Friday, 10 August 2001 00:00

Operation Deadlight 2001 Expedition

By Innes McCartney

The expedition, led by 'submarine-hunter' Innes McCartney, will be the first attempt by technical divers to survey and identify the wrecks of German U-Boats scuttled by the Allies after WWII in the waters north of Ireland.

There are 54 submarines which lie within the depth reachable using today's technical diving equipment and methods, and it is believed that the wrecks of these vessels, sunk during Operation Deadlight, could in future be seen as one of the world's greatest naval heritage sites and compared to such locations as Bikini Atoll, Scapa Flow and Truk Lagoon.

Part 1

A Bit Of History
At the end of 1945 Britain had in its possession 110 German U-boats, based at Loch Ryan, Scotland and Lisahally, Northern Ireland. The British Government made a decision that all these boats were to be sunk by various means in deep water. Some say this was meant to be a terrible retribution for the damage that U-boats had done to the Allies. Orders issued on 14th November 1945 outlined the fate of these vessels and "Operation Deadlight" began.

Those vessels that were to be scuttled had explosive charges placed in the forward and aft torpedo tubes and various hatches. These were to be detonated by use of a physically set fuse, or in the event that men were unable to board, an electrical fuse, detonated by the towing ship. The other U-boats where to be sunk by aircraft, gunfire, torpedoes and the then top-secret "Squid" ship-to-ship missile.

Operation Deadlight's D-Day was to be 25th November 1945 and would continue until 12th February 1946. The U-boats were to be towed to an area approximately 120 miles northwest of Ireland known as Position ZZ. Due to the onset of winter gales and unsuitable towing vessels, 57 U-boats never made it to Position ZZ.

U3514 (Type VIIc) was the last U-boat to be sunk in Operation Deadlight. On the morning of Tuesday 12th February HMS Loch Arkaig sent five 4'' shells towards U-514. Only one shell hit the casting forward of the conning tower. She then strafed the U-3514 with close range weapons, but the U-3514 was still afloat. HMS Loch Arkaig then fired six "Shark projectiles". Two hit amidships and one ricocheted off the conning tower without exploding. The commander of HMS Arkaig ordered the ship to break away and prepare for another run using "Squid" missiles. Whist the Arkaig was getting into a reasonable attacking position, the bows of U-3514 began to sink. She hung there vertically for a moment, then slid underwater. HMS Arkaig finally loss contact with the U-boat at 600 feet. U-3514 had, in her last action, demonstrated many of the reasons why the Allies had found it so difficult to deal with the U-boat menace during WWII.

About The Expedition


Among the U-boats sunk during Operation Deadlight are some of the most famous U-boats of the Second World War which were captained by some of the greatest commanders. The 2001 Expedition, which will take place in the last two weeks of July based aboard MV Salutay, aims to capture for posterity these historic wrecks using underwater photography and video.

The expedition is focusing on filming two of the revolutionary Type XXI 'electro' U-boats. This class has been called the world’s first true submarine because it was designed to operate entirely underwater. Earlier U-boat designs should perhaps be more correctly described as 'submersibles', as they were reliant on frequent returns to the surface for battery charging and ventilation. The Type XXI was introduced into service in 1945, but many unresolved technical problems prevented it from reaching its true potential.

U-2511, captained by Adelbert Schnee, was the only Type XXI U-boat to sail against the Allies. This and Horst von Schroter’s U-2506, another Type XXI, will be key targets for the expedition.

The successful U-155, a Type IXC which was captained between 1941 and 1944 by Adolf Piening, is another target. Piening was responsible for the sinking of 26 ships including the British carrier 'Avenger'. Jurgen Oesten’s cargo U-boat U-861, and Heinrich Schroteler’s U-1023 are also to be filmed. U-1023 was the last German U-boat to sink an Allied warship: Schroteler torpedoed the British minesweeper NYMS 382, before surrendering at Portland six days later.

These vessels represent the wide ranging activities of U-boats in World War Two and each has an interesting service history.


The expedition boat MV Salutay is a 59 foot motor yacht, well equipped for technical diving. She carries two compressors, a Haskel booster pump and the necessary supplies of oxygen and helium, and is fitted with Vosper stabilisers to help cope with choppy conditions.

