Where it all started

This is the photo that initiated the quest to seek out and hunt the WWI U-Boat of Johannes Lohs, the ubiquitous U-Boat SM UB-57. It is a pair of Lea and Perrins bottle tops recovered from the HMHS Kyarra in April 2017 and while explaining to my nine year old that these bottle tops had been underwater for 99 years, the eureka moment hit that in 2018, it will be the 100th centenary of the Kyarra’s demise.

Lea and Perrins Bottle Tops from the Kyarra in April 2017

My two favourite points of reference these past months has been Uboat.Net and Wrecksite.Eu which, with a different focus and bias, catalogue and reference much of the information needed. The Uboat.Net website represents the Uboats of WWI and WW2 with their Commanders and attack successes. Wrecksite.Eu on the other hand, is an inspiring database of worldwide shipwrecks including data of date of loss, type of loss, location, depth and sometimes personal information of those people killed.

Oberleutnant zur See Johannes Lohs

Johannes Lohs was born on 24th June 1889 in Stiffen. Son of plant owner Oswald Lohs (mother unknown) he was schooled in his home village and later a grammar school in Chemnitz. He entered the Kaiserliche Marine on 1st April 1909 and was first assigned to the cruiser Großer Kreutzer SMS Victoria Louise where he continued his naval education.
Johannes Lohs Portrait

In 1912, after moving to the pocket cruiser SMS Berlin, he was promoted to lieutenant. He then became signals officer aboard the pocket cruiser SMS Strassburg, which the post he held to the outbreak of World War and saw action for the first time on 28th August 1914.

In 1915, after a short assignment to the battlecruiser SMS Seydlitz as signals officer, he was sent to submarine school with a promotion to Oberleutnant. In late 1916 he was moved to the U-Bootschule and gained his first command of SM UC-75 of the Flanders Flotilla on 17th March 1917, followed by SM UB-57 in January 1918. He led many patrols off the British coastal waters including a productive visit to the Clyde in early November 1917.

By January 1918, his qualities of a U-Boat commander were recognised and his award of the Iron Cross 1st Class in December 1917 was well merited. His ideas of U-Boat warfare and a new tactical approach brought its reward with the award of the Pour le Mérite on 24th April 1918.

On 3rd August he sailed from Zeebrugge for the last time on his last patrol in charge of UB-57, sinking the last three ships of his career being the Clan Macvey, Glenlee and the City of Brisbane. On returning to base, it is believed UB-57 hit a mine and all hands were lost. The last contact he made with base was on the evening of the 14th, as UB-57 was homeward bound roughly in the area of the Sandiette Bank, east of the Straits of Dover. Nothing more was heard. UB-57 is believed to have hit a magnetic mine laid by the 20th Destroyer Flotilla off Zeebrugge at 51.56 N, 02.02 E and regarded as the first submarine to be sunk by a magnetic mine.

The last radio message was received on the 14th of August 1918. It is assumed that the vessel hit a mine and that the U-Boat has remained lost. After a week, the bodies of Lohs and some of his men we washed up in the Scheldt estuary. All hands lost.

The body of Lohs was washed ashore and was buried with full military honours at Vlissingen. The bodies of WWI Germans were moved from Vlissingen to Ysselsteyn in the Dutch province of Limburg in 1949. These WWI casualties having been moved to the new cemetary during WWII to join the men who fell in the Second World War.

The military cemetery in Ysselsteyn, Limburg is the only German cemetery in the Netherlands and is located close to the German border. Some 85 killed soldiers from the WWI and almost 32,000 from the WWII are buried here on a territory of 70 ares. For each killed soldier one cross has been placed. The data (name, grave location, dates of birth and death, rank – if known) have been written on the crosses with white colour.

Johannes Lohs Final Resting Place

Today his grave can be found at Block C, Grave 70 of the Ysselsteyn German War Cemetery, Timmermannsweg 75, 5813 AM Ysselsteyn, Netherlands

Aged only 29 at his death, Johannes Lohs was a successful and highly decorated German U-boat commander in the Kaiserliche Marine during World. Lohs is credited as the eighth most successful U-Boat commander of WWI by tonnage. In his short career, Lohs succeeded on 13 patrols to sink an enemy tonnage of over 151,000 gross register tons (GRT) as commander of SM UC-75 and SM UB-57. In the later Kriegsmarine the 3rd U-boat Flotilla in Kiel was named after him in 1937. His awards included the Iron Cross 1st Class and the Pour le Merite.

