Menacing mines in Waterford Harbour

Floating mines were a feature of both World Wars.  Deployed at sea or around the coast, the target was primarily the shipping that sustained the allied side or to thwart naval incursions.  Although the sailors that suffered on merchant ships were non combatants, the mines also threatened those who fished and even those who lived beside the sea, and Waterford and Wexford endured its fair share.  

I
recently recalled the tragic loss of life at Dunmore East in 1917, when a
German U Boat was destroyed.  The U Boat, UC-44 was deploying mines at the mouth of the harbour between Dunmore East and
Hook Head in Co. Wexford.  At the time, it
was a regular occurrence, as was the efforts of the Admiralty to clear
them.    However the allies were
also deploying mines, most of the access points to the Northern and Southern routes
to the English coast were blanketed by minefields in a futile attempt to thwart
the U Boat menace. The first Irish casualty of the mines in WW I was the SSManchester Commerce which was sunk off Donegal 26th Oct 1914.  It would be the following July before the admiralty were satisfied that the estimated 200+ mines had been cleared from the area. Maintaining access to Waterford became a job of constant vigilance against the
mine laying subs, which included patrols by Sub Chasers, overhead surveillance
and constant clearing of the harbour by Mine Sweepers.

An American Sub Chaser anchored above Passage East.
The Americans entered the war in April 1917
Passed on to me by Paul O’Farrell
An interesting ancedote from the times

Mines
were also a feature of WWII but this time Ireland was neutral and the country was not directly targeted.  However, it was the Irish who mined Waterford
harbour at this stage, which operated between Passage East and Ballyhack from
1941. The mines were deployed in the channel,
and were operated by control from Ballyhack, known as command detonated mines.  If any threat was seen, the mines were to be detonated
by the shore watch. (1)  I’d
imagine the minefield was directed more towards protecting Ireland from a
German sea borne attack, which also led to something I’ve written about previously, the removal of all road signs
During WWII
mines became more sophisticated.  The German side were the first to
develop magnetic mines that detonated as a ship passed close to them. Mines
were also deployed from airplanes, which meant the seas around Ireland became a
target after the fall of France.  Mines were reported regularly from
ships, shoreline walkers and the lookout posts, operated by the Marine and Coast Watching Service from Sept 1939, that lined the coastline. (2)
Many
injuries and fatalities were associated with them.  When a mine beached on the other side of the
Hook at Cullenstown in 1941, four members of the LDF died and another was
injured.  While a lighthouse keeper on
Tuskar Rock died after a mine washed up and another man was injured.  19 men died (largest loss of life nationally)
when a mine was spotted on a Donegal beach in 1943.  While waiting for a bomb disposal team an onlooking crowd refused to move back to a safe distance. (3)
The Great Western in camouflage during WWII
Posted by Tommy Deegan on the Waterford History Group Facebook page

The above loss of life gives some context to the following story shared by Noreen
Kane on the Waterford History Group on 24th June 2016.  Its based on recollections of her dads (Liam
Lundon 1934 – 2009) childhood in Passage East

