, causing the pumps, batteries and electric motors to fail. To make matters even more dangerous, the air was starting to fill up with chlorine gas emitted by the flooded batteries, which meant the crew was either going to drown or be poisoned by the gas.

The only option was to surface, and quickly. Krech ordered the ballast tanks to be blown, and the U-boat rose slowly. However, that did not mean the crew was safe.

Senior stoker Julius Göttschammer reported: ‘We opened the watertight door into the control room and managed to make our way against the in-rushing water into the control room and exit the boat through the conning tower.’

In fact, it is Göttschammer who held the key as to why water had managed to enter the boat from the conning tower – and he laid the blame squarely on Krech.

Göttschammer said Krech had insisted on the installation of a heater in the officers’ compartment. He said the cables to power it had to be run into the control room through the conning tower, compromising its ability to be completely sealed. ‘The result was that the new cables allowed water to flow unhindered from the conning tower,’ said Göttschammer.

Had these new cables not been in place, only the conning tower would have flooded, which would have posed no danger to the submarine.

On the surface, the submarine came under heavy fire from the Coreopsis. ‘We could not return fire because our ammunition was underwater and the water was rising in the boat,’ said Krech. ‘The crew was taken off in rowboats.’

Shortly afterward the submarine sank.

Perhaps I should have titled this piece. “Here Be Space Heaters”

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