SM UB-57

UB-57 was a Type UB III submarine or U-boat in the German Imperial Navy ordered on 20th May 1916, built at AG Weser, Bremen and launched on 20th June 1917. Commissioned into the Flanders Flotilla of the German Imperial Navy on 30th July 1917, she was initially commanded by Kptlt Otto Steinbrinck between 3rd July 1917 and 1st January 1918 where he was succeeded by Oblt. Johannes Lohs (Pour le Mérite) on the 2nd January 1918 until he and the vessel were lost on 14th August 1918.

UB-57 of unknown date and location

She carried 10 torpedoes and was armed with a 3.46 inch deck gun and would carry a crew of up to 3 officers and 31 men. She had a cruising range of 9,020 nautical miles, her engines enabling her to travel at 13.4 knots when surfaced and 7.8 knots when submerged.

Her career spanned 11 patrols with successes of 47 ships sunk with a total of 129,173 tons 10 ships damaged with a total of 58,990 tons. Her demise was 14th August 1918, suspected of being mined off the Flanders coast on return to Zeebrugge.

Notable Dates

  • 2nd Jan 1918 – Johannes Lohs takes command of SM UB-57
  • 5th Feb 1918 – SS Alamance (4,455 tons) – American steamer sunk by torpedo off Maidens Head on the east coast of Northern Ireland.
  • 7th Feb 1918 – SS Ardbeg (227 tons)
  • 7th Feb 1918 – SS Ben Rein (212 tons)
  • 7th Feb 1918 – SS Limesfield (427 tons)
  • 12th Feb 1918 – SS Eleanor (1,980 tons)
  • 12th Feb 1918 – SS Polo (1,383 tons)
  • 14th Feb 1918 – SS Carlisle Castle (4,325 tons)
  • 14th Feb 1918 – SS War Monarch (7,887 tons)
  • 17th Mar 1918 – Anne Yvonne (102 tons)
  • 17th Mar 1918 – SV Arvor (52 tons)
  • 17th Mar 1918 – SV Béata (102 tons)
  • 19th Mar 1918 – SS Luxor (3,571)
  • 29th Mar 1918 – SS T. R. Thompson (3,538 tons)
  • 31st Mar 1918 – SS Excellence Pleske (2,059 tons)
  • 29th Apr 1918 – SS Australier (3,687 tons)
  • 29th Apr 1918 – SS Broderick (4,321 tons)
  • 29th Apr 1918 – SS La Somme (1,477 tons)
  • 30th Apr 1918 – SS Ella Sayer (2,549 tons)
  • 30th Apr 1918 – SS Umba (2,042 tons)
  • 2nd May 1918 – SS Unity (1,091 tons)
  • 22nd May 1918 – SS Red Rose (423 tons)
  • 23rd May 1918 – SS Moldavia (9,500 tons)
  • 26th May 1918 – SS Kyarra (6,953 tons)
  • 27th May 1918 – Joseph Simone (8 tons)
  • 27th May 1918 – Petit Georges (10 tons)
  • 27th May 1918 – Souvenir De Ste Marie (7 tons)
  • 2nd Jul 1918 – SS Shirala (5,306 tons)
  • 8th Aug 1918 – SS Clan Macvey (5,815 tons)
  • 9th Aug 1918 – SS Glenlee (4,915 tons)
  • 13th Aug 1918 – SS City Of Brisbane (7,138 tons)
  • 14th Aug 1918 – UB-57 – Hits mine off Zeebrugge.

Final Patrol

After sinking the City of Brisbane, the UB-57 headed for home in Zeebrugge, Belgium. During the journey, having first checked that the horizon was clear, she started to surface to run on diesels and recharge her batteries. Upon surfacing, Lohs opened the hatch to find himself almost directly beneath a low-flying British airship. A crash dive was immediately ordered, but they had been spotted and the airship started dropping bombs. Fortunately, they evaded sinking and continued their journey home.

