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About World War 1: U-Boat U-9 Puts World's Navies on Notice

Updated on August 10, 2017
UnnamedHarald profile image

I try to make history readable and interesting, warts and all. We must look to the past to understand the present and confront the future.

German U-Boat u-9

WW1: German U-Boat SMS U-9 (1914).
WW1: German U-Boat SMS U-9 (1914). | Source

Submarines Are only Toys

When World War One started, on July 28, 1914, the world's two most powerful navies, the British Royal Navy and the German Imperial Navy, were built around dreadnought and super-dreadnought battleships. The competition to build dreadnoughts had in fact contributed to the start of the war. The Royal Navy also had 74 submarines and the Imperial Navy had 20 U-Boats available. Neither navy took the enemy's submarines seriously, or their own, for that matter. Submarines had not yet proven their worth. For the first six weeks of the war, German U-Boats were ineffective, causing little damage, while suffering two losses. That all changed on September 22, when the U-Boat SMS U-9 attacked three British cruisers.

One the Cruisers sunk by U-9

WWI: Armoured cruiser HMS Cressy, sunk on 22 September 1914, along with her sister ships Aboukir and Hogue (same class as Cressy), by German U-boat U-9.
WWI: Armoured cruiser HMS Cressy, sunk on 22 September 1914, along with her sister ships Aboukir and Hogue (same class as Cressy), by German U-boat U-9. | Source

The Combatants

The three Cressy -class armored cruisers were patrolling the North Sea between England and the Netherlands to keep the Germans from entering the English Channel from the east. HMS Cressy, HMS Aboukir and HMS Hogue each displaced 12,000 tons, was 472 feet long and had a main armament of two 230-mm and 12 150-mm guns. Though only 14 years old, they were already considered obsolete and were therefore manned mainly by part-time Royal Navy Reserve sailors.

SMS U-9 was a 500 ton submarine with six torpedoes commanded by Kapitänleutnant Otto Weddigen . In the weeks prior to the war, U-9 managed to reload her torpedo tubes while submerged, becoming the first submarine to ever perform this difficult task. This would become critical during her engagement with the cruisers.

U-9 was patrolling about 20 miles off the Dutch coast looking for enemy targets. It was September 22, 1914, a sunny, calm morning, perfect for a hunting submarine. Along the Western Front, the massed armies, unable to break through each others' lines were attempting to outflank each other in the race for the sea. Soon their trenches would stretch unbroken from the Swiss Alps to the English Channel.

German Postcard of the Sinkings

WW1: German postcard depicting U-Boat U-9 (commanded by Capt. Lt. Weddigen) sinking British cruisers. December 4, 1914.
WW1: German postcard depicting U-Boat U-9 (commanded by Capt. Lt. Weddigen) sinking British cruisers. December 4, 1914. | Source

Sinking of HMS Cressy

WWI: Sketch by Henry Reuterdahl of HMS Cressy sinking. 1916.
WWI: Sketch by Henry Reuterdahl of HMS Cressy sinking. 1916. | Source

The Action

At 6:00am, Weddigen spotted the three cruisers sailing in a triangular formation and managed to position

the U-9 in their center. Although they weren't zigzagging, the cruisers had lookouts posted searching for periscopes and at least one gun on each side was manned. At 6:20, at a range of 500 meters, Weddigen fired a single torpedo at HMS Aboukir, which struck, breaking her back. She sank within 20 minutes.

Thinking Aboukir had struck a mine, both Cressy and Hogue turned and approached their stricken sister to pick up survivors, throwing anything that would float into the sea. At a range of 270 meters, Weddigen loosed two torpedoes at HMS Hogue. In doing so, U-9's bow broke the surface and she was spotted by Hogue, which opened fire on the u-boat. U-9 successfully submerged and HMS Hogue was hit by both torpedoes. The cruiser capsized and sank at 7:15am.