The diving depths will be in the 75m range and diving will be done using both open-circuit and closed-circuit trimix.

Based aboard the Salutay, the team hope to be able to range widely across the Operation Deadlight area. The seas north of Malin Head have little or no tide so the dive team will be able to use a ROV to look at three or four submarines each day, before they deciding on which one they wish to dive.

The Ministry of Defense and the UK Hydrographics Office have been fully informed of the expedition's plans and objectives.

Part 2

Expedition Diary

This is the personal diary of Innes McCartney which recounts the day to day events of the expedition.

Day One: 14th July 2001

Target: Unidentified submarine wreck.

Depth: 60 metres

Weather and sea conditions: Sunny, wind 3-4 NW

Underwater visibility: 20-30m

Diving report:
This wreck lies 1.5 miles from the reported sinking position of U218, which foundered under tow on 4/12/45 while on her way to be expended as an aircraft target. We therefore expected that this wreck would turn out to be this rare VIID U-boat.

At a depth of 60 metres in huge visibility and much ambient light, the wreck of U218 was found. The superb conditions made for high quality video and stills images of the wreck. She was an absolutely incredible sight.

U218 lies over on a 45-degree list to port. Apart from minor damage to bow and stern, this wreck is completely intact. The 5-chute mine section behind the conning tower made this wreck easily indefinable. She is the only VIID in the world that has been dived so far, making her a rare treat for the diving team, and a fantastic way to begin the expedition.

The underwater conditions at the moment mean that we are expecting several other first-class submarine dives in the next few days.

Underwater images of all the wrecks will be made available at the end of the expedition.

On the way from Portpatrick to the wreck, MV Salutay passed over the wreck of U1014, which was sunk in February 1945. As a war-grave, she is a salutary reminder of the realities of the U-boat war. The diving team took time to reflect upon the huge sacrifices made by the Ubootwaffe in WW2.

Day Two: 15th July 2001

Target: U2511 - Type XXI

Depth: 69 metres

Weather and sea conditions: Sunny, wind 3 NW

Underwater visibility: 20-30m

Diving report:
The wreck of U2511 was located and dived by our skipper Al Wright (see Meet the Team) in 1999. Since then, it had not been re-visited until this month. Today the Operation Deadlight Expedition dived the wreck and photographed and videoed it extensively.

Diving at midday in bright sunshine, the wreck was visible from 45 metres on descent!! It was possible to see the entire submarine lying on a white sand bottom, clearly recognisable as Adalbert Schnee's U2511.

A tour of this wreck reveals that it lies on its port side and is essentially completely intact. The point section of the bows has gone and the divers could see all six of the torpedo tubes pointing forward. Continuing along the hull, the torpedo-loading hatch was open. Passing that, the massive conning tower, which dominates the wreck, came into view. The forward flak turret is still in place, looking absolutely spectacular, as did the slightly raised sky periscope. The conning tower hatch was open, as was the hatch that led to the stern flak turret. This has fallen off the tower and lies upside down on the seabed. Aft of the tower, the wreck is complete, all the way to the stern, where the hydroplanes and single rudder are still in position.

U2511 was sunk by gunfire, after her towing cable broke. There is a sizable blast hole in her starboard side, alongside the tower. Swimming into this hole reveals a mass of cabling and many batteries all along the keel section of the wreck. Looking forward, the divers could see the open bulkhead door leading to the forward compartment.

This was one of the most spectacular U-boat dives I have ever done (I have dived more than 40). It is a rare sight indeed to have the visibility to see an entire submarine in view at 69 metres. This was made all the more significant by the fact that the wreck was U2511, the only Type XXI to approach an allied navy convoy.

U2511 is perhaps the most historically important U-boat wreck of the Deadlight fleet. She has now been photographed and filmed for posterity. A spectacular, if salutary reminder of the massive jump in submarine design and technology made during World War Two.

Tomorrow we hope to be able to locate U2506, the other diveable Type XXI in these waters…. We'll keep you all posted.

