It was sunk more than 100 years ago at the height of the First World War. But now, a German U-boat has been surveyed for the first time since its loss in 1917.

The UC-47 sank more than 50 vessels in her career with the German Imperial Navy, gaining a reputation as a lucky ship. But that luck ran out on 18 November 1917, when Royal Navy patrol boat HMS P-57 rammed and then depthcharged the submarine.

A survey of the German U-boat
UC-47. She was sunk by a British patrol
boat in November 1917.
A survey of the German U-boat UC-47, sunk by a British patrol boat in November 1917. Image: Tolmount Development, MMT / Reach Subsea, US National Archives and Records Administration.

The U-boat went down with all hands and has rested on the seabed, some 37km (23 miles) off the coast of Yorkshire, ever since.

Scientists led by deep-sea archaeological expert Dr Rodrigo Pacheco-Ruiz of the University of Southampton led the project in collaboration with offshore survey companies MMT and Reach Subsea. The research was conducting on behalf of Tolmount Development, who are preparing the laying of a new pipeline in the area.

Advanced robotics and sophisticated scanning techniques mapped and inspected the wreck in detail, revealing the extent of her preservation for the first time.

The remains of the main hull, intact along its length, are visible above the seabed, while a large hole on the port side indicates the site of an explosion.

State-of-the-art surveying
equipment was used to explore the
wreck, which had been inaccessible to
previous generations of archaeologists. Image: Tolmount Development, MMT / Reach Subsea, US National Archives and Records Administration.
State-of-the-art surveying equipment was used to explore the wreck, which had been inaccessible to previous generations of archaeologists. Image: Tolmount Development, MMT / Reach Subsea, US National Archives and Records Administration.

Archaeologists are now hoping to make a prompt return to the submarine to ascertain more about its history. It is rumoured, for instance, that Royal Navy divers visited the wreck the day after she sank to retrieve intelligence, codebooks, and charts.

As maritime historian Stephen Fisher explained: ‘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.’

The research is part of Southampton University’s Offshore Archaeological Research Project (OAR), of which Dr Pacheco-Ruiz is a co-director. OAR’s stated mission is to ‘study archaeological sites that are inaccessible to traditional archaeological work by using modern technology and resources through industry partnerships.’

Previous explorations by OAR have included the discovery of an intact 500-year-old shipwreck in the Baltic Sea, and a project to map submerged landscapes in the Black Sea between 2016 and 2018.

This article was published in the October/November issue of Military History Matters. To find out more about the magazine and how to subscribe, click here.




Leave a Reply