German U-boats in Poole Harbour

An unusual aspect of the Poole First World War Project is that, while the main focus is on 1914-1918, the Project is also interested in what happened in Poole post-1918.  Looking through the Poole & East Dorset Herald newspaper, a Culture Volunteer has come across the report of unusual event – the visit of two German U-boats to Poole in January 1919; one accidental and one planned.

U 143 was being escorted to Japan by two Japanese destroyers, Kanran and Kashiwa, as part of the compensation settlement between Japan and Germany. The newspaper has a brief report of U 143 becoming stuck on a sandbank in Poole Bay and being recovered with great difficulty. Another source records that the U-boat, which was being crewed by Japanese sailors, was taken into the Harbour for assessment and repairs. During this time, the destroyers were docked at Poole Quay much to the interest of on-lookers. U 143 eventually set sail for Japan where it was renumbered O 7. It served in the Japanese Navy until it was scrapped in 1921. Although the newspaper described it as U 143 it is more accurately known as UB 143 because it was a Type UB III submarine.

The other German submarine in Poole during January 1919 was U 107. A Royal Navy crew had sailed the U-boat from Portland to Poole for a planned 11 day visit from January 6. Over 10,000 people, including many schoolchildren, took advantage of the U-boat’s stay to explore the submarine, with donations going to the King’s Fund for Disabled Officers and Soldiers. A reporter from the Poole & East Dorset Herald gave a layman’s description of the inside of the submarine, such as sleeping arrangements, and mentions that at the bow there were ‘four 19.5 torpedoes in position’. The submarine returned to Portland on completion of its visit and Herbert Carter, a former Mayor of Poole, was on the return trip. He explains that one reason for being on-board was that he could translate the German ‘control notices’. He notes that the submarine only sailed on the surface and did not submerge.

U 107 on Poole Quay

But which U 107 was on Poole Quay given that there are three possibilities; UB 107 (a Type UB III), UC 107 (a Type UC III mine laying) or U 107 (a Type U 93)?
– UB 107 was sunk off the Yorkshire coast and, although wreckage has been identified, there is uncertainty as to the date and circumstances of its sinking.
– UC 107 did not have four torpedo tubes at the bow. It was given in war reparations, but it is unclear if it went to Britain or France.
– U 107 had four torpedo tubes at the bow which fits with the reporter’s description. U 107 was surrendered at Harwich on 20 November 1918 and scrapped in Swansea in 1922. In another source, the Japanese wanted U 107 instead of U 99, which they claimed was not seaworthy, and were told by the Royal Navy that it was destined for America.

It follows that the German U-boat on Poole Quay during January 1919 was the Type 93 U 107. And there the story would have ended if it was not for some research carried out by another Culture Volunteer who found a short film of the actual visit in the British Pathe Archive (www.britishpathe.com/video/u-boats-visit-the-south-coast). The film shows the U-boat alongside Poole Quay, near the Customs House, with crowds of people clearly inspecting the U-boat with great interest. However, it must have been with mixed feelings. U 107 is believed to have sunk 25 000 tons of shipping since its launch in 1917. Curiosity at seeing a U-boat close-up must have been coupled with sadness knowing this, together with over three hundred like it, had sunk millions of tons of shipping and cost tens of thousands of lives.

There is a very sad postscript to the visit of U107 to Poole. Lieutenant B.J. Clarke was second in command during its stay. He was accompanied by his wife and son and showed the East Dorset Herald reporter around the submarine.
On 20 January 1920, Lieut. Clarke was on-board the British submarine K5 while it was taking part in an exercise off the Scilly Islands when it failed to surface. Fifty-seven men lost their lives. A rescue was impossible as it sank in 85 fathoms while a salvage vessel could only reach to a depth of 30 fathoms.

One thought on “German U-boats in Poole Harbour

  1. Pingback: Life under the waves | Poole, the First World War and its Legacy

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