When one looks at photos of U2511 in Norway, or at Deadlight, she appears to be a light grey, even white, when the other Type XXIs around her seem to be painted in the standard navy-issue grey. My friend, Jak Mallman-Showell explained that, Adi Schnee had taken a ride in an aircraft over his base in Norway and seen the way that the XXIs stood out from above. He then decided to re-paint U2511 with a brighter colour to afford it a higher degree of camouflage.

As with any of the U-boats that I have dived, I welcome correspondence with crewmembers and their families.

Day Three: 16th July 2001

Target: Unknown submarine wreck. Never dived previously.

Depth: 69 metres

Weather and sea conditions: Sunny, wind 2 SE

Underwater visibility: 20m

Diving report:
Today we had hoped that the position we were to dive would turn out to be U2506. However, what we found has turned out to be a bit of a mystery. The diving team were looking at a position slightly to the north of a cluster of submarines sunk during Operation Deadlight.

At 69 metres depth, the diving team located the wreck of a Type VIIC U-boat. It is certain that this submarine is NOT one of the Deadlight fleet. According to Dr Niestle, two U-boats were lost in these waters at the end of World War Two. It seems we have found one of them, but which one?

The evidence pointing to this being a war loss is as follows:
a) The attack periscope and schnorchel have been bent/broken off at about the height of the conning tower. The base of the schnorchel stands upright, still located in its collar on the conning tower. The attack periscope is bend right over, so that the lens is buried in the seabed.
b) There are closed ready-use ammunition lockers around the collapsed wintergarden area. Deadlight U-boats were stripped of all ammunition.
c) All the hatches on the wreck are closed - suggesting it was schnorcheling at the time of sinking.
d) There are no signs of damage to the pressure hull - from gunfire/squid/air etc, as could be expected if this had been sunk during Deadlight.
e) The position does not tally with any Type VIICs sunk during Operation Deadlight.

From the damage to the wreck, it seems likely that this submarine was in a collision whist schnorchelling, which resulted in the boat flooding. It is possible that we will never know how this happened.

Other observations made on the wreck included the fact that it had not been fitted with life raft canisters on the bows and that it seemed to have been constructed to carry a deck-gun, as the mounting could be seen forward of the conning tower. There was no evidence of an air radar search receiver on the head of the schnorchel.

Dr. Niestle's reappraisal of World War Two U-boat losses places both U482 and U296 tentatively in these waters. Both of these U-boats were schnorchel-equipped VIICs (U296 was a VIIC/41), launched on the same day in 1943. It is quite likely that we have found one of these two U-boats. However, as with all unidentified U-boat wrecks, the above can only be considered speculation. Two other U-boats were sunk around this area: U1014 (which has been found - see report for day one) and U1003. The sinking circumstances for U1003 don't seem to fit the condition of the wreck we have located, because. there were survivors from U1003, meaning that the hatches could be expected to be open. Moreover the sinking of U1003 occurred several miles to the east of this wreck.

For researchers and others interested in looking into this mystery, the wreck in question was situated at approximately 55 38N 07 26W.

Diving on a wreck that seems to be a war-grave was a sombre surprise for the expedition divers. Today we remember the lost from both sides of the Battle of the Atlantic.

Planning ahead, we are hoping to look for U155 (Adolph Peining's boat) and continue our search for U2506.

Part 3

Day Four
: 17th July 2001

Target: U861 - Type IXD2. Unable to dive due to bad weather.

Depth: 43 metres

Weather and sea conditions: Sunny, wind 7 E

Underwater visibility: unknown

Diving report:
Easterly gales prevented us from attempting to reach our planned targets for today. Instead, we planned to dive the well-known wreck of U861, which was sunk during Operation Deadlight. Even though this site is protected by Inishtrahull island, the sea conditions were too dangerous for diving.

Instead we satisfied ourselves by locating the wreck on sounder and planning to dive this wreck at some time later in the expedition.

We will be running into Portrush tonight. In the event that the weather does not blow through overnight, allowing us to get back on track, we will be well placed to attempt either U861 or the war-grave U1014 tomorrow.

We have reviewed the video footage from the dives conducted so far and can confirm that it includes some of the finest footage of sunken submarines we have ever seen!!!

