A Dive Back In Time: The Wreck of SM U-12  The First Submarine to Carry a War Plane

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The wreck of  the SM U-12 is covered with discarded or lost fishing nets


In March 1915, three Royal Navy destroyers hunted down the SM U-12. As the German submarine attempted to dive she was rammed by HMS Ariel. The sub, with 29 men aboard, surfaced 25 miles off Eyemouth in the North Sea and was shelled by HMS Acheron and HMS Attack. She quickly sank, with the loss of 19 lives. Ten years ago two Scottish divers, Jim MacLeod and Martin Sinclair, found the wreckage after a painstaking five-year search.

Today, the well-preserved wreckage sits upright at 45m and the 57m-long hull presents an imposing sight, wrapped in long-discarded fishing nets and encrusted with the fleshy growth of thousands upon thousands of the eerily white, dead man’s fingers.

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A diver inspects the prop of the SM U-12

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Divers approach the conning tower

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The profusion of dead man's fingers on the hull

The German Imperial Navy submarines were a lethal pest in the First World War. The U-12 torpedoed the British minesweeper HMS Niger in November 1914, with the loss of one crew member – the first Allied casualty from German submarines based in Belgium. The following year, the U-12 torpedoed and sank the cargo ship Aberdon off St Abb’s Head, with the loss of 15 lives. It was the next day that the three destroyers trapped the submarine.

The vessel’s historic importance is that she was the first submarine to carry a warplane. During WW1 German seaplanes carried out 26 sorties against British and French targets, dropping 12kg bombs. One got as far as London, but their range was limited. Hence the idea of using a submarine to ferry the aircraft nearer to targets. 

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Sea trials using the U-12 began in January 1915. A two-seater Friedrichshafen FF.29 was strapped to her deck (see above). The idea was for the U-12 to carry the plane near to the British coast, travelling on the surface, then to submerge and the plane to fly off.  On the first attempt, it was feared the heavy swell just outside Zeebrugge would swamp the plane, so the plane was released and successfully flew back to base after a brief reconnaissance of the British coast. 




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