On 14th August 1918, Lohs radioed to base that he had sunk 15,000 tons of shipping and was returning to base. That night he started through the narrow and swept straits of Dover. Nothing more was ever heard from him but it is likely that he hit a mine near Zeebrugge. Lohs’ body and those of some of his crew were washed up near the mouth of the river Scheldt about one week later. Lohs was one of the Imperial Navy’s war heroes, having sunk an impressive seventy-six merchant ships and one warship, a total of 148,677 tons. During World War II, one of the U-Boat flotillas operating from France was named in his honour.

Is this the lost U-Boat of UB-57?

German U-Boat SM UB-57 was a German Type UB III submarine or U-boat in the German Imperial Navy during World War I. She was commissioned into the Flanders Flotilla of the German Imperial Navy on 30th July 1917 as SM UB57.

On 3rd August 1918 UB-57 left on her final patrol and on this voyage, her last kills were SS Clan Mackey, SS Glenlee and SS City Of Brisbane on the 8th, 9th and 13th August respectively.

On 14th August at 22.15pm Lohs broadcast a radio signal to Bruges to advise they were on their return and had sunk a total of three ships, totalling 15,000 ton. This was the last sign of UB57, which was sent from the area of the Sandettie Bank.

An hour later Bruges wanted UB-57 to signal again, but nothing more was heard. From the British side, no news was picked up concerning the destruction of UB-57. It was therefore assumed that she and Lohs fell victim to a newly laid British minefield with magnetic mines which had been laid off the Flemish coast, about 8 miles to the north of Zeebrugge.

Oberleutnant z.S. Siegfried Fuchs was first officer of UB57. His body was washed up alongside Lohs near Zeebrugge.

The bodies of Lohs, his first officer Siegfried Fuchs and a couple of other crewmen washed ashore a week later at Flushing and Zeebrugge. The 26 year old Fuchs had only finished his course at the U-Schule in May 1918 and had entered service with the I U-Flottille Flandern a week later. His body washed ashore near Zeebrugge on 2nd September 1918 and three days later he was buried at the cemetery of Steenbrugge.

Classified Missing

The search for the wreck of UB-57 proves to be an interesting case study. A number of possible candidates present themselves as being that of the UB57. It is possible that UB57 foundered in the area to the east of the Fairybank. If this is the case, then it would also concern one of four unidentified UB-III wrecks around that area and linked to the loss of SM UB-54.

Multibeam image from Flanders Coastal Department wreck database.

Consideration One

In relation to UB54, Dr Innes McCartney talks of one large UB-III U-Boat laying at position:

  • Latitude: 50°25.00’N
  • Longitude: 12°30.00’W
  • Depth: Unknown

which is in a good state of preservation, with the bow showing four visible torpedo tubes and two to the stern. Just in front of the tower is a 8.8CM deck gun and around it are several scattered empty shell cases. All hatches are in a closed condition and would not support the evidence of an evacuation of the crew of UB-57.

Consideration Two

However, a more likely candidate for UB-54 is one of three unidentified UB-III class submarines sunk to the northeast of the Fairybank. This was an area of sea intensively dived and researched by Dirk Termote and Tomas Termote in 1995, being the location of a WW1 British minefield during 1917 and 1918 as a number of returning U-Boats were lost and sunk in the area. Indeed, in an area of 5 miles by 10 miles, a total of seven UB and UC U-Boats were discovered, some only laying a few hundred metres from each other. In position:

  • Latitude: 51°29.333’N
  • Longitude: 02°11.361’E
  • Depth: 43 Metres

there is an intact UB-III submarine laying upright with an inclination over the port side. This U-Boat was fitted with a 10.5CM deck gun and around its foot, lay several cased and ready-to-use shells. On one of the locking rings there was a date of “1918”. Both deck hatches are in a closed position and there is no visible damage to the wreck. The tower hatch is gone and the twisted hinge could point to the fact that it was dislodged by a fishing net. The starboard propeller was found to be clear of nets and its hub was cleaned. Disappointingly, all it showed was the UB-III type number and not the U-Boat number.

