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31st May 1918 - UC-75 and HMS Fairy both sunk

U-Boat UC-75 had been damaged by the depth charges which HMS Ouse had dropped in her vicinity in the early hours of 29th May. She had already torpedoed and sunk HMAPV Dirk, which had been at the head of East Coast convoy TU26, but was now leaking fuel oil.

However, in the early hours of 31st May she was intent on engaging with another East Coast convoy she had spotted, also in an area off Flamborough Head, on the Yorkshire coast. This second convoy comprised about 30 merchant ships, escorted by a whaler and six armed trawlers, and led by the destroyer HMS Fairy.

The Fairy's captain was 31 year-old Lieutenant Geoffrey Barnish. He later reported that the night was dark, overcast, but calm, with a very smooth sea. The visibility was reasonably good, the convoy steaming without lights.

At 2.05 am the UC-75 collided with the steamer SS Blaydonian as she was coming to the surface. HMS Fairy was 300 yards away, and she let off signal grenade challenges. There was no response, so Barnish decided to damage rather than sink her – just in case she was British. Then, ‘Kamerad! Kamerad!’ was heard - Germans surrendering - so Barnish ordered the coxswain to hit her in a more vital spot. There was an exchange of fire between the aft gunner and the submarine’s deck gun, then the ship shelled her 40 times, from point blank range.

The submarine rapidly began filling with water so the commander, Walter Schmitz, ordered the scuttling of his vessel. The Fairy rammed her again, her foredeck now under water, and the submarine sank. 14 German sailors were picked up from the sea, including Schmitz, but 17 others had drowned. However,the Fairy’s hull was so damaged that the crew had to abandon their ship, and take to floats. The Fairy sank within an hour and the German survivors were back in the water again. The destroyer HMS Greyhound picked them up, while the British sailors were picked up by a drifter at 5am and all were landed at Immingham by 8am.

Of 178 U-Boats lost in the war, only 57 had any survivors. On only 5 occasions in 1917-18 did the Germans recover any survivors. Unsurprisingly, they called their boats ‘iron coffins’, and ‘sisters of sorrow’. So the 14 survivors from the UC-75 could count themselves lucky, even as the captain and four others were taken as Prisoners of War (POWs).

Schmitz and officer von Recum were interrogated in London at Cromwell Gardens, opposite the Victoria and Albert Museum. They were then sent to the POW camp at Raikeswood, near Skipton, North Yorkshire, formerly a training centre for British troops, the ‘Bradford pals’.

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