“Even though there was a war on school was fairly uneventful. There was one
particular incident when one morning my father who was the local Garda came in
to the school and informed the teacher that the school had to be evacuated as
a mine had been spotted on the strand directly underneath the school.
It was a glorious spring day we were all marched up the back road to Garret
Meades house. We spent the rest of the day there until the “all
clear” was given. To this day I don’t know how the mine was disposed
of”
The school at that time was further out the Crooke road, where the building still stands over looking the harbour. (It closed when the new school opened in 1969) But was the mine disposed of, or just made safe?  Graninne
Flanagan commented on our own Facebook page recently about an old mine that was
on the beach between Crooke and New Geneva, where apparently her mother used to picnic. My Brother in Law, Bernard Cunningham recalled the mine and said it was the same, his mother Eileen (RIP) often recalled the incident. That having been made safe it was left on the beach. However, it was removed in recent years by a scrap merchant.  I’ve also heard of another mine that beached at Passage and that was taken away which made the Munster Express in late 1941, and a virtual raft of other incidents down the harbour and all along the coast and along the Wexford shoreline.  They even travelled as far upriver as Mooncoin! There were questions asked in the Dail about a delay in clearing a mine from a packed Tramore Beach in the summer of 1941 and the naval vessel Muirchu was a frequent visitor, called to dispatch mines using gunfire to detonate the threat.
A major incident concerned the Barrow Bridge which had to be closed in March 1946 after a mine drifted too close to
the structure.  It was spotted by two
Cheekpoint men Heffernan and O’Connor. They reported the sighting to the Garda station in Passage East
and a unit from the Curragh was dispatched under Comdt. Fynes to deal with the
threat.  Locally it was always said that the boys had thrown a lasso
around the mine and towed it away from the bridge as a train approached, saving
countless lives as a result.
A
more sober account can be found in that weeks Kilkenny People.  The mine
grounded between Snow Hill Quay and Drumdowney Point as the tide went out and once settled on the mud, a rope was
tied around it, to prevent it floating away. (and no less heroic to my mind, if
a little less dramatic) Although the Boat train departed from Waterford that
evening, it was decided to close off the line to rail and shipping on the
Saturday. The
bomb disposal unit had to wait for the tide to go out before they approached
the mine. The unit managed to make safe the mine by 4pm that evening,
meaning the 5pm train could depart with safety.
My own
brush with a mine came while I was herring fishing in Dunmore East.  The details are sketchy I’m afraid, as I
could find no record in the newspapers.  However I remember a particularly
nasty SE wind and a trawler coming in off Dunmore, but refused entry.  The
trawler was being towed if I recall correctly.  The mine was trapped in
the nets and part of the nets had fouled the screw. Holding off Dunmore,
a team of army bomb disposal experts arrived in Dunmore that day.  I
vividly recall their energy and enthusiasm as they jumped out of a dark green
jeep with large kit bags and boarded the pilot boat Betty
Breen
to go out to the trawler.  However, they were back after an
hour, green in the face and much less energetic.  The trawler was sent
over under the Hook and the decision was taken to await a team from the Navy to
deal with the issue.
You might
think that such problems no longer exist.  However the most recent article
I could find for Dunmore was the Irish Independent of March 2005 and the most
recent nationally was August 2007 in the same paper, this time a mine trapped
in nets off Co Cork.  Be careful out there, you never know what secrets
the sea might give up, particularly on a stormy day.
 (1) & (2)   MacGinty.
T.  The Irish Navy.  1995.  The Kerryman. Tralee
 (3)        Kennedy. M. Guarding Neutral Ireland.  2008. Four Courts Press. Dublin

I publish a blog each Friday.  If you like this piece or have an interest in the local history or maritime heritage of Waterford harbour and environs you can email me at russianside@gmail.com to receive the blog every week.
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Dunmore U Boat trap – part II

Last week we looked at the story of the sinking of UC-44 in Dunmore East in August of 1917.  This week I wanted to complete the account with a look at what subsequently occurred to the salvaged sub and her crew.
The U boat was thoroughly examined and the design and features noted.  Once completed, some have said that she was towed upriver and used as a foundation in a breakwater in Duncannon. Stokes however has a different account, and perhaps this is where the confusion lies.  Her engine apparently lay in a garage in Duncannon for years afterwards, and rusted and worn, was dumped into a new breakwater. (Stoke: p193)

Salvage operation at Dunmore via Paul O’Farrell
on the Waterford Maritime History page

Other accounts say that initially she was taken out of the harbour and dropped back to the ocean floor. There is further speculation that the wreck was depth charged or in some other way broken up and dispersed.  Either way, there appears to be no known wrecksite.  However, it was not until 2011 that her sister UC-42 was re-discovered lying intact outside Cork harbour, is it possible UC-44 remains to be re-discovered.

An intact mine being unloaded (1 of 9 remaining aboard) note Dunmore
Lighthouse to the left.  via Paul O’Farrell on the Waterford Maritime History page

Some mementos still exists of the U boat however.  For example this piece from USA shows how important the event was and to the Americans who were there to assist aboard the USS Melvile.  And they also have memento in the Imperial War Museum in London.  I wonder are there any still remaining in Dunmore, Duncannon or elsewhere?
An inscribed memento of the event via the Imperial War  Museum
link above, passed on to me by James Doherty

Although the U boat sank, at least 3 of her crew, the Captain, Tebbenjoahnnes, and two engine room staff; Richter and Fahnster, escaped.  When the explosion happened they were in the conning tower, and were separated from the main craft.  Their escape necessitated them opening the outer hatch of the conning tower and a swim to the surface that lay 90 feet above.  All three broke the surface together, but eventually they drifted apart and as we saw last week the commander, Tebbenjoahnnes, was rescued when three Dunmore East fishermen came to the rescue. (McElwee pp 183-9)

