Daily Event for August 9, 2015

It was the opening days of the Great War and German submarines were forming a picket line in the North Sea. Ten boats were deployed to search for ships of the Grand Fleet. At least two were sighted, but one of them was not seen in time. On Aug. 6, 1914 SMS U-15 departed Heligoland to take up a position about midway between Scotland and Norway at 58°N-01°E. In the early morning hours of August 9, 1914 U-15 and SMS U-18 were in radio contact, the latter reporting the sighting of a British 4 stack cruiser. This was the last contact that anyone in U-15 would ever have.

Later that morning U-15 was sighted in the fog by a lookout on HMS Birmingham. In one sailor's account of what happened next only the periscope was seen and it was believed the submarine was about to attack the squadron. Shots were fired which carried away the periscope causing the boat to surface. As soon as the boat surfaced, a German officer was seen on the conning tower and the boat was fired on again. According to the sailor; "Just as he poked his head up a shell hit the tower and blew it and him to atoms. Then she sank."

This was a great way to tell a story, however what really happened is quite different. It seems that U-15 was found lying dead in the water on that morning. It was later reported that hammering could be heard coming from inside the boat, this has been interpreted to indicate that the engines had broken down, however it was probably some other kind of mechanical problem with the boat. If the engines had broken down, hitting them with a hammer might not be the most effective repair method.

The commanding officer of HMS Birmingham, Capt. Arthur A. M. Duff, R.N., turned his ship to ram the U-boat and put on full speed. It is not clear to me if any shots were actually fired at U-15, but they apparently saw the cruiser on a collision course and began to move. Starting from a dead stop gave U-15 no chance to avoid the collision. Birmingham slammed into the boat just abaft of the conning tower cutting the boat in half. Seconds later both halves of the boat sank taking all twenty-six men with her. Because there were no survivors nobody will ever know why the boat was lying on the surface or what repairs they were making.

The loss of U-15 was reported by the Admiralty the next morning with the following statement; "One of the Cruiser Squadrons of the Main Fleet was attacked yesterday by German submarines. None of H.M. ships was damaged, and one of the enemy's submarines, U-15, was sunk." It is not clear exactly how the identification of the boat was determined, but the report allowed the Germans to account for their boat unlike many others lost during the war. This includes another of the ten boats sent on this patrol, SMS U-13, which failed to return for unknown reasons, over 100 years later we still don't know what happened to her. Nevertheless U-15 was the first submarine sunk in the Great War, and the loss of the whole crew foretold the fate of so many others to come.
© 2015 Michael W. Pocock

In Erinnerung an die gefallenen Besatzungsmitglieder der SMS U-15

Böttcher, Richard
Doblies, Michel
Flores, Ferdinand
Gründler, Oskar
Marine Ober Ingenieur
Hansen-Wolff, Nicolai
Huwe, Max
Knüppel, Heinrich
Löding, Heinrich
Mau, Otto
Pohle, Richard
Commanding Officer
Queisser, Reinh
Rasch, Reinhold
Rusack, Heinrich
Schmitz, Karl
Schulz, Otto
Schütt, Otto
Suhr, Gustav
Thordsen, Martin
Tillmann, Richard
Vitter, Heinrich
Volkmann, Otto
Wietfeld, Heinrich
Wolf, Nikolai H.
Zerrath, Otto
Leutnant zur See
Ziegler, Alois
Zschech, Alwin

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SMS U-15 is seen second from left.