Media interest in Ireland and Scotland has been increasing steadily. Innes is conducting radio and newspaper interviews daily as the expedition continues to grab the attention of the public.

Plans are now afoot to find the best possible means of presenting a film of the expedition, showing the spectacular images so far attained.

Day Five: 18th July 2001

Target: No target due to gales.

Weather and sea conditions: Sunny, wind 7 E

Diving report:
Gales prevented us leaving Portrush harbour for most of the day.

We intend to move to Ballycastle tonight. In the event that the winds continue as they are, we will be able to dive on the wreck of U33, which is in the entrance to the Clyde. Although not a Deadlight wreck, she has an interesting history in the tale of the cracking of Enigma. Also, she is a rare Type VIIA, equipped with the 88mm deck-gun.

If the winds drop, we will be able also to reach the site of U861.

Weather intervenes on all diving expeditions.

It is time to be philosophical and wait for the weather to change.

Day Five: 18th July 2001 - Supplemental

Due to bad weather, the Operation Deadlight Expedition is currently in port.

In order to give the viewer some information to read today, I would like to take this opportunity to list some of the U-boat wrecks I have located and filmed over the last few years. Links to where you can read more about the wrecks and see some underwater images are included.

UC65 - LaLa Lafrenz' U-boat sunk by a British submarine. Wreck in two halves.
UC51 - Minelayer lost of Start Point in a British minefield. Mine chutes still full of 'eggs'.
UB81 - Rhienhold Saltzwedel's submarine, lost in tragic circumstances off the Isle of Wight.
UB72 - Sunk by a British submarine in Mid-Channel - fantastic dive.
UB37 - Sunk by a British Q-ship - small UBII-Class in excellent condition.
UB74 - Sunk by Yacht 'Lorna' - one survivor killed by exploding depth charges.
UB130 - Sunk on way to breakers yard.
Unidentified U-cruiser - located off Brixham.

Underwater images of some of these wrecks can be seen at

U33 - VIIA - Enigma rotors came into allied hands as a result of the sinking.
U480 - An Alberich U-boat identified 200 miles from its official sinking position.
U678 - Sunk by a Canadian escort group off Brighton.
U671 - Sunk off Brighton.
U1195 - Sunk off the Isle of Wight after sinking the liner 'Cuba'.
U772 - Sunk off Portland.
U1191 - Sunk in Mid-Channel.
U212 - Lost off the Sussex coast U269 - Macintyre's last kill - sunk Mid-Channel.
U413 - Gustav Poel's boat, lost off Brighton.
Unidentified VIIC - NE of Cherbourg - We believe that this could be U767, however this is still far from certain.
U741 - lost in the Baie de Seine.
Unidentified VIIC - Baie de Seine - NOT U390 or U741 - possibly U441 or U988.
U260 - Mined off southern Ireland - images available at

Underwater images of many of these wrecks can be seen at

I hope you enjoy the images. I am always interested in corresponding with families who have an interest in any of the U-boats mentioned, or sunk around the British Isles.

Day Six: 19th July 2001

Target: U1014 VIIC/41

Depth: 69 metres

Weather and sea conditions: Sunny, wind 2-3 E

Underwater visibility: 20 metres

Diving report:
Gales prevented us leaving Portrush harbour for most of the day. However, the weather dramatically improved in the afternoon, so the team was able to make a dive on the wreck of U1014, which was sunk in 1945 by an escort group off Portrush.

This submarine wreck is extremely badly damaged. It was hit by depth charges in three places, reducing the submarine to a useless hulk. It is clear that the crew mercifully must have died quickly.

The blast holes are in the forward torpedo room, the area around the captains bunk/sound/radio rooms and aft of the winter garden. The damage amidships is so bad, that little of the conning tower remains. The hydraulic elevator for the schnorchel is now sitting where the captain would have slept. Only the 'Atlantic' bow and the stern remain undamaged.

This wreck is heavily populated with lobsters and conger eels.

Yesterday afternoon was spent in the company of BBC Television who interviewed the divers and prepared to release a news story for 5-6pm tonight. The story lasted 2.5 minutes and showed the footage of U2511 along with the background to the expedition.

Tomorrow and Saturday are changeover days when some divers leave the expedition and others join.