Tebbenjoahnnes was cared for in Dunmore overnight, but next day journeyed on to Waterford and then Cork and from there to Dublin for the short sea journey to Holyhead and subsequently to London for interrogation and life as a POW.  (Ibid). The actual telegram and other correspondence can be viewed online!  Stokes relates an interesting anecdote about  Tebbenjoahnnes’ journey.  He boarded the RMS Leinster under escort for the trip across the Irish Sea.  He was sitting in the saloon with a British officer having a drink, when Captain Birch, the ships captain, approached the party and remonstrated with them.  Captain Birch stated that he would clap them both in irons if the German was not immediately confined.  Tebbenjohannes was led to his cabin, and there he sat out the remainder of the journey, apparently in an unlocked and unguarded cabin, while his escort went back to the saloon. He’d given his word not to try and escape! (Stokes p.198)  The RMS Leinster would be sink following a U Boat attack in October 1918 and the good Captain along with 500 other souls would die.  (Hutchinson: pp 77-84)
His “interrogation” in London seems to have been a conversation, at least when you read the actual report.  He gives a good description of the event including his position; 52 07′ N – 06 59′ W, fixed with Hook light and Dunmore prior to laying mines.  He also gives a list of the crew but this seems to be incomplete.  There is a short piece online looking for further information on him, which suggests that he went into banking after the war, and in WWII played a role with the German Navy. It appears he was still alive in the early 1960’s, but nothing else seems to be known.
Of his fellow crew mates, less is known unfortunately.  Richter’s corpse washed up on Wexford shore in the following weeks and was buried in Duncannon.  It was re-interred after the war to the German Military Cemetery at Glencree Co Wicklow.  Bahnster was the name given in several sources as the other man.  However I’d like to set the record straight on this, his surname was Fahnster.  Its a typical name of Northern Germany, which was revealed to me by a German friend, Nicki Kenny. Joahnn Fahnster’s body was not recorded as ever being found, as far as I can see.
UC-44 had 30 men aboard on the night that she sank.  Having traced three we still have twentyseven souls unaccounted for.  There is a thread online claiming that 19 bodies were contained in the submarine when she reached Dunmore, undoubtedly the others would have washed out of the damaged hull. The reference for this claim is cited as Robert Grants book the U Boat Hunters. Some claim that in line with Naval policy, they were taken out and buried at sea.  It has been speculated that to inter so many in a cemetery on land would draw attention to the fact that the U-boat had been salvaged and thus loose an advantage to the Germans. (Stokes: p.192-3).  Many accounts don’t even mention the crew, their average age being 20!

Sunrise at Dunmore East last Sunday morning

Personally I think it is timely that the event be remembered.  As someone who has lost a brother, an uncle and friends to drowning, it strikes me as sad not to have some testament of these sailors death. Whatever we may feel about the U boats and the destruction that they caused and lives that they shattered in Waterford, her harbour and beyond, they were still brave men, doing what they were ordered to, as was their duty.  


Maybe by not knowing these men makes it easier to forget them,  Well thanks to Nicki, who I have already mentioned I can at least reverse that small omission. The names and ranks of those lost are listed at the following link and below.  With the anniversary coming up next year, we may have an opportunity to remember this event, and deepen our understanding of our harbours history and heritage.

Rank                Surname               Christian name

Matrose
BARTZ
John.
Ltnt.z.S.d.Res.
BENDLER
Wilhelm
O.Masch.Mt.
BIENERT
Fritz
Heizer
BORGWALDT
K:
Btsm.Mt.d.Res.
BÖTTCHER
A.
O.Matrose
BÜRGER
O.
Masch.Anw.
CLASEN
H.
Ob.Matrose
DÜSING
August
Ob.Masch.Mt.
FAHNSTER
Johann
Heizer
FEHRLE
Erwin
F.T.Gast
GIESENHAGEN
K.
T.Heizer
GOLOMBOWSKI
U.Maat
HEUER
Otto
Ob.Btsm.Mt.
HORAND
Hans
Matrose
IDSELIS
Michael
Heizer
KERSTEN
Heinrich
Masch.T.Mt.
KLEIN
Karl
F.T.O.Gast
KRÄMER
A.
O.Masch.Mt.
LEHMANN
R.
Masch.Mt.
MÜLLER
Heye D.
Ob.Btsm.Mt.
PABSCH
J.
Masch.Anw.
RICHTER
W.
Matrose
ROTTSCHALK
Walter
Masch.Mt.
RÖSLER
P.
Ob.Heizer
SCHICKENDANZ
W.
Steuermann
SCHULTER
J.
Masch.Mt.
SCHMITZ
F.
Mt.Ing.O.Asp.
SEIFARTH
Helmut
Matrose
ZIELOSKO
Emanuel

