The Final Voyage of UC-42

During the First World War the deadiest weapon of the German navy was thesubmarine. Travelling from bases in Germany and the conquered Belgium these craft were responsible for millions of tons of Allied shipping being sent to the bottom bringing Britain to the verge of defeat. The conventional means for a submarine sinking an enemy ship had been either explosives placed on board the victim, or by gunfire and torpedo.

German engineers had devised a new type of U-boat, that of the submarine mine-layer. The first types similar, to the illustration above (of the captured UC5) were called the UC-l class. They were small coastal type boats without any fixed guns fitted


A UC-II class U-boat pictured in Belgium with the eye motif of
the Flanders Flotilla (probably UC-17 which survived the war)

The UC-1 class were followed by the larger UC-ll class of which the UC-42 was one. These had a 22lb deck gun as well as mines and torpedoes and had the extended range capabilities missing from earlier types These were the type of submarine that laid mines off all coasts of Ireland. Towards the end of the war there was an even larger class called the UC-lll, and UE class, and these were capable of voyaging to the USA and leaving mines off the east coast ports. It is believed that approximately five hundred ships were sunk by mine during WW1 showing that it was a very effective form of maritime warfare

On 31st Oct 1917 Torpedo Boat TB 055, under the command of Chief Torpedo GunnerT.T. Britton,was accompanying Trawlers minesweeping at the mouth of Cork harbour. At 15.00hrs they noticed an oil track floating on the sea surface
and followed it to its source. Stopping they began to use their hydrophone to check if there was a submarine causing the oil patch.

Britton reported loud mechanical sounds of hammering and "turbine-like noises". Believing this to be a U-boat they dropped a marker buoy, then armed and dropped a depth charge on the spot. When the explosion had subsided TB 055 returned to the
spot and saw that the volume of oil had increased, along with bubbles of gas rising to the surface.


Armed trawler similar to HMT Sarba

The armed minesweeping trawler HMT Sarba under the command of Lieut G.G. Astbury was close by, so TB 055 signalled for assistance. Sarba manouvered to the spot where oil was rising steadily and used her hydrophone but did not report any sounds from the suspected submarine. They dropped a second depth charge and then bouyed the spot. Sarba remained on station overnight and on the morning of the 1st of November the drifter HMD Sunshine and TB 058 swept around the obstruction, checking that this was not a false alarm caused by a rocky seabed or old wreckage.


The UC-42 at her Flanders base

By daylight on Nov 2nd the oil was continuing to come to the surface and Haulbowline dockyard divers arrived to inspect the wreck. They reported that there was a wrecked German U-boat lying on the seabed , this was the minelaying submarineUC-42. There were no survivors reported even though some of the hatches were opened. It was thought that the boat had been minelaying when one of the mines had detonated under the stern.

The divers reported:

-Number on Brass plate on top of conning tower is C42, 1916
-Wreck has six mine tubes
-Foremost tube is empty, remainder are full
-Two torpedo tubes forward, as in UC-44
-In addition there are two spare torpedoes in cradles one abaft each fore tube
-Conning tower is different from UC-44
-Upper deck steering position being before the windscreen, on a high step
-Highest part of conning tower has apparently three hatches leading down into it,
and is reached by iron ladders bolted on each side aft.
-Stern is blown off
-Impossible to obtain her length
-Two hatches, one on conning tower and one just before the gun are open
-Two periscopes down, fore periscope port side, mast forward side of steering compass

(From telegram sent by CIC Queenstown to Admiralty Nov 1917)

When the sinking and identification of the submarine was reported to London, the Admiralty requested an item from the vessel for verification. In December 1917 divers recovered the telephone buoy from the conning tower and it was sent to the Admiralty in London. The Naval Intelligence Department were aware of the September 1st departure date of UC-42 from Belgium and were highly sceptical about the sounds of hammering and engine noises reported by TB 055. The Admiralty reported that

