About World War 1: German Submarine Washed Ashore at Hastings, England

Updated on August 21, 2017
UnnamedHarald profile image

I try to make history readable and interesting, warts and all. We must look to the past to understand the present and confront the future.

Sub on the Beach

World War One: Aerial view of German U-Boat washed up on its way to France 1918
World War One: Aerial view of German U-Boat washed up on its way to France 1918 | Source

Storm Beaching U-118

World War One: U-118 newly arrived at Hastings
World War One: U-118 newly arrived at Hastings | Source

U-118 Ends Up on Hasting's Beach

After World War 1 ended, the German Navy surrendered and many of its ships were interned at the Royal Navy's chief naval base at Scapa Flow in the Orkney Islands north of the Scottish mainland. The German submarine U-118, however, was destined for France to be broken up for scrap. While she was being towed, a fierce gale snapped the cable and she ended up like a gigantic beached whale washed ashore on Hasting's Beach, in front of Hasting's finest hotels.

Inspecting the U-Boat

WW1: German Uboat U118. Washed ashore at Hastings on April 15, 1919.
WW1: German Uboat U118. Washed ashore at Hastings on April 15, 1919. | Source

An Undistinguished War Record

SM U-118 was one of nine huge ocean-going mine laying submarines. Launched on February 23, 1918, she was 267 feet long, displaced 1,200 tons and was armed with a 150mm deck gun, 14 torpedoes and 42 mines. SM U-118 had a lackluster career, sinking only two ships, one just off Ireland's north coast and the other northwest of Spain. She was surrendered to the Allies on February 23, 1919, exactly one year after she was launched. While being towed to France through the English Channel in rough seas, U-118 broke free. Despite attempts by a French destroyer to break her up, she ended up aground on the beach in the middle of the city of Hastings on the Sussex coast in southern England on April 15, just in time for the Easter Holiday.

Another View

WWI: U-118 washed ashore at Hastings, Kent.
WWI: U-118 washed ashore at Hastings, Kent. | Source

Sixpence Apiece, Ladies and Gentlemen

The stranding caused a sensation. Thousands of people flocked to see this monster that had washed ashore, it's true size evident from the aerial view taken shortly after the beaching. Three tractors tried to drag it back to the sea, but failed. At that point, the city fathers decided to make the best of this instant tourist attraction. The Admiralty put the local coast guard in charge and allowed the town clerk to charge sixpence apiece to visitors wishing to climb onto the deck of U-118. After two weeks, nearly £300 had been raised for the Mayor´s Fund for the welcome home of troops planned for later that year.

And Another View

WW1: U-118 washed ashore at Hastings, Kent
WW1: U-118 washed ashore at Hastings, Kent | Source

Still Deadly

Special excursions inside the submarine were arranged for important visitors. These were led by two coast guardsmen, but the visits were stopped after two weeks when both these gentlemen became strangely ill. Instead of getting better, they got progressively worse, until, by February of 1920, both were dead. Their autopsies revealed abscesses in their lungs and brains, probably caused by chlorine gas leaking from the sub's damaged batteries.

All Aboard

WWI: U118 crowded with tourists while washed ashore at Hastings, England.
WWI: U118 crowded with tourists while washed ashore at Hastings, England. | Source

The Novelty Wears Off

Eventually, the novelty of the grounded u-boat wore off and residents tired of the noise made by children throwing rocks against the hull at all hours of the night. The decision was made to break up U-118 and sell it for scrap. Before the official dismantling began, many souvenirs disappeared, but, by December 1919, U-118 was largely gone. The town was presented with the 150mm (6-in) deck gun, but they decided to get rid of it in 1921. It is believed that portions of the sub's keel still sit under the sands.

Breaking Up the U-118

WW1: The breaking up of the U118, German submarine at Hastings
WW1: The breaking up of the U118, German submarine at Hastings | Source

Another German Sub Washes Up

Oddly enough, U-118 wasn't the last submarine to wash up in Hastings. On January 9, 1921, another German submarine, UB 131, also broke free during a storm and ran aground on another beach at Bulverhythe, Hastings. Little is recorded about this second submarine, half the size of U-118, other than it was quickly broken up.

Hastings Beach Today

Questions & Answers

    © 2012 David Hunt

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      • UnnamedHarald profile imageAUTHOR

        David Hunt 

        4 years ago from Cedar Rapids, Iowa

        Thanks for taking the time to read and comment, derenj

      • profile image

        derenj 

        4 years ago

        well dune

      • UnnamedHarald profile imageAUTHOR

        David Hunt 

        5 years ago from Cedar Rapids, Iowa

        What drew me to this story was the first image at the top of my hub-- I had to know the story behind it. I didn't realize how big some of the subs were in WW1.

      • Just History profile image

        Just History 

        5 years ago from England

        Thanks for this- I can just imagine the local population when the submarine washed up on the beach- and then for two people to die- it just shows that they were not aware of the possibility of chlorine gas and how deadly it was

      • UnnamedHarald profile imageAUTHOR

        David Hunt 

        5 years ago from Cedar Rapids, Iowa

        Thanks for commenting, Asp52. It seems nearly every city and town in Britain has some interesting bit of history attached to it. So much history!

      • Asp52 profile image

        Andrew Stewart 

        5 years ago from England

        Thanks for such an interesting article on a subject which is often overlooked especially in recent years. I grew up in the North East of England and there is a wreck of a WW1 German Sub, which has been battered by the elements for nearly 90 years. It is just off the coast of Bridlington and is noted on a lot of the survey maps. I know very little of it's story though!