I publish a blog each Friday.  If you like this piece or have an interest in local history, heritage, Waterford harbour and environs you can email me to request to be added to my email list russianside@gmail.com.  Other ways to connect are:
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Thanks to Nicki Kenny and her husband Mick for assisting me with the German research this week. Also to James Doherty for allowing me to wreck his head and to Paul O’ Farrell for some of the images.

Here’s a great link to a blog post by Roy Stokes on UC 44 and others, most of which is similar to what os contained in his book referenced below.http://lugnad.ie/flanders-u-boat-alley/

Another interesting blog post highlighting the sinking and a memento sculpted from the starboard propeller to the inventor of the depth charge Herbert Taylor:
http://www.portsmouth.co.uk/heritage/man-who-invented-the-depth-charge-1-7199079

References:
Hutchinson. S.  Beware the Coast of Ireland.  2013.  Wordwell. Dublin

McElwee. R. The last voyages of the Waterford steamers. date unknown. The Book Centre Waterford

Stokes. R.  Between the tides; Shipwrecks of the Irish Coast.  2015. Amberly.  Gloucestershire.

I publish a blog each Friday.  If you like this piece or have an interest in the local history or maritime heritage of Waterford harbour and environs you can email me at russianside@gmail.com to receive the blog every week.
My Facebook and Twitter pages are more contemporary and reflect not just heritage 
and history but the daily happenings in our beautiful harbour:  

F https://www.facebook.com/whtidesntales  T https://twitter.com/tidesntales

The Dunmore East U-Boat trap

I was a youngster when I first heard the tale of UC-44, a German U-Boat that sunk when she struck her own mine and was salvaged and brought back to Dunmore East. There her design and fighting capabilities yielded invaluable information to tackling the U-Boat threat. It was only over Christmas that I came to realise the true back story to the affair, filled with intrigue, subterfuge and probably a lot of luck. For UC-44 was lured to Dunmore with the express purpose of being captured and the outcome played a role in an allied victory of the First World War.
In July of 1917 UC-42 deployed mines in Waterford harbour aimed at interrupting the flow of provisions out of Ireland to the allied side. Usually this meant that mine sweepers were deployed and the port access cleared. However, not this time. This time the admiralty or at least those in control of the western Atlantic approaches based at Queenstown (now Cobh) had other ideas.

