U Boat tragedy in Dunmore East

Standing on the breakwater at Dunmore East last night, I found it hard to try cast my mind back to the scene 99 years ago to the day. For on August 4th 1917 just after midnight an explosion ripped through the hull of a U Boat laying mines between Dunmore and the Hook. Three fishermen; Jack McGrath and two brothers Tom & Patsy Power, rowed out from the village in their fishing boat to assist1. Later that night they pulled the half dead captain of the submarine Kapitanleutnant Kurt Tebbenjoahnnes out of the water. From a crew of 30, he would be the only one to survive.

Once in Dunmore, Tebbenjoahnnes was cared for in the home of a Mrs Chester and was seen to by a Mr Austin Farrell. Later that morning he began his journey to London and life as a POW.
UC-44 lying at the quayside at Dunmore September 2017
accessed from: http://www.warrelics.eu/forum/imperial-
germany-austro-hungary/german-u-boat-photos-postcards-156303/

Meanwhile a salvage operation was initiated under a Lieutenant Commander Davis. Divers (tin openers) were deployed, and entered the sub to bring up the U Boats papers and later cables were dropped from a surface vessel, brought under the sub and then brought back to the surface. At low tide, the cables were secured to the decks of two ships and when the tide rose, so did the submarine. Once the sub was sufficiently off the bottom, the salvage vessels moved towards Dunmore. In all it took twenty lifts and as a consequence of bad weather it would be September 25th before they reached harbour.

Salvage operation at Dunmore via Paul O'Farrell

Although the U boat sank, at least 3 of her crew, the Captain, Tebbenjoahnnes, and two engine room staff; Richter and Fahnster escaped. When the explosion happened they were in the conning tower, and were separated from the main craft. Their escape necessitated them opening the outer hatch and a swim to the surface that lay 90 feet above. All three broke the surface together, but eventually they drifted apart.


An intact mine being unloaded (1 of 9 remaining aboard) note Dunmore
Lighthouse to the left.  via Paul O'Farrell on the Waterford Maritime History page

Richter's corpse washed up on Wexford shore in the following weeks and was buried in Duncannon and after the war re-interred in the German Military Cemetery at Glencree Co Wicklow. Apparently Joahnn Fahnster's body was never recovered.

Of the remaining twenty seven souls little is known. There is a thread online claiming that 19 bodies were contained in the submarine when she reached Dunmore, undoubtedly the others would have washed out of the damaged hull. The reference for this claim is cited as Robert Grants book the U Boat Hunters. Some claim that in line with naval policy, they were taken out and buried at sea. It has been speculated that to inter so many in a cemetery on land would draw attention to the fact that the U-boat had been salvaged and thus lose an advantage to the German side. Many accounts don't even mention the crew, their average age being 20! Perhaps seeing the crew list will make it more real.


Rank                Surname               Christian name
Matrose
BARTZ
John.
Ltnt.z.S.d.Res.
BENDLER
Wilhelm
O.Masch.Mt.
BIENERT
Fritz
Heizer
BORGWALDT
K:
Btsm.Mt.d.Res.
BÖTTCHER
A.
O.Matrose
BÜRGER
O.
Masch.Anw.
CLASEN
H.
Ob.Matrose
DÜSING
August
Ob.Masch.Mt.
FAHNSTER
Johann
Heizer
FEHRLE
Erwin
F.T.Gast
GIESENHAGEN
K.
T.Heizer
GOLOMBOWSKI
-
U.Maat
HEUER
Otto
Ob.Btsm.Mt.
HORAND
Hans
Matrose
IDSELIS
Michael
Heizer
KERSTEN
Heinrich
Masch.T.Mt.
KLEIN
Karl
F.T.O.Gast
KRÄMER
A.
O.Masch.Mt.
LEHMANN
R.
Masch.Mt.
MÜLLER
Heye D.
Ob.Btsm.Mt.
PABSCH
J.
Masch.Anw.
RICHTER
W.
Matrose
ROTTSCHALK
Walter
Masch.Mt.
RÖSLER
P.
Ob.Heizer
SCHICKENDANZ
W.
Steuermann
SCHULTER
J.
Masch.Mt.
SCHMITZ
F.
Mt.Ing.O.Asp.
SEIFARTH
Helmut
Matrose
ZIELOSKO
Emanuel


What actually happened to the German U Boat UC-44 that night is still a matter of some speculation and controversy. Some say she struck her own mine, some that there was a design flaw, or tampering with the mines, whilst others say she was destroyed by mines left from a previous deployment. Truth like so much else becomes another victim during war.

