Armistice 1918: the surrender of German submarines

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Whilst the Allies and notably the Royal Navy kept up a distant blockade of Germany, the submarines of the German High Seas Fleet attempted a similar blockage, most effectively in the Western Approaches. They attacked British merchant ships bring essential food supplies and war materials into Great Britain to the extent that they almost brought the nation to its knees such was the loss of merchant shipping to torpedoes and gunfire. The construction and repair of merchant ships had great difficulty to keep up with the rate of sinkings. As anti-submarine warfare techniques improved and the convoy system with escorts was instigated, the number of sinkings decreased whilst the losses of German submarines increased. However, when the Armistice was declared, a considerable number of submarines still remained afloat.

Catalogue number 36089

Several German submarines in harbour

This photograph shows some of the different classes of German submarine operating at the time of the First World War.

13.3cm x 8.8cm Gelatin silver print


Catalogue number 108004

Early German submarines at Kiel, 1914

These early submarines, built between 1909 and 1911, had no deck gun. Shown here at Kiel in 1914, note the high exhaust and air intake tubes.

Recto: "X Hulk Acheron Deutsche Unterseeboots Flottille. U13, U5, U11, U3, U16"

19.5cm x 12.5cm Printed image


Catalogue number 108003

U-10 on the surface

The U10 was launched in 1911 but was lost probably mined in 1916. It had four 45cm torpedo tubes (2 bow, 2 stern) and carried six torpedoes. Trimmed down, one can imagine how difficult it was to spot from a ship at sea.

19.4cm x 12.5cm Printed image


Catalogue number 91123

Submarine merchant ship Deutschland

U-Deutschland was built in 1916 as a submarine freighter in an attempt to overcome the British blockade of German ports. On the stern is written "Deutschland Bremen" and she was registered as a merchantman of 791 gross tonnage flying the flag of the Deutsch Ozean Rederei GmbH.The submarines of this class, of which seven were built, were to pass through the English Channel then cross the Atlantic Ocean to collect war material purchased in the then neutral U.S.A. On its first voyage in 1916, U-Deutschland took 163 tons of concentrated dyes to be sold in America and returned with 348 tons of rubber, of which 257 tons were carried outside the pressure hull, in addition to 341 tons of nickel and 93 tons of tin. Some of the hull plating around the stern seem to be missing.

13.6cm x 8.6cm Gelatin silver print


Catalogue number 91122

U-Deutschland trials

Amongst the officers and men of U-Deutschland we can see civil personnel, maybe from the builders at Flensburg. With the entry of the U.S.A. into the war, the submarine freighters were no longer of use and they were converted into submarine cruisers. After conversion, this submarine was named U-155. With a range of 25,000 nautical miles and armed with two heavy guns, this class of cruiser submarine could operate independently far from its base and represented a major threat to British merchant shipping.

13.8cm x 8.6cm Gelatin silver print


Catalogue number 92085

German U boat cruiser off the coast at Harwich

From 24th November 1918 onwards, the submarines of the German High Seas Fleet began to assemble off the Harwich coast where they were met by the Royal Navy. British crews were put on board and the submarines were escorted to berth in the estuary of the river Stour. Here we can see U-153 (one of the converted submarine freighters) anchored off Harwich alongside three other submarines. These submarine cruisers were heavily armed with two 15 cm guns fore and aft of the conning tower, two 8.8cm guns (not apparent here) and two 50cm bow tubes with an outfit of 18 torpedoes. U-155 was not equipped with bow tubes but instead had six external torpedo tubes fitted.

13.4cm x 8.5cm Gelatin silver print


Catalogue number 92086

German U-boats off Harwich, January 1919

The dark painted submarine on the left of the photograph is the coastal submarine UB-142 which was handed over to France and was broken up at Landerneau in July 1921. The deck gun of each submarine (10.5cm gun in UB-142) has been disembarked. Of the 179 submarines surrendered, France received a total 42 of which 10 were recommissioned, the USA received 6, the Netherlands 1, Japan 7, Italy 10 and Great Britain retained 113. Most of the submarines were scrapped after being extensively studied.

Verso: "…………..Harwich" German text in light pencil.

13.9cm x 8.8cm Gelatin silver print


Catalogue number 94018

UC-93 to Italy

UC93 was a coastal minelaying submarine of the UC III class, none of which saw active service. She was surrendered on 26 November 1918 and broken up in La Spezia in August 1919.

Verso: Written in Italian, dated Harwich 2nd February 1919, addressed to "Signorino Mario Savio, ….Lucca, Italy", "I'm sending you a photograph of my submersible UC93…..will take to Italy …I hope that…..completely…." (in Italian) Franked "Concordia ( ?) 7.2.19 ".

11cm x 7.6cm Gelatin silver print


Catalogue number 81003

U-155 on its way to London Docks

The British authorities, having closely examined U155, then took it up the Thames to Saint Katherine's dock where the public were charged 1 shilling to visit the submarine. This photograph shows U155 being towed up the Thames to London docks.

Recto: " U55(sic) " in black ink

8.5cm x 4.5cm Gelatin silver print


Catalogue number 66022

Visiting U-155

In March 1919, the British authorities sold U155 on to a company held by Horatio Bottomley MP and it was exhibited in ports around Britain as an unsuccessful commercial enterprise before being broken up in September 1921. Visitors appear to enter the submarine via the conning tower and leave by the forward hatch, the red ensign is flying from the stern post.

12cm x 8cm Gelatin silver print


Catalogue number 26007

French recommissioned submarine Halbronn

U-139 was part of the French war reparations and was recommissioned as Halbronn. It was a large ocean-going cruiser-type submarine armed with six 50cm torpedo tubes (4 bow and 2 stern) as well as two 15cm guns fore and aft of the conning tower. As such, this class represented a formidable fighting force with a range of 12,630 nautical miles. She was finally scrapped in 1935.

22.2cm x 14cm Gelatin silver print


Catalogue number 45047

US Navy tender with surrendered U-boat

This photograph shows the coastal submarine UB-88, commissioned in January 1918, alongside an ocean-going tender of the US Navy. Interned at Harwich on 26th November 1918 and then taken across the Atlantic Ocean to be exhibited along the American coast both East and West, she was scuttled as a gunnery target at San Pedro, California in 1921.

Verso: "USS Minneapolis C-13" as black ink stamp

12.7cm x 7.9cm Gelatin silver print

Catalogue number 30046

Inside U-88

The UB-48 class of submarine, of which UB-88 was an example, had four 50 cm bow tubes ( shown in this photograph) and one stern tube with an outfit of 10 torpedoes. A 10.5cm deck gun was also fitted.

Source: USN photograph

8.1cm x 13.8cm Gelatin silver print