Hopefully, weather dependent, the next expedition diary will appear on Sunday. We intend to head back to the area where we expect to find U155 and possibly U2506.

Many thanks to my friend Axel Niestle for his analysis of the dive we conducted on Day 3. It is heartening to know that our discoveries can lead to the identification of an unknown submarine loss. This has happened several times over the years and is the greatest reward we as divers can have from our endeavours.

Part 4

Day Seven: 22nd July 2001

Target: U369 VIIC

Weather and sea conditions: Sunny, wind 2-3S/w

Depth: 67 metres

Underwater visibility: 20 metres

Diving report:
In excellent sunny conditions we travelled back to the Deadlight area and arrived in time to make a dive on an undived U-boat. We believed that this could be either U778 or U369.

The wreck itself is the most intact U-boat any of us have ever seen!! The conning tower retains its cladding, and all of its bridge equipment!! Really an incredible sight to see!! Again, the video images are stunning, even when considering that the divers encountered strong currents on this dive.

As for identity, the wreck has a mounting for a 88mm deck-gun, it is schnorchel-equipped, with the head having both 'bali' and the sorbothane coating. There were no life raft canisters on the bow. From this information, we deduce that this is probably the wreck of the school boat U369.

A school boat is a rare dive in British waters. It was especially pleasing to find it so intact.

It looks as if we are in for a few days good weather, so look out for some exciting reports in the next few days.

Day Eight: 23rd July 2001

Target: U637 VIIC

Weather and sea conditions: Overcast, wind 5-6 SW

Depth: 70 metres

Underwater visibility: 25 metres

Diving report:
The position we dived today was likely to be U637 or U155 (which we were hoping it would be).

The diving conditions were marginal, with wind and building seas. Only 3 divers made the choice to go in. However, as with the other submarine wrecks in these waters, they were treated to a spectacular dive.

The wreck was that of a VIIC lying on its port side. The visibility was so good, the divers could see the wreck from 45 metres while descending!! Again the video footage of the wreck is simply fantastic!

A brief description of the wreckage - The bow tubes have been dragged off to one side, with all four still held together in the bow bracket. The bow end of the pressure hull marked the beginning of the main wreck. Galley hatch has fallen open, she was fitted with a schnorchel with anti-radar covering and air radar warning dipole. The conning tower hatch was shut, while the bow torpedo-loading hatch has also fallen open, revealing a pile of Kriegsmarine china in the torpedo room, which was a surprise, since we believe that allied souvenir-hunters had stripped most of these before scuttling. The bow tube has also been torn away from the wreck.

Generally this wreck was in poor condition.

Interestingly, this is the first time I have seen the racking used to hold the ready-use ammunition for the 88mm deck -gun.

Our hunt for U155 continues..

We expect the weather to get better over the next couple of days, so we continue to explore the wrecks of Operation Deadlight - submarine diving heaven.

Day Nine: 24th July 2001

Target: U155 IXC

Weather and sea conditions: Sunny, wind 4-5W

Depth: 73 metres

Underwater visibility: 25 metres

Diving report:

The location of this most famous of U-boats was one of the key expedition targets, and today, we believe we achieved it. To be the first to dive on Adolf Piening's U-boat was a great treat for the team and a just reward for the efforts all of us have put in, especially to keep diving during this period of marginal weather.

In stunning visibility at 73 metres the unmistakable giant shape of the Type IXC U-boat was found sitting bolt upright on the seabed. Her forward hydroplanes and torpedo tubes have fallen off to one side, revealing the bow end of her pressure hull, apart from this damage, the wreck was entirely intact. This included all of the outer cladding attached to the pressure hull, which gave this wreck the 'beamy' shape of the Type IX.

Some observations about the wreck include the schnorchel on the starboard side of the foredeck (with round dipole), the heavily reinforced support for the wintergarden still in place (like the one on U869), conning tower hatch open (allowing the divers to see clear into the control room via the opened lower hatch), aft dingy recess on the deck was empty, both external torpedo doors were shut. All of the external torpedo containers have been removed.

There was no evidence of life raft canisters having been fitted to this U-boat.