Five minutes later, Weddigen fired two more torpedoes at HMS Cressy at a distance of 900 meters. Cressy spotted one of the torpedoes and turned to try to ram the u-boat, but one torpedo struck her with such force she was lifted out of the water and the second torpedo passed safely beneath her. U-9 then fired her last torpedo from 500 meters away, which sealed HMS Cressy's fate. As the stricken ship started listing, two Dutch trawlers, afraid of mines, refused to approach and Cressy's crew fired on them in anger. She then capsized and, at 7:55am, disappeared beneath the sea.

Meanwhile, U-9 had fled the scene, knowing the Royal Navy would soon be swarming over the area and Weddigen was out of torpedoes. Their earlier success at reloading torpedoes while submerged had allowed them to use their full complement of torpedoes during the engagement.

U-Boat U-9 Captain

WWI: Kapitanleutnant Otto Weddigen commander of german submarine U-9 during Great War.
WWI: Kapitanleutnant Otto Weddigen commander of german submarine U-9 during Great War. | Source

Royal Navy Rocked on its Heels

In the space of little more than an hour SMS U-9 had engaged and destroyed three armored cruisers-- a feat no one had thought possible. Although 837 men were rescued, 1,397 men and 62 officers died that morning. The Royal Navy's reputation was rocked and the public was outraged that a tiny submarine was able to inflict so much damage. Almost overnight, the u-boats were recognized as very real threats to the entire Royal Navy.

The German Imperial Navy also took notice. Weddigen and his crew returned as national heroes. The German Emperor, Kaiser Wilhelm II, awarded each member of the crew the Iron Cross, 2nd Class and Weddigen the Iron Cross, 1st Class.

Battleship HMS Dreadnought

WWI: HMS Dreadnought, 1907. The ship that launched the naval arms race whose only action was ramming and sinking U-29 in 1915, killing the KapitanLeutnant who, while commanding U-9, sank three British armored cruisers in one hour on Sept 22 1914.
WWI: HMS Dreadnought, 1907. The ship that launched the naval arms race whose only action was ramming and sinking U-29 in 1915, killing the KapitanLeutnant who, while commanding U-9, sank three British armored cruisers in one hour on Sept 22 1914. | Source

A Fourth Cruiser Sunk and Death by Battleship

Only three weeks later, on October 15, 1914, the U-9, under Weddigen, sank a fourth cruiser, HMS Hawke. After that action, Captain Weddigen received the military's highest award, the Pour le Merite. He was later given command of U-29 and died, with the rest of his crew on March 18, 1915, when the battleship HMS Dreadnought rammed U-29 and broke it in two in Pentland Firth. It was the height of irony that the actual battleship that had launched a major arms race contributing to World War I, should, in its only action, be the only battleship to sink a submarine.

Luckiest "Man" in the Royal Navy?

One sailor, fifteen-year-old Wenman "Kit" Wykeham-Musgrave (1899–1989), was on board HMS Aboukir when he was thrown overboard. He was then picked up by HMS Hogue, but soon found himself back in the sea. He was then picked up by HMS Cressy, only to end up in the sea one more time. A Dutch trawler finally picked him up (obviously without knowing about his “luck”). He lived until he was 90, having also served in WW2, rising to the rank of Commander.

WW1: British and German U-Boats at the Start of WW1 (Some colorization)

© 2012 David Hunt

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    • UnnamedHarald profile image
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      David Hunt 3 years ago from Cedar Rapids, Iowa

      Thanks a lot for commenting and voting, Tom. I wish we were a little less innovative when it comes to finding ways to kill each other, though.

    • Tom Schumacher profile image

      Tom Schumacher 3 years ago from Huntington Beach, CA

      Interesting hub! It was amazing how the German U-boat got the upper hand in naval warfare from being able re-load its torpedo tubes while submerged. So much to learn from history and yet so little time to invest considering present life and all it demands. But, what I did appreciate from this read is how humans constantly strive to create new technological innovations. ~ Voted up.

