U-Boat 85 & The Sea Monster: Terror From The Deep

Experts move a step closer to uncovering the mystery of the German submarine 'attacked by a sea monster' in WW1

By: Robbie M. Historic Mysteries

As the First World War raged on, German submarines were deployed in the Atlantic to attack Allied ships. While many of these U-boats were sunk during the war, one particular submarine, SM UB-85, gained notoriety for an unusual reason.

Put bluntly, its crew reported being attacked by a sea monster. The incident became widely reported in the media, with some newspapers claiming that the U-boat had been attacked by a giant octopus or sea serpent.

How did hardened sailors and military men become convinced that they had been attacked by a sea monster? What exactly did they see out there?

Rescued from a Sea Monster

U-Boat 85 was an active patrol boat of the German Imperial Navy during WWI. It was built by AG Weser in Bremen and, after taking just under a year to build, entered service on 26 October 1917.

Carrying a crew of 3 officers and 31 men, the boat had a cruising range of 8,180 nautical miles (15,150 km; 9,410 mi). With its 10 torpedoes and powerful deck gun, it was the submarine’s job to patrol the seas, hunt down and harass and sink enemy ships.

On her second patrol, she was spotted by the HM Drifter Coreopsis II. The ship attacked the U Boat with depth charges, and it became flooded via a semi-open hatch while trying to avoid the attack.

U-Boat 85 was a Type UB-III submarine, brand new and with an experienced crew and captain (US Navy / Public Domain)

The flooding could not be stopped as cables for an electric heater in the officer’s quarters had been laid through a watertight door. With no other option, the submarine was forced to surface so that the crew could escape.

The crew abandoned the submarine and there were no recorded casualties with the crew being taken as prisoners of war. It is here that things took a strange turn.

Upon being picked up by British forces, the German sailors began claiming that they had been attacked by a mysterious sea monster that had damaged the ship. Reportedly the British sailors were initially sceptical, but after examining the German sub before it sank found that it had been damaged by something that had bitten a large chunk out of the submarine’s side.

The incident became widely reported in the media, with some newspapers claiming that the U-boat had been attacked by a giant octopus or sea serpent. When the captain was interrogated, he claimed that the night before the British attack the ship had surfaced to recharge its batteries.

It was then that the ship had been attacked by a large sea creature, damaging the submarine and leaving it unable to submerge. The captain was adamant: something unknown had attacked his boat.

What Really Happened?

Unsurprisingly, most historians don’t believe that U-Boat 85 was really attacked by a sea monster. Several theories have been put forward as to why the sailors might have made such a bold claim.

The most realistic theory is that the sailors were just trying to save face. If it’s true that a watertight door was unable to close due to some cabling, then the loss of the ship could be blamed directly on the captain’s orders and the crew who followed them. It’s hard to imagine a worse mistake being made on a submarine.

A more generous theory is that the crew wasn’t lying. Perhaps they were suffering from the effects of spending long periods of time underwater in a cramped and dangerous environment.

This could have led to hallucinations or other psychological effects that caused them to believe they had been attacked by a sea monster. When one considers how superstitious sailors tend to be on a good day, this theory does make a modicum of sense.

Or perhaps it was an attempt at wartime propaganda. Rather than admitting defeat at the hands of the Brits, the crew may have simply made up the story to dishearten German sailors.

In World War I, both sides used various tactics to demoralize their enemies, and spreading stories of sea monsters or other supernatural beings could have been seen as a way to undermine the morale of the British sailors. No German sailor would want to put to sea knowing that a monster awaited them.

Giant Squid?

Or maybe, just maybe it’s possible that the crew really was attacked. Another possible explanation for the crew’s claim of a sea monster attack is that they may have actually encountered a large marine animal that caused the damage to the U-boat.

There have been cases of giant squid attacking submarines and other underwater vessels, and it’s possible that something similar happened to UB-85. It would have to be an enormous and powerful creatures, but the possibility of such animals existing remains a possibility.

Giant squid, and the even larger colossal squid, were once thought to be non-existent, but we now know they are real (Citron / CC-BY-SA-3.0)

However, it’s important to note that there is no concrete evidence to support this theory. While there have been reports of large marine animals attacking ships and submarines in the past, these incidents are relatively rare and it’s unlikely that a single animal could have caused the extensive damage that was reported on UB-85.

Realistically, it seems unlikely that the U Boat 85 was really attacked by a sea monster. There are just too many holes in the story for it to keep afloat.

Eyewitness accounts record both the ship being rammed by British convoy escorts and depth charges being dropped on the submarine. These eyewitness accounts came from both British and German sailors who witnessed the event.

Then there’s the report that the ship boat flooded because one of the doors could not be closed. This really makes it sound like the captain and his men were trying to avoid possible Court Martials by blaming something outside of their control.

There are even accusations that the entire story is a modern fabrication. A case of clickbait gone wild after U-Boat 85 was rediscovered by marine archaeologists in 2005. This would explain why there are so many conflicting stories, and so little evidence.

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Historic Mysteries
Dean. S. 2016Lyons. J. 2018 Kane. J. 2016

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