East Anglian seabed scanning discovers German WW1 submarine

Monday, 25 January, 2016 - 09:45
Unexpected discovery: During seabed scanning a WW1 wreck was found. (Photo: Fugro/ScottishPower Renewables)
Unexpected discovery: During seabed scanning a WW1 wreck was found. (Photo: Fugro/ScottishPower Renewables)

Whilst undertaking detailed seabed scanning for the development of windfarm projects in the East Anglia Zone windfarm developers ScottishPower Renewables and Vattenfall uncovered a wreck of a WW1 German submarine, missing in action since 1915.

ScottishPower Renewables (SPR) and Vattenfall used advanced sonar technology to scan over 6,000 km2 of the seabed in the Southern North Sea over two years. Although more than 60 wrecks were discovered during the scanning work, most of these were anticipated, but the uncharted submarine 90 km from shore was entirely unexpected. “The scanning team were expecting to see wrecks, but such a discovery was quite a surprise and has been extremely interesting”, says Charlie Jordan, SPR’s Project Director for East Anglia.

The seabed scanning had been undertaken by Netherlands-owned company Fugro. “Their team made us aware of the Dutch Navy’s hunt for its last remaining missing WW2 submarine”, says Andy Paine, Vattenfall’s Project Director for East Anglia. The Royal Netherlands Navy was duly notified to investigate whether it was Dutch military submarine HNLMS O13, which went missing in action in June 1940, after the crew were tasked to patrol the waters between Denmark and Norway.


The taken video footage highlighted clear images of the conning tower and deck lay-out, which suggested the wreck was of German origin. Thus, three years after its initial discovery in September 2012 the wreck now was officially identified as German submarine, U-31, which left for patrol on 13 January 1915 never to return. The wreck is approximately 90 km offshore in the North Sea but sits on the seabed at a depth of only 30 m.

The wreck is 57.6 m in length, 4.1 m in width and 4.6 m in height and 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 m (but less than 70 m).

Mark Dunkley, marine archaeologist at Historic England, adds: “SM U-31 was commissioned into the Imperial German Navy in September 1914. On 13th January 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 4 officers, 31 men.”

Katharina Garus

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