The Hunt For SM UB57 And Johannes Lohs

This is the photo that initiated the quest to seek out and hunt the WWI U-Boat of Johannes Lohs, the ubiquitous U-Boat SM UB57. It is a pair of Lea and Perrins bottle tops recovered from the HMHS Kyarra in April 2017 and while explaining to my nine year old that these bottle tops had been underwater for 99 years, the eureka moment hit that in 2018, it will be the 100th centenary of the Kyarra’s demise.

Pair of Lea and Perrins bottle tops recovered from the Kyarra in April 2017.
Pair of Lea and Perrins bottle tops recovered from the Kyarra in April 2017.

My two favourite points of reference these past months has been Uboat.Net and Wrecksite.Eu which, with a different focus and bias, catalogue and reference much of the information needed. The Uboat.Net website represents the Uboats of WWI and WW2 with their Commanders and attack successes. Wrecksite.Eu on the other hand, is an inspiring database of worldwide shipwrecks including data of date of loss, type of loss, location, depth and sometimes personal information of those people killed.

UB57

UB57 was a Type UB III submarine or U-boat in the German Imperial Navy ordered on 20th May 1916, built at AG Weser, Bremen and launched on 20th June 1917. Commissioned into the Flanders Flotilla of the German Imperial Navy on 30th July 1917, she was initially commanded by Kptlt Otto Steinbrinck between 3rd July 1917 and 1st January 1918 where he was succeeded by Oblt. Johannes Lohs (Pour le Mérite) on the 2nd January 1918 until he and the vessel were lost on 14th August 1918.

U-Boat SM UB57
U-Boat SM UB57

She carried 10 torpedoes and was armed with a 3.46 inch deck gun and would carry a crew of up to 3 officers and 31 men. She had a cruising range of 9,020 nautical miles, her engines enabling her to travel at 13.4 knots when surfaced and 7.8 knots when submerged.

Her career spanned 11 patrols with successes of 47 ships sunk with a total of 129,173 tons 10 ships damaged with a total of 58,990 tons. Her demise was 14th August 1918, suspected of being mined off the Flanders coast on return to Zeebrugge. All hands of 34 died including Lohs.

Notable Dates

  • 2nd Jan 1918 – Johannes Lohs takes command of SM UB57
  • 5th Feb 1918 – SS Alamance (4,455 tons) – American steamer sunk by torpedo off Maidens Head on the east coast of Northern Ireland.
  • 7th Feb 1918 – SS Ardbeg (227 tons)
  • 7th Feb 1918 – SS Ben Rein (212 tons)
  • 7th Feb 1918 – SS Limesfield (427 tons)
  • 12th Feb 1918 – SS Eleanor (1,980 tons)
  • 12th Feb 1918 – SS Polo (1,383 tons)
  • 14th Feb 1918 – SS Carlisle Castle (4,325 tons)
  • 14th Feb 1918 – SS War Monarch (7,887 tons)
  • 17th Mar 1918 – Anne Yvonne (102 tons)
  • 17th Mar 1918 – SV Arvor (52 tons)
  • 17th Mar 1918 – SV Béata (102 tons)
  • 19th Mar 1918 – SS Luxor (3,571)
  • 29th Mar 1918 – SS T. R. Thompson (3,538 tons)
  • 31st Mar 1918 – SS Excellence Pleske (2,059 tons)
  • 29th Apr 1918 – SS Australier (3,687 tons)
  • 29th Apr 1918 – SS Broderick (4,321 tons)
  • 29th Apr 1918 – SS La Somme (1,477 tons)
  • 30th Apr 1918 – SS Ella Sayer (2,549 tons)
  • 30th Apr 1918 – SS Umba (2,042 tons)
  • 2nd May 1918 – SS Unity (1,091 tons)
  • 22nd May 1918 – SS Red Rose (423 tons)
  • 23rd May 1918 – SS Moldavia (9,500 tons)
  • 26th May 1918 – SS Kyarra (6,953 tons)
  • 27th May 1918 – Joseph Simone (8 tons)
  • 27th May 1918 – Petit Georges (10 tons)
  • 27th May 1918 – Souvenir De Ste Marie (7 tons)
  • 2nd Jul 1918 – SS Shirala (5,306 tons)
  • 8th Aug 1918 – SS Clan Macvey (5,815 tons)
  • 9th Aug 1918 – SS Glenlee (4,915 tons)
  • 13th Aug 1918 – SS City Of Brisbane (7,138 tons)
  • 14th Aug 1918 – UB-57 – Hits mine off Zeebrugge with all hands lost.

Final Patrol

After sinking the City of Brisbane, the UB57 headed for home in Zeebrugge, Belgium. During the journey, having first checked that the horizon was clear, she started to surface to run on diesels and recharge her batteries. Upon surfacing, Lohs opened the hatch to find himself almost directly beneath a low-flying British airship. A crash dive was immediately ordered, but they had been spotted and the airship started dropping bombs. Fortunately, they evaded sinking and continued their journey home.

On 14th August 1918, Lohs radioed to base that he had sunk 15,000 tons of shipping and was returning to base. That night he started through the narrow and swept straits of Dover. Nothing more was ever heard from him but it is likely that he hit a mine near Zeebrugge. Lohs’ body and those of some of his crew were washed up near the mouth of the river Scheldt about one week later. Lohs was one of the Imperial Navy’s war heroes, having sunk an impressive seventy-six merchant ships and one warship, a total of 148,677 tons. During World War II, one of the U-boat flotillas operating from France was named in his honour.