SM U-8 was a submarine of the German Imperial Navy which, on 4th March 1915, was passing westwards through the Dover Strait when it ran into the defensive nets of the Dover Barrage. British destroyers from the Dover Patrol forced U-8 to the surface where it was abandoned and subsequently sank.
‘SM’ stands for ‘Seiner Majestät’ (English: His Majesty's) and combined with the U for Unterseeboot would be translated as His Majesty's Submarine.
Reasons for Designation
SM U-8, commissioned in 1911, is designated under the Protection of Wrecks Act 1973 for the following principal reasons:
* Period: the U-8 was the first U-boat of the First World War sunk in England’s coastal waters;
* Potential: the U-8 was one of only four Type U-5 boats ever built and is the earliest U-boat wreck in England’s territorial waters;
* Rarity: the U-8 is a rare example of a pre-First World War German-built submarine;
* Vulnerability: the U-8 remains vulnerable to legitimate, but uncontrolled, salvage.
Launched in March 1911 as the last of a batch of four type U-5 U-boats ordered from the Germaina shipyard, Kiel, in 1908, SM U-8 was passing westwards through the Dover Strait on 4th March 1915 when it ran into the nets of the Dover Barrage. Attempts to get clear attracted the attention of the drifter Robur, which called-up the destroyer patrol (a unit of the Royal Navy as well as other smaller vessels whose primary task was to prevent enemy German shipping - chiefly submarines - from entering the English Channel en route to the Atlantic Ocean). The destroyer HMS Gurkha lowered an explosive sweep and when the line snagged on an underwater obstruction the charge was fired.
Every lamp in the U-boat was smashed, rivets were started in many places in the pressure hull and the boat began to take on water; the main switchboard caught fire and both motors broke down. The commander, Kapitänleutnant Alfred Stoß, ordered the submarine to the surface, where the U-8 was abandoned, though not before HMS Gurkha and HMS Maori had opened fire.
The U-8 was to become the first U-Boat victim of the Dover Patrol and is thus the first confirmed, and earliest, U-boat casualty of the First World War in English territorial waters.
Following experiments with U-1 to U-4 (chiefly in surface speed), the design for a 500-ton boat with a surface speed of 14.5 knots (U-1 managed 10.6 knots) was submitted by Germaniawerft (GW) in February 1908, with naval contracts to follow for the construction of U-boats U-5 to U-8 in April 1908. These boats were to form the first real German U-boat force to be superior both in fighting ability and seaworthiness to all foreign competition.
Initially used by the Imperial German Navy in August 1914 as an advanced line of observational outposts in the Heligoland Bight to guard the approaches to the Eems, Elbe and Jade Bight, the potential of the U-boats was at first slow to be realised. Patrols were soon to extend into the North Sea as far as Fair Isle seeking to attack the British Grand Fleet, albeit unsuccessfully. The first major U-boat success was to follow in September with the sinking of three British cruisers in quick succession by the U-9 off Holland (the British vessels comprising a squadron of three obsolescent British Cressy-class armoured cruisers (HMS Aboukir, HMS Hogue and HMS Cressy) which had been assigned to prevent German surface vessels from entering the eastern end of the English Channel), while incursions into the Western Channel and Irish Sea via the English Channel saw the deployment of British drifter nets across the Dover Straits in order to entangle submarines passing through. The nets were soon supplemented with minefields which effectively closed the Dover Strait to U-boat transit in August 1918.
The U-8 marked a turning point in submarine development from small coastal craft to devastatingly effective weapons of war.
The recorded operational history of the U-8 with the German 1st Flotilla included a sortie into Heligoland Bight early on in the war and a single patrol from Belgium in which it sunk 15,049 tons of British shipping, including an aborted attack on the hospital ship St. Andrew.
There are a number of sources that document the loss of the U-8, including an account published in 1931 which claims that when HMS Ghurka’s sweep exploded, the stern of U-8 ‘shot up to the surface almost vertically’.
An account of life in a German submarine in 1914, which typified experiences of crew in boats of the types U-5 to U-18, was written by Johannes Speiss, First Watch Officer of the early kerosene powered U-boat U-9. As with the U-8, the use of kerosene gave off a large amount of smoke and necessitated the use of a demountable funnel. "In the engine room" wrote Speiss "were the four Korting paraffin [kerosene] engines which could be coupled in tandem, two on each propeller shaft. The air required by these engines was drawn in through the conning-tower hatch, while the exhaust was led overboard through a long demountable funnel. Astern of the gas engines were the two electric motors for submerged cruising." Speiss goes on to summarily describe the layout of the submarine from the forward torpedo room right through the boat to the after torpedo room.
Designation History: Designation Order: 685 Made: 27 June 2016 Laid before Parliament: 30 June 2016 Coming into force: 21 July 2016 Protected area: 50 metres within 50 56.032 N 01 15.383 E
No part of the restricted area lies above the high-water mark of ordinary spring tides.
Documentary History: the Anglo-German naval arms race (1898-1912) saw the slow introduction of submarines into many navies with the German U-boat U-1 being launched for sea trials in August 1906. In comparison, the British naval estimates of 1907-09 included only four submarines, and it was not until 1910 was there to be any notable increase in numbers of this type of craft.
Following experiments with U-boats U-1 to U-4 (chiefly in surface speed, paraffin-burning and diesel engines coupled with electric motors), the design for a 500-ton boat with a surface speed of 14.5 knots (U-1 managed 10.6 knots) was submitted by Germaniawerft (GW) in February 1908 with naval contracts to follow for the construction of U-boats U-5 to U-8 in April. These boats were to form the first real German U-boat force to be superior both in fighting ability and seaworthiness to all foreign competition.
Archaeological History: despite lying within the hazardous Dover traffic separation zone, the wreck is a well-known recreational diving site but remains vulnerable to theft and deliberate damage. Its propeller was stolen by salvage divers, though it was later recovered. An innovative acoustic survey of the wreck in 2015 recorded the submarine in very good condition sitting upright on the seabed with periscopes and radio masts still present.
This list entry was subject to a Minor Amendment on 09/03/2017