Dunmore East lighthouse in the background as sub lay alongside the harbour
photo accessed from WHG and uploaded by Jim O’Mara in July 2013 
The losses being endured by the allies to U-Boats were steadily increasing. Resources were stretched, and the Admiralty seemed more content on maintaining a blockade of Germany than protecting those ships supplying the allies. Admiral Bayly and his team at Queenstown were fighting a losing battle despite the setting up of an anti-submarine division in December 1916, the introduction of Q ships, airships and the added resources gained when America joined the war in April 1917. American ships arrived at Cobh in May and were on patrol next day. The Navy needed all the help they could get and so the intelligence value of an intact sub was considered a priority.
So rather than clear the identified minefield to Waterford harbour a tactical decision was taken. The harbour was closed for two weeks, while a sham sweep by minesweepers was conducted. (This was in case spies were watching, or indeed U Boats). After two weeks the admiralty sent a coded signal to say Waterford was cleared and opened the harbour. Both sides had already cracked each other’s codes, and both sides seem to have been aware of such. (Nolan: pp232-4)
The German navy ordered UC-44, under the command of Kapitanleutnant Kurt Tebbenjoahnnes to sea on July 31st with orders to deploy 9 of her 18 mines in Waterford to replace those that had been “cleared” and the rest were designated for Cork harbour. She arrived off Dunmore on Saturday 4th August and surfaced at about midnight on a beautiful starlight night. The mines were laid while running underwater. While checking the boats position in the conning tower, to plot his course for Queenstown, he heard and felt a loud explosion and his boat lurched downwards. (McElwee pp 183- 189)
Tebbenjoahnnes found himself on the bottom of Waterford harbour with at least two other men, separated from the rest of the crew. Entombed and having failed to contact anyone in the main body of the submarine, they made the decision to try for the surface. Miraculously Tebbenjoahnnes was pulled from the water later that morning by three Dunmore East fishermen, Jack McGrath and two brothers Tom & Patsy Power, who had rowed out on hearing the explosion. Tebbenjoahnnes was cared for in the home of a Mrs Chester and was seen to by a Mr Austin Farrell. Later that morning he began his journey to London and life as a POW. (Ibid)
Meanwhile Admiral Bayly ordered a salvage operation to be commenced and it was initiated three days later under Lieutenant Commander Davis. Divers (tin openers) were deployed, and entered the sub to bring up the U Boats papers which were to prove explosive in themselves. It was decided to lift UC-44 to the surface and then to Dunmore. The strategy employed was basic, if complicated given that she was 90 feet down. Cables were dropped from a surface vessel, brought under the sub and then brought back to the surface. At low tide, the cables were secured to the decks of two ships and when the tide rose, so did the submarine. Once the sub was sufficiently off the bottom, the salvage vessels moved towards Dunmore. In all it took twenty lifts and as a consequence of bad weather it would be September 25th before they reached harbour. (McElwee pp189-191)
UC-44 lying at the quayside at Dunmore September 2017
accessed from: http://www.warrelics.eu/forum/imperial-
germany-austro-hungary/german-u-boat-photos-postcards-156303/
The admiralty learned much about the design and capabilities of the submarine and they were keenly interested in the rescued mines and the deployment system. However it was the log books and other papers which arguably proved the most value. The log proved incontrovertibly what many had suspected but which was denied by senior naval personnel. It highlighted how easy it was for Tebbenjoahnnes and other U Boat commanders to avoid detection and slip through the existing protection around Britain. (Nolan: p235) Such information coupled with the with the rates of shipping losses highlighted that Britain and her allies were at risk of losing the war unless the U Boat menace was finally dealt with.
Macintyre (1965) explains the failure to grasp the U-boat menace “…submariners…comprised a breed apart” They suffered “…contemptuous refusal of senior officers and their contemporaries in surface warships to take them seriously.” This attitude created a “…mental inertia or lack of imagination of the great majority making for an obstinate conservatism” (Macintyre p 20). Some have claimed that the retrieval of UC-44 actually turned the war for the allies. What is probably true at least is that it helped in the continuing shift in attitudes in naval strategy and personnel, and arguably contributing to the removal of Admiral Jellico as commander of the navy, More ships and resources were provided to tackling the issue. The Dover barrage including 9,600 mines was completed and finally the convoy system was introduced. 
An enduring mystery of UC-44 was the notion that she was sunk by her own mine. There are many written accounts, both in books and online that suggest several scenarios. The majority believed for years that it was her own mine that sunk the ship. However, Nolan (2009) speculates that it may have been a casualty of the mines originally laid by UC-42, and as such a casualty of the trap created by the allies. More recently Stokes (2015) speculates that both UC-44 and UC-42, which struck her own mine in Cork Harbour later in 1917, were victims of sabotage, and that the deployment mechanism, or the mines themselves may have been tampered with by British agents operating in the German Naval dockyards. I’d imagine that we will never know for certain. 
My thanks to Michael Farrell of the Barony of Gaultier Historical Society for providing the names of the Power brothers of Dunmore mentioned above.  And to Ray Mcgrah for the name of his father also mentioned.
Macintyre. D. Fighting under the sea.  1965.  Evan Brothers Ltd. London.
McElwee. R. The last voyages of the Waterford steamers. date unknown. The Book Centre Waterford

McShane. M.  Neutral Shores.  Ireland and the battle of the Atlantic.  2012.  Mercier press.  Cork

Nolan et al.  Secret Victory.  Ireland and the War at Sea 1914-18.  2009.  Mercier press.  Cork
Stokes. R.  Between the tides; Shipwrecks of the Irish Coast.  2015. Amberly.  Gloucestershire.

I publish a blog each Friday.  If you like this piece or have an interest in the local history or maritime heritage of Waterford harbour and environs you can email me at russianside@gmail.com to receive the blog every week.
My Facebook and Twitter pages are more contemporary and reflect not just heritage 
and history but the daily happenings in our beautiful harbour:  
F https://www.facebook.com/whtidesntales  T https://twitter.com/tidesntales