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Skelmorlie U-Boat

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The waters off Skelmorlie on the Ayrshire coast have been suggested as the site of an unidentified U-Boat wreck from World War II. coast.

Museum records give the location as N55° 52' W4° 54'.

There are no confirmed reports of the wreck, or the circumstances surrounding it, although several elderly residents of Dunoon have spoken of the day during World War II, when the Royal Navy dropped a number of depth charges into the waters of the Firth of Clyde south of the Cloch boom. Unfortunately, accounts vary as to date and detail, therefore we can only refer to the stories rather than give confirmed details. Dates vary from November 1939, to February 1940, and June 1940 for the U-33 sinking, which has also been drawn into the story by one writer.

The writer has suggested the the wreck near Skelmorlie is that of U-33, and that for some reason which he is unable to describe (the standard phrase "for reasons which have not been revealed by the British naval authorities" is used in his newspaper interview), the Admiralty went to the trouble of recovering the U-33 and transporting it over 40 miles north of its recorded sinking point off the south of Arran.

Two stories have appeared in the Greenock Telegraph:

OVER the years there has been speculation that during the Second War a German submarine penetrated the `boom` placed across the Clyde at the Cloch lighthouse and, depending on the story, was blown up or escaped back to sea.

In a recent Telegraph article, a Welsh writer called Nigel Graddon told of a theory that a German sub was reputed to have breached the boom on 12 February, 1940, and that it was carrying a German language specialist, Otto Rahn, who was linked to the Nazis' search for the mythical Holy Grail.

A subsequent item suggested there was a Renfrewshire link with the Holy Grail and the Knights Templar.

We have received no further information about the Holy Grail connection.

However, it should be noted that Mr Graddon's reference to February, 1940, conflicts with the late November night in 1939 which is the generally accepted date for claims that German sub breached the boom.

Former Port Glasgow Provost Andrew Wilson, who now lives near Dundee, was a member of the Royal Engineers manning a searchlight battery at the Cloch boom on the November night in question.

He recently popped into the Telegraph office to show me his diary for the start of the war and the night of the supposed sub incident. Here is Andrew's story:

`On the Friday when the works in Port Glasgow and Greenock closed for the 1939 summer holidays — the Fair Fortnight of the first two weeks in July — Robert Cushnagan and I decided to enlist in the RNVR and we were travelling towards the Carrick in the James Watt Dock in Greenock.

`We met Archie Kennedy who stayed near us, and, when we stated our intention of joining the Naval Reserve, he suggested we instead join the Royal Engineers at Fort Matilda, using annual camps and good pay as his sales pitch.

`Archie convinced us, and although Robert had a brother in the RNVR, we went on to join the RE (Renfrewshire Fortress).

`We were informed that the unit was going on its annual camp and we would hear about our drill periods when the camp was over. The next contact was our call up for military from 24 August, 1939.

`The call was duly answered and number one company was despatched to the Cromarty Firth to man the coastal searchlights. Number two company was stationed on the Clyde coastal defence — the Cloch to Dunoon.

`The new recruits (around two dozen of us) were billeted at Fort Matilda, and kitted out with uniform, all relics of the first world war.

`After some initial training we were allocated to the Clyde area and moved to Gamble Institute in Gourock, the floor of which didn't prove any softer bedwise than the 'Fort.'

`We were introduced to the working of searchlights and and to the diesel that supplied the power.

`I was stationed at the Cloch and along with the rest of the section, was eventually billeted in huts on the gunsite manned by the Port Glasgow coastal battery (the guns were six in. calibre).

`Our duties were to 'expose' the lights at night time when ordered, usually two or three times, and our daytime was to service the equipment.

`The lights at the Cloch were a sentry beam which lit up the area alongside the shipping boom on the down-river side if the anchorage, and the number two emplacement beam which carried out a wide search down river from the sentry beam.,

`One night in November (Britain had gone to war with German in September, 1939), another sapper Joe Reid and myself were on duty on No 1 emplacement — the light which was used as a sentry beam.

`We received the alarm to 'expose' the light and a message that this was the real thing as a cargo ship going through the boom gate reported that a U-boat was following in her wake, towards the Tail of the Bank which was the anchorage for a large number of naval ships plus cargo vessels and troop carriers.

`As the boom gate closed several torpedo boats and corvettes raced to the boom, and then turning themselves upriver, spread a pattern of depth charges around the suspect area. This went on for some time with no sign of a U-boat.

`In the manoeuvres one of the corvettes ran bow first onto a slipway at a point where Western Ferries now operates.`

Returning to Andrew's recent visit to the Telegraph office, he told me that while a U-boat may have followed the cargo ship part of the way up the firth, there was nothing to suggest that a German marauder penetrated the boom. He served at the Cloch for some time after the alert but no debris from a German submarine ever came ashore.

Andrew was dispatched to Norway after that country was invaded by Germany. It was the first of several foreign countries in which he would serve during the war.

© Greenock Telegraph[1]

A second article featuring the author mentioned in the above has been found:

An author is probing mysteries involving a German submarine sunk in the Clyde during World War Two. Writer Nigel Graddon believes that the existence of two people who died aboard U33 has been kept secret since 1940 until he uncovered them during recent investigations into U-boat action in the Clyde. Mr Graddon has written articles for historical journals and has been investigating reports — denied by the Ministry of Defence — that a U-boat got through the Cloch Boom defence on 12 February 1940 and was sunk by destroyers. The MoD insists the only U-boat sunk in the Clyde that day was off Arran — but Mr Graddon believes it could have been the same submarine.He said today: `A careful study of wartime records confirms the names of the two 'missing' sailers were Edmund Albrecht and Walter Klinger. Who were these people and why has confirmation of their names, status and mission been kept from the British public all these years? Mr Graddon believes U33 may have tried to get through the Cloch boom, failed and was sunk off Skelmorlie. He said: "Was there a simple cock-up about the crew manifest and these men were harmless sailors after all, or was their mission much more sinister?" If the latter, what were their proposed activities, who were they to meet? Did they have a chance to engage in those activities and/or meet the intended persons in Scottish waters or on land before U33 was attacked? Where was U33 really attacked? Survivor Max Schiller told a Scottish newspaper a few years ago that he believed its last position was between Wemyss Bay and Skelmorlie, 25 miles or so north east of Pladda, where history says U33 was sunk. Was U33 transported by crane ships from Schiller's reported position to Arran for reasons which have not been revealed by the British naval authorities? Captain Christopher Page, head of the MoD's Naval Historical Branch, said in a letter to Mr Graddon: "There is no disagreement that only one U-boat sinking took place in the Clyde in February 1940", and he maintained it happened off Arran. He also said there could have been administrative errors over the names of the missing sailors. This could have happened if they had been removed from the crew at the last minute but not deleted from the crew list — and then recorded as having been lost in a sinking. Mr Graddon would like to hear from any reader who can help him with his researches. You can write to him at: PO Box 27, Barry, Vale of Glamorgan, CF62 3YD.

© Greenock Telegraph[2]


1 The night some believed sub breached wartime defence, Greenock Telegraph, Greenock Telegraph, October 4, 2002

2 Mystery of sub victims, Greenock Telegraph, August 2, 2003

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