A £1 billion project to lay one of the world’s largest submarine power cables linking Scotland and England has led to a historic war-time find that could help solve one of the strangest naval mysteries of World War I.
Marine engineers working on Western Link, a joint venture between ScottishPower and National Grid that will deliver renewable energy from Scotland to homes and businesses in England and Wales, discovered the wreckage of a German submarine while surveying the seabed off the coast of Wigtownshire.
Sonar images showed the 100-year-old vessel virtually intact, and attempts to identify the wreckage led experts to conclude that it may be the UB-85, a submarine that was attacked by a sea monster that prowled off the coast of Scotland at the end of World War I.
Official accounts of the time tell us that UB-85 was caught on the surface on the afternoon of April 30, 1918, and after her crew surrendered without a fight – sunk by the British patrol ship HMS Coreopsis, which was built on the Clyde near Glasgow by the famous shipbuilders Barclay Curle & Co, of Elderslie Dockyard.
The crew of the German submarine surrendered without resistance to the surprise of their British counterparts. Why didn’t the submarine submerge and why did it surrender without a fight?
Submarine captain Kretsch, when asked why he was floating on the surface, said that the sub was charging its batteries at night when a “strange beast” rose from the sea. He described a “monster” with “big eyes set in a horny skull.” Its head was small, but it had teeth that gleamed in the moonlight.”
The animal was so large that the captain claimed it caused the U-boat to lurch heavily to starboard. “Every watchman began firing a pistol at the beast,” Kretsch said, and the struggle continued until the animal fell back into the sea. During the struggle, however, the front deck coating was damaged and the sub was no longer able to submerge. “That’s why you were able to catch us on the surface,” said Capt.
Innes McCartney, a historian and maritime archaeologist who worked with the Western Link team in trying to identify the wreck, concludes that the mystery of UB-85 may be one step closer to being solved.
He said: “There are at least 12 known British and German submarine wrecks in the waters of the Irish Sea and possibly others whose actual location remains a mystery. The characteristics of this particular wreck, which is mostly intact, confirm that it is a UBIII class submarine, of which we know of two that were lost in the area – the better known UB-85 and its sister boat UB-82.
“Although I can conclude that this wreck is probably one or the other, it is almost impossible to distinguish them from each other, except for the numbers affixed to them during service, which have now apparently long since disappeared.”
“Until a diver finds the shipyard branding, we can’t say definitively, but yes, we are definitely closer to solving the so-called mystery of the UB-85 and the cause of her sinking, whether it was a common mechanical failure or something less easily explainable.”
Gary Campbell, custodian of the official Loch Ness Monster sighting register, said: “It is quite possible that some large sea creature took out the submarine. An account by the captain of the British ship HMS Hilary of World War I a year earlier clearly shows that naval travelers of the time were well aware of large sea ‘monsters’ that could harm their vessels.”
“History shows that reports of large ‘monsters’ came not only in lakes such as Loch Ness, but also in open waters. For years, the giant squid has been known as the dreaded Kraken, and given the size of the oceans, it would not be surprising if many large species are still to be discovered.
“In the area of the sea where the attack occurred, sea monsters are found everywhere from the north coast of Wales to Liverpool Bay. What the German captain said may well be true.
“It’s nice to see that Nessie’s sea kin was clearly involved in the war effort – it even managed to do damage without killing anyone.”