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Tyne and Wear HER(12937): Sunderland, UC32 - Details

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Sunderland, UC32



Maritime Craft


Mine Laying Submarine




A German U-Boat submarine which sank 1st February 1917. She was on mine laying duties and sank with torpedoes and 14 mines on board. 23 crew died, but the captain survived. The wreck was found by divers off Sunderland in 1989 and was blown up by Navy divers later that year (Collings). 511-tons, 52m long, 5.2m beam, UC11 Class German Submarine launched in Germany on 12 August 1916 and commissioned on the 13th of that month. She was armed with one 88.8mm deck gun, three bow and own stern torpedo tubes (sized 483mm x 178mm and 76mm x 102mm). She also had six vertically inclined mine tubes and carried eighteen UC-200 mines. Her twin bronze propellers were powered by two oil engines that and she ran submerged on an electric motor, powered by rows of lead/acid batteries. She was reported to be capable of approx 12 knots surface speed and 7.4 knots submerged. During the First World War, UC32 was a mine-laying submarine and had a general patrol area from the Humber to the Tyne. Also, she used to harass trawlers at the mouth of the River Wear. She would lie in wait until vessels left the river, then she would surface and sink them with her deck gun and submerge before any ship or plane could catch her. However, the Royal Navy got together with the fishermen and armed a steam fishing trawler with a large deck gun (a Q ship) and kept it camouflaged until the submarine surfaced. They took the covers off and let blaze at the U-boat. Taken by surprise, she immediately crash-dived, leaving on unfortunate sailor still on her deck. The submarine got away that time, but the sailor drowned. On 23 February 1917, UC32 was just starting to lay her mines off the river mouth in 12 m of water, when she accidentally struck one of her own mines. The vessel blew up and sank, killing nineteen of her crew, but the Captain, Oberleutnant zur See Herbert Breyer and two sailors were rescued by an examination vessel. It was thought that a plug that held the mine to the sinker must have dissolved too quickly, releasing the mine, which exploded under her stern end. Locals lined the docks and jeered and spat at the survivors as they were escorted ashore under armed guard. In 1985 a substantial amount of the wreck was still intact, including her twin bronze propellers, which had inscribed on them ‘Vulcanwerke, Volcad Works, Rubel Bronze, 29-7-1916 and Durchmess, Steigung’. When she was found, the complete periscope and about five telegraphs were also there. They are now long since gone, taken when she was first discovered. In 1994-94 a local diver ‘re-discovered’ the wreck and the German Embassy got involved after press coverage. The site was designated a war grave. Because the wreck was close to the shipping channel and there were still live mines and torpedoes on board, the Royal Navy brought in divers to examine her and decided to disperse the wreck. The wreck lies approximately 400m north from the pier lighthouse at Sunderland in a general depth of 12-13m. There is still a substantial amount of her left, in three main sections and lots of copper and brass to be seen along with dozens of giant lead batteries standing in rows. The torpedo tube also still has a live torpedo in it, ready to fire! Grid reference conversion made 02.02.2011 with with Lat/Long referenced as N 54 54 31 W 01 19 27




Peter Collings, 1991, The New Divers Guide to the North-East Coast, page 20; Young, R. (2000) Comprehensive guide to Shipwrecks of the North East Coast (The): Volume One (1740 – 1917), Tempus, Gloucestershire. p. 136; National Monuments Record MONUMENT NUMBER: 908712 , Ian T. Spokes Wreck Database, Inga Project; Hydrographic Office wreck index 09-MAR-1993; Maritime and Coastguard Agency: Receiver of Wreck Amnesty (23-Jan to 24-Apr-2001)

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