I left Dunmore wondering if anyone else looked out last night on the sea and thought about the incident. To date, nothing marks the event, or makes mention of the seamen or their plight. They were, after all, just doing their duty. Ordinary men called in a time of crisis to do extraordinary things. As much as we may have objected to their mission, surely a century later we can at least acknowledge that they existed.

1 Joefy Murphy had a comment (posted below) that there may be confusion with the names. I heard recently that there may be been another Dunore fishing boat in the area. 

My thanks to Michael Farrell of the Barony of Gaultier Historical Society for providing the names of the Power brothers of Dunmore mentioned above. And to Ray Mcgrath for the name of his father also mentioned. Thanks also to Paul O Farrell for the photos and to Mick and Nicki Kenny for information on the crew list.

If you would like to read more, I have published two blogs on the incident itself and the aftermath
http://russianside.blogspot.ie/2016/02/the-dunmore-east-u-boat-trap.html
http://russianside.blogspot.ie/2016/02/dunmore-east-u-boat-trap-part-ii.html

I publish a blog each Friday.  If you like this piece or have an interest in the local history or maritime heritage of Waterford harbour and environs you can email me at russianside@gmail.com to receive the blog every week.

My Facebook and Twitter pages are more contemporary and reflect not just heritage 
and history but the daily happenings in our beautiful harbour:  
F https://www.facebook.com/whtidesntales  T https://twitter.com/tidesntales

Comments

  1. What an amazing story, I had never read of heard of this before, thank for sharing it Andrew. This has just reminded of my late uncle Tommy 19 years old an able Seaman on board a British light Cruser Galatea which was torpedoed by U557 and within 48 hours U557 was rammed and sunk with all hands lost. Like so many young Irishmen life on the ocean waves and a wage to explore the world, but warfare changes that perception. The very same could be said about the German crew of UC-44 they also had families too. Will never forget and rest in Peace NICHOLSON, Thomas, Able Seaman, D/SSX 24775, MPK. THanks Andrew.

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  2. Thanks for your comment and regrets on your loss. My own grandfather was at sea at the time too, and as far as I am aware, did not suffer any torpedo attack, despite being on a supply vessel to the Galipoli landings, which U Boats tried to disrupt. Several Cheekpoint men and numerous others from the harbour did perish though in both wars. In a way I think we feel their loss more, as they were not combatants, they were only trying to feed their families, and keep supply chains open. But all atrocities are excused by the opposing sides in war whilst condoned as necessary by the other.

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  3. Thanks for the details of the story, in all the time I've looked out at the Hook, I was unaware of this event. Strange coincidences that seem to be surprisingly prevalent in Irish life, but my grandfather was one lost on the RMV Leinster off Dublin in October 1918 when she was torpedoed by UB-123. Over 500 people perished in the sinking of the Leinster — the greatest single loss of life in the Irish Sea. UB123 was herself lost at sea less than 10 days later, with all hands. I fully agree that we should have some memorial to the crew of UC44.

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    Replies
    1. Thanks for your comment. Another strange coincidence: when Tebbenjoahnnes was being transferred to London, he sailed aboard the Leinster. He was under the guard of two naval officers. They were sitting with their prisoner in the saloon, having a convivial drink, when her captain interjected and stated that he would slap them all in irons if they did not return the prisoner to his cabin. Apparently once ensconced again, he insisted the officers return to finish their drink and gave his word as a German office not to escape. This they duly did. I've been researching the Leinster to develop this particular story, still working on it

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    2. My great grandfather also died on the RMV Leinster

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  4. A great read Andrew. I wasn't aware of the story. I think reflecting on 1916 has reminded us all of the many sacrifices made by the young in times of struggle, war & revolution. So very say to think of those young men loosing their lives in such circumstances & so far from their homeland & families. Going to remember them the next day I am in the harbour.

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    Replies
    1. Thanks for your comment Julie. The feedback I'm getting suggests that very few are aware of this incident and that you or others will pause to think about this and perhaps other events makes writing the blog worthwhile and very satisfying. Andrew

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  5. There is a slight mix-up in the three Dunmore men's names. They were Tommy and Jack McGrath (brothers) and Patsy Power. I know this as Tommy often recounted that night's events. They were actually out in the bay tending herring stake nets with they had set earlier in the evening as was the practice then for the early autumn herring when they discovered the captain in the water shouting for help.

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    Replies
    1. Thanks for that Joefy, appreciate the comment. I was told recently that there may have been two Dunmore boats near the scene. Maybe that contributed to some of the confusion? There's surely more information to emerge into the incident.

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