War has always invited stories of the strange. Often these tales fall through the cracks of history, making way for more established cases of battles and valor. Yet, if one is to look into those cracks and dig around, one will find that behind the history we know and have been taught, there are plenty of anomalous and downright bizarre stories to be had. One of these must certainly be the time a German submarine in World War I was supposedly attacked and sunk by a sea monster.
During the bloody days of World War I, the North Channel that connects the Irish Sea with the Atlantic Ocean was a prime target against British shipping by the Germans. Since the channel is only 12 miles across at its narrowest point, it served to create a bottleneck from which German Naval forces could pick off the British off at their leisure, and indeed for centuries this place had been considered prime hunting grounds for various pirates and privateers. One of the most feared German weapons in the area during the war were German submarines, usually referred to as U-boats, which were sinking both merchant and military vessels alike at a frightening rate. One of these U-boats was the one called SM UB-85, which was a Type UB III U-boat in the German Imperial Navy, with a crew of 34 and commanded by a Kapitänleutnant Günther Krech. In April of 1918, UB-85 was patrolling the waters off Belfast, Ireland looking for trouble, but one evening it would be trouble that found them.
In the early hours of April 30, 1918, UB-85 was discovered mysteriously floating on the surface by the British patrol boat Coreopsis. At the time the U-boats were a fairly novel and highly feared weapon of war and terror, known for being invisible, deadly killers of the high seas, so it was quite a fortunate turn of events for the British to come across one that was basically a sitting duck out in plain view. They immediately fired upon it and the submarine began sinking without any attempt to retaliate. Things became even weirder when the British vessel approached and the submarine crew quickly surrendered without any resistance. The crew of the British ship was mystified. The only time most crews saw a U-boat coming was when a torpedo was snaking through the sea towards them, and to have a whole submarine just sit and wait to be sunk and its crew apprehended without incident was mind bogglingly strange.
It wasn’t until the Germans were brought aboard and Captain Gunther Krech, was questioned that the reason became allegedly both clearer and more bizarre. Krech allegedly reported that the submarine had surfaced during the night for the purpose of recharging its batteries, during which there had been a violent surge of frothing water off the starboard bow. When Kech and some crew members had gone to investigate, a creature the captain described as a “strange beast” had suddenly erupted forth from the cold, dark water and begun clambering up the side of the ship, which had caused the whole submarine to start listing to the side. The beast was described as being enormous, with a small head with large eyes deeply set in a horned skull and a large mouth with sharp teeth that “glinted in the moonlight.”
This strange monster was then claimed to have reached the forward mount gun and to have begun ferociously attacking it, chomping down on the weapon with its formidable jaws and thrashing back and forth. Fearing that the submarine would continue to tilt under the creature’s weight until the open hatch hit the sea and sank the sub, all available crewmen had opened fire on the mysterious attacker, yet the thing had refused to let go of the gun mount. It apparently had taken a sustained, intense volley of gunfire to finally make the monster relinquish its fierce iron grip, after which it disappeared into the black sea, its ultimate fate unknown. Inspection of the submarine in the aftermath of the sudden, brutal attack had purportedly showed that in addition to the gun being mauled, scratched and twisted, there had also been enough damage to the forward hull plates to prevent the submarine from submerging again. This was why they had been helplessly sitting out on the surface for their enemies to find them. The crew, weary and terrified by their encounter, had had no fight left in them when the British vessel had come for them, and had been almost grateful to have been relieved of the ordeal.
It is a frightening and dramatic account to be sure, but interestingly the official report logged by the British concerning UB-85’s capture makes no mention of such a creature, reading simply “UB-85 Krech, Kplt Gunther April 30 off Belfast Lough Gunfire Sunk by the drifter COREOPSIS. Crew taken off before boat sank.” For years this was all there was, leaving what really happened out there a complete mystery, until Dwight R. Messimer, American naval historian and retired detective from the San Jose Police Department in California, pored through the vaults of the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) in the United States. He was looking for the entire records of the German Navy from 1850 to 1945, which the Allies had captured and copied them on to 4,317 rolls of microfilm, now stored at NARA’s site in Maryland. Buried in these files, Messimer was able to glean more information about the UB-85 incident, including files containing at least four interviews with crew members, including Krech himself, and none of it mentions a sea monster.
According to these newly unearthed files, UB-85 had performed a crash dive after spotting the British patrol boats, and that they had then experienced flooding due to the conning tower hatch not being properly closed. Indeed, it was all blamed on Krech, who had insisted on the installation of a heater in the officers’ compartment, with the cables to power it being run into the control room through the conning tower, compromising its ability to be completely sealed. As the water poured in, the pumps, batteries and electric motors began to fail, and the air was also starting to fill up with chlorine gas emitted by the flooded batteries. Facing imminent death, Kech had then ordered the sub to surface, after which the crew was able to go through the watertight door into the control room and make their way against the in-rushing water into the control room to exit the boat through the conning tower. At the surface, the submarine came under heavy fire from the Coreopsis, but could not return fire because all of their ammunition was underwater and the water was rising in the boat. They had then simply scuttled the U-boat to keep it out of enemy hands and waited to be taken prisoner. It was for this reason the crew was so easy to capture, with no mention made of how they were simply relieved to be rescued from the sea monster prowling the dark waters around them.
In short, according to these records, there is no evidence that UB-85 was ever attacked by a sea monster, indeed no mention of such a beast at all. There have been several theories offered as to why this might be the case. It has been suggested that the British navy may have been attempting to cover up the real circumstances surrounding the incident. Perhaps more plausible is the idea that the British simply did not believe the ramblings of the distressed German U-boat captain and wrote it out as something that made more sense. Or then, you know, maybe it was all just made up. In fact, there doesn’t seem to be any mention at all of a sea monster attacking the submarine before 2005, when the story started making the rounds on the Internet, meaning there is a strong possibility it is just a modern urban online legend. British nautical archaeologist and historian, Dr. Innes McCartney, Research Fellow at Bournemouth University, has said of these kind of tall tales:
It falls into a longer trend going back at least to the 1930s of these outlandish sea tales being appended to First World War German submarines. I don't know why it is, but the first U-boat war just attracts these stories — you get haunted submarines, like UB-65 which supposedly had a dead crewmember who haunted the boat, and then UB-28 — another sea monster is supposed to have attacked that one. But it's nice to think Nessie was doing her bit for the war effort.
It’s really impossible to know what to make of it all, and no evidence to prove that the outlandish story ever happened in any sense. In 2016, the wreck of a World War I German submarine was discovered off the coast of Scotland by marine engineers surveying the route of an undersea power cable, and it is strongly believed to be that of UB-85. This was exciting news at the time, as it could prove whether there is any damage consistent with the sea monster claims, but the sonar images are not clear enough to show anything of import, and no one seems to have been willing to use the money and resources to go down there and check it out. In the end, the whole thing lacks any real evidence or sources for where the whole odd tale came from to begin with, so we are left to wonder. Is this just some lost top secret case from the war, or is it all just a routine wartime capture that went on to take on a life of its own in the lore of crtyptozoology? It is hard to say, and no matter what the answers may be the strange story of UB-85 has certainly taken its place in history as a very strange story at the very least.