WWII German U-boat sunk after colliding with another sub found at bottom of Baltic
The wreck of a German submarine from World War II has been found off the Polish Baltic coast.
Specialist divers have identified it as U-boat U-649, which sank after colliding with another German submarine which had been sunk months earlier.
The U-649 was found north of Łeba, about 56km from the Polish coast at a depth of 72 metres.
The U-boat was a training sub and was assigned to the 5th training flotilla in Kiel, which trained crews in theory, practice with weapons and tactics, including hunting in ‘wolfpack’ formation.
According to Tomasz Trojanowicz who led the diving team, identifying the vessel was extremely difficult because it is shrouded in a large number of old and new, torn fishing nets.
However, thanks to characteristic elements of its construction, the team is almost certain that the vessel is the U-649.
Trojanowicz said: “We finally determined which vessel it is through the right-hand overflow holes.
“The arrangement of the holes corresponds to the layout of the U-649, as well as the construction of the bow steer, which in the U-649 already had an Atlantic profile.
“With high probability, this is the training ship lost by the Kriegsmarine in February 1943.”
The U-649 sank on 24 February 1943 after colliding with another German submarine, the U-232, which had been hit in an attack by an RAF Wellington bomber.
After inspecting the wreck, the team believes that after the collision the ship fell to the bottom very quickly. “The dynamics of the descent probably caused the whole rear part of the vessel to hit the bottom, which is quite soft and muddy. A significant part of the stern has been buried for years,” wrote Trojanowicz.
From a crew of 46, a total of 35 submariners were lost and remain at the bottom of the sea. Trojanowicz believes that some of the eleven who survived tried to save their lives by escaping through the torpedo tubes.
He wrote: “It seems that some of the crew in the front sections of the ship, after closing the bulkhead, separated themselves from the flooded aft and tried to leave the vessel through the torpedo tubes. The open manholes and covers of two torpedoes on the left side testify to the attempted evacuation.”
He added that although there are known cases of crews trying to escape from sunk vessels at a depth of 70 metres or more, the number of those who survived is very small.
The U-649 type VIIC was a relatively small, ocean-going sub with a range up to 8500 nautical miles. It displaced 769 tons on the surface and 871 tons underwater. Type VIIC subs were armed with 5 torpedo launchers, four at the bow and one at the stern, and carried fourteen torpedoes.
The type VIIC constituted the core of the German submarine fleet. As many as 492 were built. The U-649 was built in the Hamburg shipyard Blohm und Voss and entered into service in late 1942.
The diving team has been searching for many years for training submarines at the bottom of the Baltic, in particular the U-583 and U-649.
According to an international maritime agreement, the vessel is an underwater grave and is therefore protected against any kind of salvage.
It is believed that there are tens of thousands of wrecks of ships and other vessels at the bottom of the Baltic and as many as three million shipwrecks in waters around the world.
Trojanowicz said: “The large number of submarine wrecks at the bottom of the Baltic is no surprise. It is where the largest ports were and the surrounding area is where Kriegsmarine training fleets were located.”