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Oldest German U-Boat and Earliest U-Boat Casualty of the First World War Protected

  • The U-8 became the first victim of the Royal Navy's Dover Patrol and is the earliest U-Boat to be sunk in English territorial waters in the First World War
  • Historic England survey shows the U-8 is in very good condition, sitting upright on the seabed with periscopes and radio masts still in place
  • Protection will help efforts to preserve the submarine's hull which is rusting due to changing ocean acidity caused by climate change, as well as helping to stop uncontrolled salvage by unscrupulous divers
  • Rare British submarine the A3 is also granted protection as one of only three surviving A-class pre-First World War submarines. This brings the number of protected historic submarines in England to four
  • Neither submarine is classed as a 'war grave' as there was no loss of life

Contemporary photograph of the crew of the  U-8 submarine in March 1915
Contemporary photograph of the crew of the U-8 submarine in March 1915 prior to departure for battle in the First World War © Frankes.com

The oldest First World War German U-boat and the earliest German submarine to be sunk in English territorial waters - the U-8 - has been given protection by the Secretary of State for Culture as a Protected Historic Wreck site, on the advice of Historic England.

The protection of the U-8 is part of a wider Historic England project to investigate the locations of 11 known First World War submarine losses within English territorial waters to better understand their condition, extent of survival and rate of decay. In particular, the effect of oceanic climate change on the metal hulls of these submarines is being studied to find ways of slowing down their rate of corrosion.

Launched pre-war in 1911, the U-8 sank off the coast of Folkestone in Kent in March 1915 after being snared in anti-submarine nets as she was passing through the Dover Strait. Attempts to get clear attracted the attention of the Royal Navy's Dover Patrol, whose role was to stop German submarines from entering the English Channel en route to the Atlantic Ocean.

First World War contemporary black and white photograph showing capture of the crew from the U-8 submarine off Dover
First World War contemporary black and white photograph showing capture of the crew from the U-8 submarine off Dover

The U-8 was hit by a charge from the destroyer Ghurka and was forced to surface, where she was abandoned and later sank, after coming under more fire from fellow-destroyer Maori. The crew all survived and were captured, taken ashore and marched through the town of Dover to Dover Castle, escorted by the garrison of the castle.

The U-8 is a rare example of a pre-First World War German built submarine. It is significant as the eighth U-boat built for the German Navy, and one of only four Type U-5 boats ever built (U-5 - U-8). The U-8 is the only well-recorded and well-preserved survivor of this important class of submarine. The others, the U-5, U-6 and U-7 were sunk off Belgium, Norway and Holland and their condition is not known.

Heritage Minister Tracey Crouch said: "The UK has a long and proud maritime heritage and these wreck sites tell an important story about our past.

As we mark the centenary of the First World War, it is fitting that we remember the role of the wider war at sea and I am excited that these sites will be protected for years to come."

 

Mark Dunkley, Maritime Designation Adviser for Historic England said: "The U-8's design and construction, complete with six torpedos, marked a turning point in submarine development. The Type U-5 boats were superior to allied submarines both in fighting ability and seaworthiness. The U-8 sits upright on the seabed in excellent condition and you can still see its periscopes, radio masts attached."

Despite lying within the busy Dover Strait, the wreck is a well-known recreational diving site and has been the target of thieves with both propellers missing from the wreck site. One of the propellers has been recovered and returned to the German Navy after being stolen by salvage divers and discovered in use as a coffee table in Kent. The second propeller remains missing. Giving the site protection will ensure that the site is now less vulnerable.

Pre- First World War HM submarine A3 protected

The British Royal Navy submarine A3 has also been granted protection by the Secretary of State for Culture on the advice of Historic England. The HM submarine A3 is one of only three surviving British A-class submarines anywhere in the world.

Sailors standing on the A3 submarine
Contemporary photograph of the A3 submarine on passage in the south coast © Historic England

The A3 was built at Vickers, Barrow-in-Furness in Cumbria and commissioned in 1904.  In February 1912, she sunk off Lulworth, Dorset after being accidently rammed while surfacing by the depot ship HMS Hazard off the Isle of Wight. The wreck was salvaged and subsequently sunk as a gunnery target and now lies east of Portland in Dorset.

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