UC 44, sister submarine of UC 47

Deep-sea scanning details sunken WW1 German U-boat for first time in 100 years

Image credit: us nara

Sophisticated scanning techniques and deep-sea video footage have been used to survey a First World War German submarine for the first time since its loss in 1917.

The UC-47 U-boat (its sister vessel the UC-44 is pictured above) was credited with sinking more than 50 vessels before eventually being sunk by a British naval boat on 18 November 1917.

Scientists from the University of Southampton, led by deep sea archaeological expert Dr Rodrigo Pacheco-Ruiz, investigated the wreck of UC-47 during offshore operations to prepare for the laying of a new pipeline in the North Sea, around 20 nautical miles off the coast of Yorkshire.

Using state-of-the-art robotics and high-resolution geophysical equipment, the wreck, which lies 50m below the surface, was mapped and inspected in unprecedented detail, showing an astonishing level of preservation.

High Resolution survey of  the German WWI U boat UC 47

High-resolution survey of German WWI U-boat UC-47

Image credit: Tolmount Development

“Today the vessel is only marked on the navigation charts as a shipwreck and until now very little was known of the submarine’s condition. It has been a privilege to be able to explore a wreck in such good condition and have the opportunity to find out more about its past,” said Pacheco-Ruiz.

Maritime historian Stephen Fisher added: “The day after her loss, UC-47 is reputed to have been visited by Royal Navy divers who retrieved valuable intelligence, including code books and charts.

“Further investigation of historical sources – when access becomes available as lockdown eases – combined with this detailed imagery of the wreck might enable us to ascertain if she was indeed visited in November 1917.”

From the archaeological survey of the site, it is clear that the wreck has been well preserved. The remains of the main hull, which is intact along its length, are visible above the seabed and the damage she suffered during her sinking is clear to see.

A large hole on the port side of the hull is indicative of an explosion. Scattered around the wreck site are components of the vessel, including one of the torpedo tubes.

The University’s Offshore Archaeological Research (OAR) project aims to study sites that are inaccessible to traditional archaeological work, such as that of UC-47, by using modern technology and resources.

“These sites tend to be hundreds of miles offshore and can only be reached with specialised sub-sea equipment, which is normally a barrier to their study,” Pacheco-Ruiz said.

“Projects like ours demonstrate that these sites can be surveyed even in these very difficult times, when the world struggles with a dangerous pandemic.”

Archaeologists are now hoping it will be possible to return to the wreck to gather more evidence about its past and help train students in maritime archaeology.

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