Wreckage of First World War German submarine found off Suffolk coast

First World War German submarine wreckage discovered off the Suffolk coast

First World War German submarine wreckage discovered off the Suffolk coast - Credit: Archant

The wreckage of a World War One German Submarine - missing in action since 1915 - has been found off the Suffolk coast.

First World War German submarine U-31

First World War German submarine U-31 - Credit: Archant

Developers behind offshore windfarm East Anglia One. ScottishPower Renewables (SPR) and Vattenfall, were conducting investigations to the seabed in the Southern North Sea around 90km from the Suffolk and Norfolk coast when divers made the shock discovery in September 2012.

The vessel, identified as World War One German submarine Type U-31, was found at a depth of only 30 metres. It is 57.6 metres in length, 4.1 metres in width and 4.6 metres in height. The bow appears to be facing south.

Damage was observed at the bow and the stern, so the original length could be slightly longer than it appears and debris surrounding the wreck suggests a more likely length of over 60 metres, but still less than 70m.

A database of reference books shows that only U-boats U-31 and U-34 had been lost in this area of the North Sea.

First World War German submarine U-31

First World War German submarine U-31 - Credit: Archant


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More than 60 wrecks were discovered during the scanning work, however most of these were anticipated - the uncharted submarine was said to be “entirely unexpected”.

Charlie Jordan, ScottishPower Renewables’ project director for the East Anglia ONE windfarm says of the discovery: “The scanning team were expecting to see wrecks, but such a discovery was quite a surprise and has been extremely interesting.”

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The relevant authorities were notified, including Receiver of Wreck, and the discovery was confirmed by ScottishPower Renewables today.

Mark Dunkley, marine archaeologist at Historic England, said: “SM U-31 was commissioned into the Imperial German Navy in September 1914.

Teri from ScottishPower Renewables, with Jouke from the RNL Navy and Andy Paine of Vattenfall

Teri from ScottishPower Renewables, with Jouke from the RNL Navy and Andy Paine of Vattenfall - Credit: Archant

“On January 13, 1915, the U-31 slipped its mooring and sailed north-west from Wilhelmshaven for a routine patrol and disappeared.

“It is thought that U-31 had struck a mine off England’s east coast and sank with the loss of its entire complement of four officers, 31 men.

“U-31 was the first of eleven Type U-31* submarines built between 1912 and 1915.

“The class were considered very good high sea boats with good surface steering; eight were sunk during operations while three surrendered and were scrapped after the war.

“Of those lost during operations, the whereabouts and fate of two, including U-31, was unknown.

“The discovery and identification of SM U-31 by ScottishPower Renewables and Vattenfall is a significant achievement.

“After being on the seabed for over a century, the submarine appears to be in a remarkable condition with the conning tower present and the bows partially buried.

“Relatives and descendants of those lost in the U-31 may now take some comfort in knowing the final resting place of the crew and the discovery serves as a poignant reminder of all those lost at sea, on land and in the air during the First World War.”

As an official military maritime grave, the wreck of U-31 will remain in its final resting place and plans for any offshore windfarm development will be progressed ensuring no disturbance to the area.

Andy Paine, Vattenfall project director of East Anglia Offshore Wind Farm, said: “The seabed scanning had been undertaken by Netherlands-owned company Fugro, and their team made us aware of the Dutch Navy’s hunt for its last remaining missing WWII submarine.

“We were all extremely keen to make contact with the Dutch Navy to see if this could be the submarine they have been looking for over so many years: could we at last have solved the mystery?”

Mr Jordan added: “Unravelling the whole story behind the submarine has been fascinating and it’s heartening to know that the discovery will provide closure to relatives and descendants of the submariners lost who may have always wondered what had happened to their loved ones.”

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