100 Years Ago Today – The Sinking of U.B.116

Last Roll of the Dice

Front cover of the iBook “The Story of U.B.116” documenting the first 100 years of the submarine.

At 23:32hrs on the28th of October 1918 the Flotta Mining Hut triggered the remotely controlled minefield that guarded Hoxa Sound, thus sealing the fate of the submarine U.B.116 and her crew.

Screenshot from the iBook “The story of U.B.116 – The First 100 Years”. The background image is a line drawing of a Type III submarine found in the records at the National Archives. The capstan shown mounted on the deck has identified amongst the wreckage.

U.B.116 had departed Heligoland early on the morning of the 25th with orders to attack the Royal Navy base of Scapa Flow. In the closing days of the First World War this was a desparate act with the intention of causing as much loss and damage within the anchorage as possible, with  Germany hoping to strengthen its negotiating hand in the anticipated peace talks.

U.B.116 departed at a time of turmoil within the German High Seas Fleet. Sailors were mutinying and refusing to put to sea. But U.B.116, under the command of Oblt.z.S. Hans Richard Joachim Emsmann, took their orders and sailed to their fate believing Hoxa Sound to be free of mines.

After being detected on hydrophones on the evening of the 28th the British defenders knew a submarine was attempting to enter Scapa Flow. Hoxa Sound was protected but instead of traditional contact mines the British had laid an indicator loop and manually triggered mines. The indicator loop sensed the magnetic presence of steel objects such as ships and submarines, and with no surface traffic present any movement of the indicator meant just one thing: Hostile submarine.

“Sir, I have the honour to report as follows regarding the destruction of enemy craft that entered Hoxa Sound last night…” – National Archives Orkney and Shetlands: Enemy Submarines ADM 137/1447.

Records and Research

The story of U.B.116 did not end there. Royal Navy Salvage divers known as The Tin Openers arrived with orders to enter the stricken submarine, recover intelligence and eventually raise the submarine.

“Immediate. Proceed at once by rail to Scapa with two divers and equipment and necessary members of your party to investigate new and important case.”  – National Archives Admiralty Salvage Section: Permanent Records Case 22 ADM 116/1851.

Screenshot from the iBook. Of the same class as U.B.116, U.B.110 had been raised and photographs of her interior exist, giving us an insight into how the U.B.116 would have looked.

Further research has also revealed U.B.116 was the inspiration for a play by C.S.Forester entitled U97 – A Play in Three Acts and in 1940 the submarine was dived again by the Royal Navy after being relocated in Hoxa Sound. In the late 1960s the submarine was then sold for scrap before being blown up and shredded by the effects of high explosives.

The 3D Model and the iBook

Screenshot from the iBook showing an overview of the wreck site of the U.B.116

After the first dive and 3D model of the wreck Simon started to dig into the history of U.B.116. With assistance from fellow diver and researcher  Kevin Heath the records in the National Archives were opened, newspaper reports uncovered and the Hydrographic Office records trawled to reveal the 100 year story of the wreck. All of this research is presented in the iBook “The Story of U.B.116 – The First 100 Years”. 

The wreck has been documented using photogrammetry and both the 3D models and detailed 2D site plan of the submarine as she lies today are included in the book. Both model and plan serve as an excellent guide for anyone wishing to explore this wreck without getting wet. For divers visiting this wreck, this guide is an invaluable companion to help understand what lies on the seabed.

The iBook is available in the iTunes store: