Articles The Archaeology of First World War U-boat Losses in the English Channel and its Impact on the Historical Record

By Innes McCartney, published April 2019


This article examines how the archaeological record of 35 known U-boats sunk in the English Channel in the First World War compares with the assessment of U-boat destructions made by the Admiralty’s Antisubmarine Division (ASD) in 1919. Comparison of the two shows that only 48 per cent of the 37 assessments were correct. This divergence between the extant archaeology and the 1919 assessment was partly caused by over optimism at ASD regarding reported attacks. However, it is also observed that ASD’s own processes were on occasion overridden by a need to overstate Allied successes, and should be seen in the broader context of a wider range of inefficiencies that confronted the Naval Staff during the First World War. The same mistakes seem entirely absent from the Second World War records in the same geographical area. The research reveals that the radio silence observed by the Flanders flotilla proved a challenge to combating its U-boats at sea, making the tracking of the U-boats and the rerouting of Allied ships practically impossible. This was a factor in the early adoption of ‘controlled sailings’ in the Channel. It may have also been the driving factor behind the navy’s pressure to attack the Flanders bases by land in 1917, a key component often overlooked by historians.

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Filed under: WW1 | WW2
Subjects include: Archaeology | Navies | Submarines

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