Consideration Three

This UB-III candidate lays one mile to the east at position:

  • Latitude: 51°29.170’N
  • Longitude: 02°12.917’E
  • Depth: 43 Metres

With this UB-III fairly intact too. It lays on an even keel with a slight inclination over the port side. There is damage to on the bow, most likely to have been caused by an explosion by mine. The section of the top of the bow seems to have been ripped off and the inside of the four torpedo tubes are well visible. Just in front of the tower stands the door of a 10.5CM deck gun, but the barrel lays in the scour behind the wreck. Around the tower and in the sand lay several full zinc containers for ammunition for the gun. The stern also shows explosion damage, where the torpedo tubes are half visible. All hatches are either open or without a hatch cover. It is suspected that the disappearance of the hatches are caused by trawl snags rather than escape attempts by the crew when the U-Boat lay on the bottom. We can possibly rule this UB-III as UB-75 too.

Consideration Four

A similar type was discovered on the top of a sandbank some 2 miles north of the Fairybank. This submarine lays in position:

  • Latitude: 51°26.795’N
  • Longitude: 02°19.933’E
  • Depth: 22 Metres

where she pays upright, but has been buried to ¾ deep in the sand dunes. Only the tower, the surrounding deck with two compressed air tanks, two hatches and the foot of the deck gun are visible. The tower hatch is is open, but filled to the brim with sand. In the late 1990’s a fisherman’s trawl snagged the gun and it was brought to the surface which appeared to be a 8.8CM calibre gun. The size of the wreck and dimensions of the tower together with build quality, point this to be a UB-III class submarine built to the middle or later months of the war.

The most plausible wreck of these four to be UB-57 would be that of candidate four, the one lying in the shallows of the Fairybank, where the 8.8CM deck gun was trawled up. The only fact that would give some doubt is that the bodies of Lohs and his bridge watch washed ashore only a week later in the Schelde. Experience with flotsam suggests that when in the area of the Fairybank or Westhinder, these would usually drift for months in the area between the Sandettie and the North Hinder without touching land. UB57 would therefore have had to have been sunk closer to land to yield human remains at such an early stage.

Consideration Five

That said, the most likely candidate would be the wreck of a fifth UB-lll class submarine in position:

  • Latitude: 51°25.234’N
  • Longitude: 03°06.261’E
  • Depth: 12 Metres

The dimensions of the conning tower point to a large U or UB-III class submarine. The tower has been ripped from its footing and lies over port at an angle of 60°, but is still partly connected by its base to the hull. The forward hatch is shut, but the tower hatch and one of the aft hatches are gone. The interior of the U-Boat is almost completely filled with sand. Just in front of the tower, a foot for the gun was discovered, but the gun was not present. On the bow there are two of the four torpedo tubes visible, with both doors being partially open. Before 1996, the wreck was wrongly identified as being UB-59. It could not concern UB-59 as she was blown up intentionally in her dry dock in Bruges in October 1918.

Screenshot of suspected coordinates of wreck of missing U-Boat UB57.

Damage to the tower and the disappearance of the gun can point to the use of underwater chains. This method of levelling wrecks was used in the main part of the 20th century to deepen the water column above shallow wrecks. It could also have been that the wreck was hit by a deep hulled vessel and was damaged this way. In an official Belgian hydrographic report, there was mention of the vessel Sanderus hitting an obstruction about 0.6 miles to the west of wreck buoy 11 on 15th April 1985. It then concerned the wreck of the unidentified UB-III class submarine.

It was first discovered and dived upon by Dirk Termote and Tomas in 1996. The wreck is seemingly intact and lies upright with a slight inclination over starboard. Maximum depth is 12M and the wreck has sunk up to halfway up its hull into the sand. The location and type of this U-boat strongly points in the direction of UB-57, but a number of determining factors lack to identify it 100% as being this U-boat. The U-Boat SM UB-57 is still deemed lost.

Red Herring

The website Wikipedia reports the coordinates of UB-57 as being at position:

  • Latitude: 51°56.00’N
  • Longitude: 02°02.00’E

However, the Uboat.Net website stipulates that commonly listed loss position of 51°56.00’N, 02°02.00’E is incorrect.

Ysselsteyn War Cemetery

On 11th November 2018, one hundred years after Armistice Day, a good friend of mine and I visited the Ysselsteyn War Cemetery. Our objective was to find Jonhannes’ memorial and place a poppy. Quite a surreal experience to see the vastness of the cemetery and other than us, no-one else here. We subsequently found that the German nationality do not celebrate Armistice Day as the UK.