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Sunken U-boat off Whitby to be explored as part of national wrecks survey

A flotilla of German submarines (U-Boats) and torpedo boats heading out to sea.
A flotilla of German submarines (U-Boats) and torpedo boats heading out to sea.

A GERMAN U-boat sunk during the last months of World War One off Yorkshire is set to be explored next week as part of a survey marking centenary commemorations.

Three days after the UB-30 sank a steamer off Scarborough in August 1918, its periscope was spotted off Whitby by a group of armed trawlers.

The UB-30 and its crew - which had sunk or damaged 19 ships - was sent to the bottom of the North Sea after a barrage of depth charges.

Historic England is funding the dive by Wessex Archaeology, which will use a remotely operated vehicle to explore the wreck as part of a study of British and German subs on the Yorkshire coast.

Maritime historian Dr Robb Robinson, whose great-grandfather served for a time on the Hull-built Viola, one of the vessels which attacked the UB-30, said the wreck “told a remarkable story of the pitched battles that were fought off this coast between armed fishing vessels and U-boats.”

The Germans built 360 U-boats - which stands for Unterseeboot (literally undersea boat) - during WW1. Between them they destroyed more than 11m tonnes of Allied shipping in an attempt to cut Britain’s North Atlantic lifeline to America.

But Dr Robinson said it was a war “that has been largely forgotten even in this centenary period”, adding: “If you were to drain the North Sea you would see a WW1 battlefield the likes of which would astound many people.”

Days after its sinking, it was dived in a secret operation by the intrepid Dusty Miller, who was working for the British Admiralty to locate and recover metal boxes from sunken U-boats containing German military codes, maps of mine fields, and other intelligence.

Divers have since reported finding the wreck, with its hatches open, presumably the result of the WW1 diver’s efforts

Dr Robinson, who is currently writing a book about fishermen and their role in WW1, said: “If you watch most of the programmes on TV to commemorate the Great War you hear loads about dreadnoughts and Jutland - but next to nothing about the 3,000 armed fishing vessels and the 40,000 fishermen drawn from all round the British Isles who fought and won in the conflict.”

The UB-30, which lies around three miles north of Whitby, was first dived in 1993, and lies intact at a depth of 160-ft, with its twin screws in place, but covered in fishing nets making it dangerous to divers.

The survey - which is due to take place next week, depending on the weather - will assess the condition of the wreck and make a photographic record of the site.

Paul Jeffery, Listing Projects and Marine Team Leader for Historic England said: “As part of our work to commemorate the centenary of the First World War, we have been assessing a number of British and German submarines along the Yorkshire coast. They were a new and significant form of naval warfare which developed rapidly during the period.

"This non-invasive survey of the UB-30 will help us to determine the level of survival and confirm the identity of the wreck while also providing vital information which will help secure the future management of the site.”

A report by the late Scarborough wreck researcher Carl Racey, who discovered it with Andrew Jackson, said UB-30 was “laid at about 30 degrees over to port and largely intact apart from some bow damage and a missing aft deck plate.” Its three hatches were all open - but full of silt making it impossible to enter.