      • UnnamedHarald profile imageAUTHOR

        David Hunt 

        5 years ago from Cedar Rapids, Iowa

        Thanks, Graham. When I saw the picture of that beached sub, I knew I had to write about it if I could find enough information.

      • old albion profile image

        Graham Lee 

        5 years ago from Lancashire. England.

        Hi UH. Great hub. Well researched as usual and so very interesting. I had not heard of either of these events. Top class.

        Graham.

      • UnnamedHarald profile imageAUTHOR

        David Hunt 

        5 years ago from Cedar Rapids, Iowa

        Hi peter. That's what I thought-- maybe the tides or currents make it a popular destination for wrecks!

      • peternehemia profile image

        Peter Nehemia 

        5 years ago from Jimbaran, Bali, Indonesia

        Another great hub on WW I (I just read your British secret weapon -- the tanks). Why I got a feeling that Hastings is a kind of a destination for washed ashore submarine? There were two! :)

      • UnnamedHarald profile imageAUTHOR

        David Hunt 

        5 years ago from Cedar Rapids, Iowa

        Thanks Pavlo. And if I'm not mistaken, it would be the only WW1 submarine in existence.

      • Pavlo Badovskyy profile image

        Pavlo Badovskyi 

        5 years ago from Kyiv, Ukraine

        It is a pity it desappeared.. That submarine would be a great attraction nowadays and would attract thousands of visitors. Great hub!

      • UnnamedHarald profile imageAUTHOR

        David Hunt 

        5 years ago from Cedar Rapids, Iowa

        Steve, I've read some comments regarding this from Hastingers... Hastingites... citizens of Hastings who bemoan the tightness and short-sightedness of former city fathers. On the other hand, the Germans might have bombed the hell out of it during WW2-- just 'cause. Hey, thanks for commenting.

      • Steve Lensman profile image

        Steve Lensman 

        5 years ago from Manchester, England

        How far away from London is Hastings? About 100 miles? They should have left it on the beach as a tourist atrraction. I'd have gone to see it. :)

        A fascinating article David. Vote Up and Interesting.

      • UnnamedHarald profile imageAUTHOR

        David Hunt 

        5 years ago from Cedar Rapids, Iowa

        Hi Peter. Ahh, I wish I lived on the coast. Some of my fondest memories are the times I went to Hayle and St Ives in Cornwall. Now, the nearest coast is almost 1,000 miles away (not counting the Great Lakes). Thanks for your kind comment.

      • Peter Geekie profile image

        Peter Geekie 

        5 years ago from Sittingbourne

        Excellent well written and researched article. Ship wrecks of all types have fascinated me ever since I was a small boy and played on the remains of the "Duchess of Devonshire" wrecked on the Devon coast.

        kind regards Peter

      • UnnamedHarald profile imageAUTHOR

        David Hunt 

        5 years ago from Cedar Rapids, Iowa

        Hi Joan. As I mentioned, the instant I saw that image I knew I had a hub. It was a huge bonus that there were so many other images in the public domain. Thanks for your great comment.

      • joanveronica profile image

        Joan Veronica Robertson 

        5 years ago from Concepcion, Chile

        Hi UH, I'm on my way to catching up with my reading, and started at the end! This was fascinating, you do manage to find the most exatraordinary topics! That aerial photo is a materpiece! Voted up, awesome and interesting. Shared. Have a good day!

      • UnnamedHarald profile imageAUTHOR

        David Hunt 

        5 years ago from Cedar Rapids, Iowa

        Thanks, aethelthryth. While U-118 only managed to sink two ships (totaling about 10,000 tons), UB 131 (the second sub to wash up at Hastings) didn't sink anything. Glad you enjoy the bits!

      • aethelthryth profile image

        aethelthryth 

        5 years ago from American Southwest

        The part about the lackluster war record sounds like another candidate story for a movie. A comedy, along the lines of "Operation Petticoat".

        I enjoy these odd and interesting bits of war history you come up with.

      • UnnamedHarald profile imageAUTHOR

        David Hunt 

        5 years ago from Cedar Rapids, Iowa

        @sjwalsh and @gmarquardt, thanks both for reading and commenting. I was looking for inspiration, saw that aerial image and a hub was born!

      • gmarquardt profile image

        gmarquardt 

        5 years ago from Hill Country, Texas

        Fascinating! I didn't know any of this!!!

      • sjwalsh profile image

        Stephen Walsh 

        5 years ago from Brookline, MA

        Excellent!!

      • UnnamedHarald profile imageAUTHOR

        David Hunt 

        5 years ago from Cedar Rapids, Iowa

        Hi sjwalsh. Thanks for commenting-- that reminds me, I have some catching up to do. This hub breaks a fast of over a week without a hub. Feels good to be back.

      • sjwalsh profile image

        Stephen Walsh 

        5 years ago from Brookline, MA

        Love reading you Hubs where we have so many interests in common! Voted up of course!

      • UnnamedHarald profile imageAUTHOR

        David Hunt 

        5 years ago from Cedar Rapids, Iowa

        Nice to meet you, lindalou1963. Thanks for reading and commenting.

      • lindalou1963 profile image

        Linda 

        5 years ago from Texas

        Very interesting!! Thanks for sharing! :)

      • UnnamedHarald profile imageAUTHOR

        David Hunt 

        5 years ago from Cedar Rapids, Iowa

        Thanks much for commenting, nightnight. I envy you being able to go to Hastings-- that's one spot I never got to. Glad you enjoyed it. I particularly like the great public domain images available-- especially the aerial view.

      • nightnight profile image

        nightnight 

        5 years ago from UK

        Fascinating read. Thanks for sharing that, I've been to hastings recently, and didn't know that!

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