GoPro footage taken by the Dutch Navy divers highlighted clear images of the conning tower and deck lay-out, which suggested the wreck was of German origin. From German drawings it was identified that this was a WWI German submarine: Type U-31. A database of reference books shows that only U-boats U-31 and U-34 had been lost in this area of the North Sea.
Commander (Retired) Jouke Spoelstra of the RNLNavy/Submarine Service, who heads up project ‘Search for O-13’ adds: “Whilst it was disappointing from our perspective when we realised the wreck was not that of O-13, we conducted several dives with divers of the minehunter HNLMS Makkum and with a REMUS UAV sonar team with the aim to achieve clearer footage of the wreck and undertake investigative work to ascertain its identity. It wasn’t an easy job and several dives were required before any real progress was made due to the sea conditions surrounding the site meaning we couldn’t obtain any evidence revealing the exact identity. Fortunately on a recent dive undertaken by the Lamlash North Sea Diving team they had good conditions and so were able to achieve clear footage and finally identify the wreck.”
Three years after its initial discovery (in September 2012) the wreck was officially identified as German submarine, U-31, which left for patrol on 13 January 1915 never to return. The wreck is approximately 90km offshore in the North Sea but sits on the seabed at a depth of only 30 metres.
Mark Dunkley, marine archaeologist at Historic England adds: “SM U-31 was commissioned into the Imperial German Navy in September 1914. On 13th January 1915, the U-31 slipped its mooring and sailed north-west from Wilhelmshaven for a routine patrol and disappeared. It is thought that U-31 had struck a mine off England’s east coast and sank with the loss of its entire complement of 4 officers, 31 men.”
“U-31 was the first of eleven Type U-31* submarines built between 1912 and 1915. The class were considered very good high sea boats with good surface steering; 8 were sunk during operations while 3 surrendered and were scrapped after the war. Of those lost during operations, the whereabouts and fate of two, including U-31, was unknown.
“The discovery and identification of SM U-31 by ScottishPower Renewables and Vattenfall, lying some 91km east of Caister-on-Sea, Norfolk, is a significant achievement. After being on the seabed for over a century, the submarine appears to be in a remarkable condition with the conning tower present and the bows partially buried.
“Relatives and descendants of those lost in the U-31 may now take some comfort in knowing the final resting place of the crew and the discovery serves as a poignant reminder of all those lost at sea, on land and in the air during the First World War.”
ScottishPower Renewables’ Charlie Jordan concludes: “Unravelling the whole story behind the submarine has been fascinating and it’s heartening to know that the discovery will provide closure to relatives and descendants of the submariners lost who may have always wondered what had happened to their loved ones.”
As an official military maritime grave, the wreck of U-31 will remain in its final resting place and plans for any offshore windfarm development will be progressed ensuring no disturbance to the area.
*There were 11 Type U-31 submarines built, titled U-31 to U-41.
Notes to Editors:
The East Anglia Zone was initially a 50/50 joint venture between ScottishPower Renewables and Vattenfall. In August 2015 ScottishPower Renewables and Vattenfall agreed to independently take forward offshore windfarm projects within the ‘East Anglia Zone’. This followed-on from industry-wide changes agreed with The Crown Estate, whereby ‘zone development agreements’ were replaced with project specific agreements.
Vattenfall will independently develop up to 3.6GW of capacity in the northern half of the EAOW development zone. The German WWI submarine lies within the newly proposed Vattenfall project area. Whilst developing the area, Vattenfall will ensure that the wreck remains undisturbed.
ScottishPower Renewables is currently developing East Anglia ONE in the southern area of the zone, which will be the first windfarm to be constructed. Construction will commence in 2017 and the windfarm will be fully operational in 2020, providing power to over 500,000 homes.