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U-boat wreck could be sea monster victim of internet folklore

The Guardian The Guardian 4 days ago Maev Kennedy
HMS Coreopsis in 1917 © Provided by Guardian News HMS Coreopsis in 1917

A first world war German submarine, which folklore insists was disabled by a sea monster before the commander and his entire crew surrendered to a British patrol boat without firing a shot, has been rediscovered during survey work for a new power line.

The story of UB-85 is still being told and re-told on websites focusing on alleged paranormal events, though one historian believes it dates back not to the war but to a club armchair and too much pink gin in the 1920s. “It has been perpetuated by credulous journalists,” said Innes McCartney, historian and marine archaeologist at Bournemouth University.

According to the yarn, Captain Günther Krech explained to his captors on 30 April 1918 that his vessel was cruising on the surface because he could not dive, due to damage caused by “a strange beast” that leaped out of the water. The monster had horns, small deep-set eyes, glinting teeth, and was so heavy that when it scrambled up the side of the U-boat, the whole vessel listed sideways. It then viciously attacked the forward gun, chomping lumps out it. The damage forced the entire crew to surrender to the British patrol: the men were taken off and the submarine scuttled.

The wreck was found 104 metres down, off the coast of Dumfriesshire, during survey work on behalf of Scottish Power for the Western Link, an underwater cable which, at 239 miles (385km) long, will be the longest of its type in the world. The cable is a £1bn joint-venture with National Grid to take renewable power from Scotland to England.

From the murky scans and sonar images, McCartney says the submarine matches the description of UB-85, but could equally be its sister vessel, UB-22. “This wreck lies roughly halfway between the recorded sites for the two submarines – but they were virtually indistinguishable apart from the painted letters and numbers, and it seems to me inconceivable that anyone would think it worthwhile to mount a dive to establish which it is.”

Sea monster attack stories are surprisingly common, he said. “You’ve got to remember that after the war the records were sealed, but there were all these people with some connection to British intelligence who yearned to boast of mighty deeds at sea but couldn’t tell the true stories. The true sea monsters of the first world war were the submarines themselves.”

Seabed scan image of U-boat wreck found off Scotland © Provided by Guardian News Seabed scan image of U-boat wreck found off Scotland

However, Gary Campbell, who keeps the Official Sightings Record for the Loch Ness Monster – there have allegedly been six so far in 2016, most recently in August – prefers to cling to the other explanation, that UB-85 was attacked by a sea monster.

“The area of sea where the attack took place has a history of sea monster sightings – they have ranged from the north coast of Wales to Liverpool Bay,” he said. “What the German 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.”

Peter Roper of Scottish Power is less convinced: “I am probably on the side of the historians who believe that the capture of the vessel was more straightforward than a sea monster attack. ‘A sea monster attacked my submarine’ is maybe one of the most fanciful excuses of all time. Thankfully we have had no monster-related health and safety incidents in the project yet.”

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