Dive Dive Dive … The U-12 German U-Boat

I just had an amazing weekend with the top dogs of the North East wreck diving  MarineQuest over in Eyemouth. Fantastic North Sea diving with great mates new and old. I was fortunate enough to dive both the Glanmire wreck with crazy fins Undersea Wully (Saturday in questionable conditions) and the U-12 on Sunday in near perfect conditions , if cold both topside and undersea with the Zero Viz conquistador Neil Farmer. Both excellent and adventurous dives. The U-12 however just blew me away. A German submarine sat on a white sandy beach deep under the open North Sea , now there was a real adventure !!   Especially as a German submarine has been on my bucket list for years and this one was to be perfect !

U-12 sets sail

A little History ..  taken from here 

“Type: U-Boat  … Date of loss: 10/03/1915 …..Depth: 47m
 The wreck itself has great historical importance as it was the first submarine to have an aeroplane carried on its deck for deployment at sea, an unusual concept, which proved to be a limited experiment for this boat. An early WWI design of submarine, U12 had a two stroke engine running on kerosene (paraffin) driving twin stern propellers. The wreck is lying bolt upright on a seabed of fine sand which bounces the light making for year round visibility. Respect should be given as it is a designated war grave”

The Sinking of U12

It was against this backdrop that a ferocious naval battle occurred off the east coast of Scotland. On morning of the 10th March 1915 U-boat U12 was spotted by the trawler May Island east of Fife Ness. Three British warships, the Acheron, the Attack and the Ariel, were sent to track it down and engage it. Having earlier attempted to torpedo the HMS Leviathan, U12 would not be allowed to escape.

The HMS Ariel, copyright Graeme Govenlock

Image: The HMS Ariel. Copyright Graeme Govenlock

According to the Admiralty logs, at 10.15am the Ariel, the Attack and the Acheron found and attacked the U-boat. After being strafed with machine-gun fire U12 submerged. The Ariel spotted the periscope of the vessel submerged just under the surface. At full speed the Ariel rammed the U-boat. The boat resurfaced to a hail of gun and shell fire which damaged the conning tower and killed the U12’s captain, Hans Kratzsch.

postcard of the sinking of U12, copyright Jim Macleod

Image: A postcard commemorating the sinking of the U12. Copyright Jim MacLeod, reproduced by kind permission.

Badly damaged and under fire, several crew of the U12 appeared on the deck of the boat and surrendered. While these men were rescued, many other were not so fortunate. With the conning tower hatch jammed, 19 men went to their deaths as U12 sank within minutes. The crippled Ariel was towed back to Leith docks after the engagement.  The surviving crew of the U12 found themselves in the middle of a diplomatic row upon their capture. With U-boat crews perceived to be little more than pirates by the British authorities, there was a popular clamour in the press to see the crew hanged. Instead they were kept in solitary confinement and denied any privileges of rank – a fate not shared by other prisoners of war from more traditional forms of combat. The German authorities responded in kind with British prisoners of war. With the intervention of the Swiss the diplomatic row was eventually resolved.

Dive Dive Dive … The U-12 German U-Boat

Jacob George …

Without doubt the U-12 on the day rivalled some of the more famous dives I have done across the globe … World class diving right on the door step !!  Neil and I left my place early to be in Eyemouth at  8am for a 9am RO (ropes off).  The original plan had been to dive the U-74 20 miles north of Eyemouth  but due to favourable conditions a plan had been hatched to dive the far more elusive U-12 German U-boat. The day started good and kept getting better !

Heading East …. EARLY !!

Due to its position in the open sea 30 miles East of Eyemouth it is an exceptionally hard dive to catch, often taking a diver years of waiting. Luckily conditions were on our side and it was beautiful, sunny if a little cold at around 4 degrees topside morning on the East coast. We set sail with a full boat of technical divers on the Jacob George, a fast dive boat from the Marine-Quest fleet.

U-12 Conning tower

It took several hours of bouncing across the waves heading straight out to sea with land rapidly disappearing behind us before we arrived at the coordinates of the Submarine , Iain expertly set up and dropped the shot and explained that as we were all technical divers with different run times and decompression obligations that he would set up an “easy shot” where we would all have a tag and leave it attached to a separate line at 30 – 35 metres. We would take out tag as we ascended and the last person to leave would take his tag , disconnect the easy shot and we would all drift with the current and not have to hold on for our lives. Iain explained that it was far safer and he would stay together as a group out in the open sea so he could keep us all in sight. This relaxed me a little as the open sea is a disconcerting place , and there was a slight swell on and a mad current would appear at the end of slack tide. Nice call Iain, my comfort zone thanks you immensely  🙂

forward Propellor tubes ….

Pretty soon we were buddy checking as we circled the buoy ready to drop in when slack tide was ascertained … go go go we all plopped off the back and descended .. the visibility in the open sea was the best I’ve had in the UK , 8-10m crystal clear and even at 47m below there was enough ambient light to see but the torch still had to be on after 35m to pick out the detail. The conning tower came into view and soon Neil and I were off circling the submarine trying to see it all in our short bottom time.

We descended to our maximum depths to see the propellers, then the  torpedo tubes , one still with a torpedo loaded , the other with a man-eating 2 foot long lobster in it ! 😀

We slowly circled back and round to see the rest including a look down the conning tower , those guys had to live tight and all too soon it was time to ascend the shot , picking up our tags and heading up the “easy-shot” for a short decompress at various depths and stall for 25 minutes at 6m before surfacing .. I really need to get a waterproof copy of Game of Thrones for this 😀

Soon we were being picked up by Iain and I could again relax in the relative comfort of the Jacob George .


Iain was soon feeding us the tastiest Bean Casserole ever cooked and cups of tea galore just made Neils day !!  Earl grey to boot 😀     The rest of the divers including rebreather divers who I think must be impermeable to the cold water eventually surfaced and the shot was raised and we soon sped back to Eyemouth harbour two very happy men ……..

I really can’t thank and recommend Marine Quest enough for its professional and super friendly and accommodating diving. The day was perfect right down to the second helping of bean casserole 😀

Bean casserole was like Michelin cuisine after that long day 🙂

Wreck site details here 

Marinequest U-12 page here.

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