Is this the lost U-Boat of UB57?

Oberleutnant z.S. Siegfried Fuchs was first officer of UB57. His body was washed up alongside Lohs near Zeebrugge.

German U-Boat SM UB57 was a German Type UB III submarine or U-boat in the German Imperial Navy during World War I. She was commissioned into the Flanders Flotilla of the German Imperial Navy on 30th July 1917 as SM UB57.

On 3rd August 1918 UB57 left on her final patrol and on this voyage, her last kills were SS Clan Mackey, SS Glenlee and SS City Of Brisbane on the 8th, 9th and 13th August respectively.

On 14th August at 22.15pm Lohs broadcast a radio signal to Bruges to advise they were on their return and had sunk a total of three ships, totalling 15,000 ton. This was the last sign of UB57, which was sent from the area of the Sandettie Bank. An hour later Bruges wanted UB57 to signal again, but nothing more was heard. From the British side, no news was picked up concerning the destruction of UB57. It was therefore assumed that she and Lohs fell victim to a newly laid British minefield with magnetic mines which had been laid off the Flemish coast, about 8 miles to the north of Zeebrugge.

The bodies of Lohs, his first officer Siegfried Fuchs and a couple of other crewmen washed ashore a week later at Flushing and Zeebrugge. The 26 year old Fuchs had only finished his course at the U-Schule in May 1918 and had entered service with the I U-Flottille Flandern a week later. His body washed ashore near Zeebrugge on 2nd September 1918 and three days later he was buried at the cemetery of Steenbrugge.

Classified Missing

The search for the wreck of UB57 proves to be an interesting case study. A number of possible candidates present themselves as being that of the UB57. It is possible that UB57 foundered in the area to the east of the Fairybank. If this is the case, then it would also concern one of four unidentified UB-III wrecks around that area and linked to the loss of SM UB54.

Multibeam image from Flanders Coastal Department wreck database.

Consideration One

In relation to UB54, Dr Innes McCartney talks of one large UB-III U-Boat laying at position:

  • Latitude: 50°25.00'N
  • Longitude: 12°30.00'W
  • Depth: Unknown

which is in a good state of preservation, with the bow showing four visible torpedo tubes and two to the stern. Just in front of the tower is a 8.8CM deck gun and around it are several scattered empty shell cases. All hatches are in a closed condition and would not support the evidence of an evacuation of the crew of UB57.

A type U III Class Submarine to that of UB57.

Consideration Two

However, a more likely candidate for UB54 is one of three unidentified UB-III class submarines sunk to the northeast of the Fairybank. This was an area of sea intensively dived and researched by Dirk Termote and Tomas Termote in 1995, being the location of a WW1 British minefield during 1917 and 1918 as a number of returning U-Boats were lost and sunk in the area. Indeed, in an area of 5 miles by 10 miles, a total of seven UB and UC U-Boats were discovered, some only laying a few hundred metres from each other. In position:

  • Latitude: 51°29.333'N
  • Longitude: 02°11.361'E
  • Depth: 43 Metres

there is an intact UB-III submarine laying upright with an inclination over the port side. This U-Boat was fitted with a 10.5CM deck gun and around its foot, lay several cased and ready-to-use shells. On one of the locking rings there was a date of "1918". Both deck hatches are in a closed position and there is no visible damage to the wreck. The tower hatch is gone and the twisted hinge could point to the fact that it was dislodged by a fishing net. The starboard propeller was found to be clear of nets and its hub was cleaned. Disappointingly, all it showed was the UB-III type number and not the U-Boat number.

Consideration Three

This UB-III candidate lays one mile to the east at position:

  • Latitude: 51°29.170'N
  • Longitude: 02°12.917'E
  • Depth: 43 Metres

With this UB-III fairly intact too. It lays on an even keel with a slight inclination over the port side. There is damage to on the bow, most likely to have been caused by an explosion by mine. The section of the top of the bow seems to have been ripped off and the inside of the four torpedo tubes are well visible. Just in front of the tower stands the door of a 10.5CM deck gun, but the barrel lays in the scour behind the wreck. Around the tower and in the sand lay several full zinc containers for ammunition for the gun. The stern also shows explosion damage, where the torpedo tubes are half visible. All hatches are either open or without a hatch cover. It is suspected that the disappearance of the hatches are caused by trawl snags rather than escape attempts by the crew when the U-Boat lay on the bottom. We can possibly rule this UB-III as UB75 too.

Possible locations of the missing UB57.

Consideration Four

A similar type was discovered on the top of a sandbank some 2 miles north of the Fairybank. This submarine lays in position:

  • Latitude: 51°26.795'N
  • Longitude: 02°19.933'E
  • Depth: 22 Metres

where she pays upright, but has been buried to ¾ deep in the sand dunes. Only the tower, the surrounding deck with two compressed air tanks, two hatches and the foot of the deck gun are visible. The tower hatch is is open, but filled to the brim with sand. In the late 1990's a fisherman's trawl snagged the gun and it was brought to the surface which appeared to be a 8.8CM calibre gun. The size of the wreck and dimensions of the tower together with build quality, point this to be a UB-III class submarine built to the middle or later months of the war.

The most plausible wreck of these four to be UB57 would be that of candidate four, the one lying in the shallows of the Fairybank, where the 8.8CM deck gun was trawled up. The only fact that would give some doubt is that the bodies of Lohs and his bridge watch washed ashore only a week later in the Schelde. Experience with flotsam suggests that when in the area of the Fairybank or Westhinder, these would usually drift for months in the area between the Sandettie and the North Hinder without touching land. UB57 would therefore have had to have been sunk closer to land to yield human remains at such an early stage.

Consideration Five

That said, the most likely candidate would be the wreck of a fifth UB-lll class submarine in position:

  • Latitude: 51°25.234'N
  • Longitude: 03°06.261'E
  • Depth: 12 Metres

The dimensions of the conning tower point to a large U or UB-III class submarine. The tower has been ripped from its footing and lies over port at an angle of 60°, but is still partly connected by its base to the hull. The forward hatch is shut, but the tower hatch and one of the aft hatches are gone. The interior of the U-boat is almost completely filled with sand. Just in front of the tower, a foot for the gun was discovered, but the gun was not present. On the bow there are two of the four torpedo tubes visible, with both doors being partially open. Before 1996, the wreck was wrongly identified as being UB59. It could not concern UB59 as she was blown up intentionally in her dry dock in Bruges in October 1918.

Screenshot of suspected coordinates of wreck of missing U-Boat UB57.

Damage to the tower and the disappearance of the gun can point to the use of underwater chains. This method of levelling wrecks was used in the main part of the 20th century to deepen the water column above shallow wrecks. It could also have been that the wreck was hit by a deep hulled vessel and was damaged this way. In an official Belgian hydrographic report, there was mention of the vessel Sanderus hitting an obstruction about 0.6 miles to the west of wreck buoy 11 on 15th April 1985. It then concerned the wreck of the unidentified UB-III class submarine.

It was first discovered and dived upon by Dirk Termote and Tomas in 1996. The wreck is seemingly intact and lies upright with a slight inclination over starboard. Maximum depth is 12M and the wreck has sunk up to halfway up its hull into the sand. The location and type of this U-boat strongly points in the direction of UB57, but a number of determining factors lack to identify it 100% as being this U-boat. The U-Boat SM UB57 is still deemed lost.

Red Herring

The website Wikipedia reports the coordinates of UB57 as being at position:

  • Latitude: 51°56.00'N
  • Longitude: 02°02.00'E

However, the Uboat.Net website stipulates that commonly listed loss position of 51°56.00'N, 02°02.00'E is incorrect.