28. A Tourist Attraction

A copy of her own article sent in by a member of the public sent me on a very interesting trail this week, updating our records for surrendered U-boats.

During the period 1919-1924 a number of surrendered U-boats were lost under tow en route to the breakers or destined for French service as part of war reparations, or sometimes just stripped and abandoned.

Today’s wreck is the U 118 in April 1919, as plenty of images survive of her wrecking. Both she and another U-boat were under tow from Harwich to Cherbourg under the escort of the French destroyer François Garnier when they both broke tow and went ashore in different places either side of Beachy Head. The François Garnier requested permission to try and sink the clearly floundering U 118 by gunfire, but whether U 118 washed up at Hastings before this could happen, or whether their efforts to sink her were unavailing, is unclear.

This was just one of many wreck incidents of all kinds which became tourist attractions in their own right, and it took place just before Easter 1919. Of course souvenirs were taken . . . ! She was the subject of many postcards charting her deterioration as she keeled over on the shingle ridge and was broken up in situ. The most interesting is an aerial view, which we take for granted nowadays, but think back to 1919, and it must have been quite a novelty. I don’t know if ‘barnstorming’ was a popular activity as early as 1919, but by the 1920s it was a feature of the British seaside holiday (my Dad went up in a biplane at Clacton, aged 5, in 1927). I’d like to imagine that Hastings in 1919 was the place to go on your holidays, with a wreck as an added bonus!

Quite often, the U-boats’ precise identity wasn’t really uppermost in the minds of people who were simply determined to scrap them, with further information being lost as they have passed out of living memory. There is some argument as to the identity of the second U-boat, which stranded by the Seven Sisters cliffs west of Beachy Head, although I think that a contemporary Times report identifying it as UB-121 has some weight. Whichever one it was, it smashed straight into the remains of the Oushla, which had stranded in the identical spot in 1916. Have a look at the picture gallery for the Oushla here.

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