"The longest known cruise of a UC boat in home waters is 24 days, so UC42 must have been dead long before TB 055 and Sarba dropped the depth charges"

(Memo 20th November 1917)

Vice Admiral Sir Lewis Bayley, the Commander of naval forces at Queenstown pressed hard for some recognition for the patrol crews involved,even though it was highly likely that they had nothing to do with the destruction of the submarine. He felt however that it would be a big morale booster for the minesweeping forces. His superiors agreed to this, and to this end the following awards were made:

TB 055

Chief Gunner T.F.Britton ........................Distinguished Service Cross
Acting Gunner J.G.Lake..........................Mentioned in Despatches
CERA Wm.J.Quick..................................Distinguished Service Medal
Able Seaman L.Dunlea............................Distinguished Service Medal

HMT Sarba

Lieut.George Gillen Astbury,RNR.........Distinguished Service Cross
Skipper Stanley J.Johnston,RNR...........Mention in Despatches

There was a further award to the crew of HMT Sarba of £300 divided among the crew on a share basis. It should be noted that these monetary payments to crews for the destruction of enemy ships were found particularly abhorrent by German naval forces.

Vice-Admiral Bayley, in a number of telegrams to the Admiralty expressed fears that the sunken submarine was a significant hazard to shipping due to the mines and torpedoes contained within the hull. There was a standing order at the time for any submarines found in coastal waters to be raised if possible in order to examine U-boat technology and search for code books and charts. At this time however another U-boat, the UC-44 was being raised in Dunmore East, Co. Waterford, and Bayley was informed that-

"I am to aquaint you that operations are at present being undertaken on another submarine, and there is no plan available for yours, this is considered by DNI to be the most important"

(Telegram from Admiralty, April 1918)


UC-42 Mines on board USS Melville


During 1918 a number of attempts were made by Haulbowline divers, and by American naval divers to disarm the submarine by removing some of the mines- this was a very delicate task which involved firstly removing the detonator from the side of the mine then unscrewing each of the four brass horns from the tops of the mines, then lifting the mines to a waiting boat where the explosive was removed using steam. Three mines were removed in this manner and were stored on board USS Melville, the American naval forces destroyer tender which was moored in Cork Harbour. One of the torpedoes was also removed and stored on board Melville



American Naval personnel and divers over the wreck of UC-42


Press report from 1919

In July1919, divers acting under the instructions of explosives experts at HMS Vernon torpedo school detonated charges on either side of the UC-42 destroying the submarine. The remains then dispersed along the seabed by means of wire sweeps.

Repeated searches of the seabed close to the reported location by scuba divers since the 1970's have failed to show any remaining parts of the submarine. It now believed that the scattered remains lie buried in the soft sand and gravel seabed in this area

 

The Crew of UC-42 all of whom lost their lives were;

Kmdt.: Oblt. z. S. Hans Albrecht Muller.
L.I.: Mar. Ing. Ob. Ufp. Miller.
W.O.: Lt. z. S. d. R. Liphardt.

U-hzr. Bauer
U-Masch. Mt. Baumgardt.
U-hzr. Beder.
U-Masch. Mt Brummer.
U-Masch. Mt Duhrmann.
U-F. T. Gaft Fabel.
U-hzr. Flemming.
U-Masch. Mt Hartmann.
U-hzr. Herrman.
U-Ob. Bts. Mt. d. R. Hendemann.
U-Masch. Mt. Holling.
U-Ob. Masch. Mt. d. R. Klude.
U-Mtr. Kromer.
U-Mtr. Kundschast.
U-hzr. Massinger.
U-Mtr. Dertel.
U-Masch. Mt. Plitt.
U-F. T. Ob. Gft. Raschte.
U-Mtr. Reemts.
U-Mtr. Reinsch.
U-Ob. Bts. Mt. Reinschmidt.
U-Bts. Mt Scharf.
U-Bts. Mt. Scherun.
U-Masch. Unw. Schuschent.


 

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