Daily Event for March 10, 2014

Launched on May 6, 1910 at the Kaiserliche Werft in Danzig SMS U-12 would make little impact on the Great War. Her first commander, Kapitänleutnant Walter Forstmann, would become one of the best U-boat commanders of all time, but he sank only one ship, HMS Niger, with U-12. He was however involved in an interesting exercise with the boat on Jan. 9, 1915. On that day off Zeebrugge, Belgium a seaplane was launched from her casing, the first time an aircraft had taken off from a submarine. The pilot, Lt. Friedrich von Arnauld de la Perière, successfully took to the air, albeit with great difficulty, but it appears that the exercise was rather cumbersome and it was not repeated. You may recognize the name of the pilot as the brother of Lothar von Arnauld de la Perière, the most successful submarine commander of all time.

Forstmann was replaced at commander on Feb. 9, 1915 and took command of U-39. Kapitänleutnant Hans Kratzsch, who had previously been in command of U-39, took command of U-12 the following day. Kratzsch failed to score a single combat victory during his time in U-39, but Forstmann sank, captured or damaged 149 ships with that boat.

On Mar. 4, 1915 Kratzsch sailed U-12 into the North Sea, however he would never return. Only two days later the boat was seen by the trawler Duster off Aberdeen, but her skipper could not file a report until the following day. The boat was sighted again on the 8th and this time three destroyers of the 1st Destroyer Flotilla were dispatched to hunt down the boat.

On Mar. 9 the steamer Aberdon sailed from Seaham Harbor for Aberdeen and was never seen again, statements made later by the survivors of U-12 indicate that Aberdon was the only ship sunk by Kratzsch. However a failed torpedo attack against HMS Leviathan on the 9th gave the position of the boat away and the destroyers converged on the area.

On March 10, 1915 the boat was sighted by the trawler Man Island some 40 miles northeast of St. Abb's Head, just over an hour later HM Destroyers Ariel, Attack and Acheron arrived on station. U-12 was sighted almost immediately and she was taken under fire by HMS Attack. HMS Ariel then spotted her only two miles away and put on a ramming course. Kratzsch submerged, but could not get deep enough to escape the onrushing destroyer, which hit her conning tower just below the surface.

The tanks were blown and U-12 came to the surface where she was again taken under fire by the three destroyers. The men began to abandon the boat, but the hatch would not open fully which slowed their escape. U-12 went under twenty minutes after the attacks began taking twenty of her crew with her, only ten men were able to get out and were taken prisoner. HMS Ariel had to be towed into port, but arrived without incident.

Even though the destroyers sank the boat, small craft both private and hired aided in the chase. As mentioned earlier the trawler May Island had sighted her, but the trawlers Ben Strome, Olive Branch and Strathisla and the armed trawlers of the Auxiliary Patrol, Duster, Coote, Chester, Martin and the armed yacht Portia also provided assistance in the tracking of the boat. All of these crews were paid a "bounty" of sorts, £500 to May Island and £62 to each of the others.

Several men were awarded the D.S.M. (Chief Petty Officer Thomas Ong, Chief Petty Officer William McGoff, Chief Petty Officer Arthur Davis, Petty Officer George Rodgers and Leading Seaman George Marshall). Commander Brien M. Money, Lt. Commander James V. Creagh and Lt. Commander Cyril Callaghan were presented with letters on vellum (equivalent to a Mention in Despatches).

Such ended the career of U-12, but the story does not end there. After the news was released that the prisoners were to be tried as criminals an international incident was set off. Post war analysis of the activities of U-12 would find no activities that would warrant a war crimes trial, but the British did not or may not have known that at the time. The scourge of the U-boat had to be checked and this was probably just a tactic to be used (especially since they had no other effective defense against the submarines at the time).

The Germans, through the American Ambassador, lodged a complaint and made threats against British prisoners they were holding. Accusations of abuse and maltreatment were made by both sides and this went on for months. Apparently nothing ever came of the whole fiasco, but it did get a lot of play in the press. The so-called maltreatment of German submarine crews was used as a excuse for canceling a scheduled exchange of prisoners and civilians between the two nations in May, and it was brought up by both sides on every occasion they felt that they could use it as leverage. It is very difficult to ascertain exactly what if any real abuse was visited upon any of these men on either side.

Reports made by the U.S. claim the British held the submarine crews away from general prisoners, but in relatively good conditions. Further reports made by the U.S. Ambassador after inspecting the POW camp at Magdeburg claim that the British were being held in solitary confinement allowed to meet for meals only. He did not however mention any direct abuse of the men. Being a prisoner of war in Germany was known to be harsh and I am in no way claiming that no abuse was visited upon those being held.

There is one more little detail which I was able to find. One of the Germans escaped and made his way back to Germany. His name was Johann Völker, he later joined the crew of U-44 and was onboard when that boat was rammed by HMS Oracle on Aug. 12, 1917, Völker and forty-three others, all hands, were lost.
© 2014 Michael W. Pocock

SMS U-12 (3rd boat from left).

In Erinnerung an die gefallenen Besatzungsmitglieder der SMS U-12

Adler, Max
Bannier, Wilhelm
U-Maschinistenmaat d.Res
Boy, Hans
Brands, August
U-Funktelegrafist Gast
Czaja, Albert
U-Obermaschinist Anwärter
Dreher, Eugen
Gerlach, Paul
Guhl, Oskar
Huth, Paul
Kicherer, Wilhelm
Kratzsch, Hans
Commanding Officer
Motz, Wilhelm
Neander, Hermann
Pahl, Henry
Rewelli, Max
Schlossmacher, H.
Sorge, Karl
U-Maschinist Anwärter
Ullke, Franz
Willamowski, F.

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