    • UnnamedHarald profile image
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      David Hunt 4 years ago from Cedar Rapids, Iowa

      Thanks for reading and commenting, Judi. All around a nasty business. I found it interesting that so many of the cruisers' crews were part-time sailors!

    • Judi Bee profile image

      Judith Hancock 4 years ago from UK

      Nothing would have induced me to get into a submarine in those days! Great article, as usual. Our local cemetery has several war graves for seamen (and one woman - a stewardess) who were lost due to U-Boat action off the coast in WW1.

    • UnnamedHarald profile image
      Author

      David Hunt 4 years ago from Cedar Rapids, Iowa

      Hi Graham. With you %100 on going down in a sub. It took a special breed all right-- you can't teach people to be short and it's damn difficult to teach someone not to be claustrophobic. Thanks for reading and commenting. I'm glad you liked the video; I was concerned that the opening paragraphs in German would put people off, but it was the only one I could find related to U-9.

    • old albion profile image

      Graham Lee 4 years ago from Lancashire. England.

      Hi UH. Another great read with an excellent video. The captain sent so many to the bottom and then joined them himself. I think submariners are born, I would have the greatest fear if I had to go down in one. ( no pun intended )

      Graham.

    • UnnamedHarald profile image
      Author

      David Hunt 4 years ago from Cedar Rapids, Iowa

      Joan, I know what you mean. I've always had a thing about the World Wars, but I swear I've learned more about history since I've joined HubPages and started writing about it than in the previous 10 years-- and I love it. It's more than just facts and figures and dates.

    • joanveronica profile image

      Joan Veronica Robertson 4 years ago from Concepcion, Chile

      Hi UH, another fascinating fact! Don't we learn a lot with this writing and commenting! Great fun, it's like having a second life starting from zero again!

    • UnnamedHarald profile image
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      David Hunt 4 years ago from Cedar Rapids, Iowa

      Thanks for another great comment, joan. I always enjoy hearing from you. There was one glaring German technical faux pas in World War I: the German generals, after the initial shock, didn't think the tank was any big thang. By the time the British figured out how to effectively use them, the Germans got busy. At the end of the war, the Allies had nearly 7,000 tanks, the Germans had... 20.

    • joanveronica profile image

      Joan Veronica Robertson 4 years ago from Concepcion, Chile

      Hi UH, another fantastic article! The video was fabulous! And as usual, the great Empire was rather slow to get with it, (I mean Britain!) This seems to have been the norm in all instances. Germany always seemed to get the technical aspects organized first, with other nations following behind. There were certainly a lot of technological changes introduced by the two WW, and most of them started in Germany, I think. Still I wouldn't have been very happy if they had won on all occasions. Congratulations, voted up, awesome and interesting. Looking forwards to the next one!

    • UnnamedHarald profile image
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      David Hunt 4 years ago from Cedar Rapids, Iowa

      Thanks darknezz. World War I brought technology to war like nothing before it, whether airplanes, tanks, submarines, flamethrowers, etc. It was a good time to be in the "engines of death" business.

    • darknezz111 profile image

      Daniel Durand 4 years ago from Southern Idaho

      Very interesting. It seems like submarines were sort of similar to airplanes when they first entered military service- untested, untrusted, and full of potential. We went from bi-planes to fighter jets, and from the Battle of the Ironclads to sub-based Trident missiles, but at the time of their inception both technologies were underdogs. Good read!

    • UnnamedHarald profile image
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      David Hunt 4 years ago from Cedar Rapids, Iowa

      Thanks for commenting, Pavlo. I agree, but I also wouldn't want to go underwater in one of those World War I subs either. I would rather have both feet on solid ground.

    • Pavlo Badovskyy profile image

      Pavlo Badovskyi 4 years ago from Kyiv, Ukraine

      Glad , I did not serve in the Navy.. I was always afraid of submarines :) Interesting Hub!