No.78 U-8, Straits of Dover

Diary of the War No.8

On 4th March 1915 the first confirmed loss of a German U-boat in English waters during the war took place with the capture of U-8 off Dover, the culmination of a hunt that began when she was spotted in the Channel by HMS Viking. Viking opened fire, forcing U-8 to submerge but not without returning fire with a torpedo which missed its target, and U-8 was lost to sight.

Black and white illustration of U-8 submarine on the surface being approached by a destroyer, the crew assembled on the conning tower appealing for help.
Postcard of a contemporary illustration of U-8 being approached by a British destroyer. It is a work of subtle, as well as overt, propaganda, the text being complemented by the viewpoint from the side of a British destroyer, her lifeboat hanging from its davits, suggesting British humanity in coming to the rescue of an enemy crew appealing for help. By courtesy of Mark Dunkley

As the submerged U-8 continued on her way through the Straits of Dover, she became enmeshed in an anti-submarine net barrage. The requisitioned drifter Roburn spotted movement in the nets, and alerted the destroyers of the Dover patrol for assistance. The destroyer Ghurka* towed an anti-submarine sweep wire. These wires were fitted with explosive charges which detonated on contact with the target. Successful contact forced U-8 to the surface, whereupon Ghurka and Maori opened fire.

The crew were taken off and an attempt was made to tow the submarine back to Dover, but she foundered approximately one and three-quarters of a mile west of the southernmost tip of the Varne Bank, where she has now been positively identified by internal features.

The rescued crew, now firmly in British custody, were lined up at Dover on arrival. As the Daily Telegraph for 6 March 1915 (p9) had it: “The Germans were for the most part sturdily-built fellows – no doubt the pick of the German naval service mans the submarines”. The prisoners were marched through the town, escorted by the garrison of the Castle, and a crowd of local sightseers curious to see the enemy, to the Castle itself.

A view of Dover Castle on top of the hill, with the town below.
Dover Castle viewed from the High Street, Dover DP049659 © English Heritage Picture Library

The official Admiralty communiqué quoted in the paper gave away few details, stating only that U-8 had been sunk in the Channel off Dover, but the human interest aspect of the prisoners’ reception more than made up for it, as did the speculation over the intelligence value of the submarine (p8) and what it was thought to reveal about the U-boat war.

As for Roburn and Ghurka, they resumed their successful patrols off Dover, but they, too, were destined to fall victim to enemy action in the Straits of Dover. Roburn sank on 27 October 1916, after being shelled in a Channel raid by German torpedo boat destroyers. She was lost together with a Tribal class destroyer, which formed the nucleus of the Dover Patrol (Ghurka, Maori and Viking, as their names implied, were also Tribal class ships). Ghurka herself was mined on 8 February 1917 off Dungeness, and is one of those vessels whose remains are designated under the Protection of Military Remains Act.

The seabed of the Straits of Dover reveals a common heritage of sunken British and German vessels, a memorial to the warfare on the surface a century ago.

*not a misspelling: she was indeed Ghurka, rather than Gurkha.

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4 thoughts on “No.78 U-8, Straits of Dover

  1. Thank you very much, Steve. That is a really interesting selection of postcards – the second postcard on Wikimedia Commons seems to be edition of the first, updated to memorialise her sinking: “am 5. Marz 1915 gesunken”.

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