This was undoubtedly one of the most impressive dives we have done during the course of the expedition. The video footage of this wreck is some of the most mind-blowing taken so far. Extensive stills photographs were also taken.

What of U2506? Well, we have dived every submarine wreck that has been found during admiralty surveys over the last 20 years, which lie within five miles of where she supposedly foundered. She will be here somewhere and the search continues. It is becoming apparent that the 1946 disposals have the least accurate sinking positions and that generally the Loch Ryan disposals are more accurate than the Lisahally ones, although in the long-run this may not turn out to be the case.

We may find U2506 tomorrow, when we examine a position, which like many others in these waters has no obvious identity.

Operation Deadlight Expedition Phase II will be running from 3rd to 18th May 2002. Any interested sponsors and divers should e-mail me as soon as possible. We are making history - the hard way - please support us.

Part 5

Day Ten: 25th July 2001

Target: U637 VIIC

Weather and sea conditions: Sunny, wind 2 SE

Depth: 70 metres

Underwater visibility: 25 metres

Diving report:
This wreck is definitely U637, NOT the one we dived on Day 8.

The wreck is a very intact VIIC, which under normal circumstances would be difficult to tell from any other VIICs sunk during Operation Deadlight. However, it had one feature, which makes it very special indeed - a ring-float schnorchel head. U637 was photographed with one prior to being disposed of.

All other features of this wreck, were as per normal late-war VIIC.

Life raft canisters on bows. As to the real identity of the one we dived on day 8 - we suggested it was U637, because of its proximity to the sinking position of this U-boat - we were wrong - Our Deadlight photo album proves this. So the nearest type VIIs are U281 and U 1010. The presence of the 88mm gun mounting suggests that U281 is a possibility. However, we are learning that the positional information from official reports of Operation Deadlight is far from accurate. In fact, much of it seems, by today's standards to be highly unreliable.

Much more work is required to guarantee the identities which we have tentatively given to some of the U-boats we have dived. The one we dived on Day 7 - is now thought to be U778, thanks to Axel Niestle's continued assistance.

An interesting day, with at least one mystery surrounding the identities of these submarine wrecks definitely cleared up. We will publish a final report on our findings when we have had a chance to confer in detail at the end of the expedition.

Operation Deadlight Expedition Phase II will be running from 3rd to 18th May 2002. Any interested sponsors and divers should e-mail me as soon as possible. We are making history - the hard way - please support us.

Day Eleven: 26th July 2001

Target: Unidentified VIIC

Weather and sea conditions: Overcast, wind 1 SE

Depth: 69 metres

Underwater visibility: 25 metres

Diving report:
Another submarine wreck in astonishing visibility!

This wreck is a late-war VIIC with schnorchel to fit with conning tower trunking, and life raft canisters on the bow. Otherwise, there was little to differentiate this wreck from several other Type VIIs lost in this area.

Possible identities include U778, U281 and U825. Certainly, until several other positions in this area have been filmed, categorical identification will be impossible. However, it is possible that by working with Dr Niestle, a solution may present itself.

Tomorrow is our last diving day. We will be looking at another submarine mark 2 miles west of where we were today. Hopefully this will help to sort out the riddle of which submarine wreck is which.

We will publish a final report on our findings when we have had a chance to confer in detail at the end of the expedition. This process will involve coming up with a list of targets for Phase II, which takes place in May 2002.

Operation Deadlight Expedition Phase II will be running from 3rd to 18th May 2002. Any interested sponsors and divers should e-mail me as soon as possible. We are making history - the hard way - please support us.

Day Twelve: 27th July 2001

Target: Unidentified VIIC

Weather and sea conditions: Sunny, wind 3-4 SW

Depth: 69 metres

Underwater visibility: 25 metres

Diving report:
Yet another submarine wreck in astonishing visibility!

This is another VIIC wreck. It clearly shows the signs of the gunfire that sunk her. There is a blast hole though the conning tower, but more impressively, the entire bows have been blasted away. The forward section of the wreck contains all four torpedo tubes intact and the forward hydroplanes. The break affords the opportunity for the divers to swim right into the wreck, and peer through the forward torpedo room doorway and see right into the control room.

The other fascinating feature about this wreck is that it is the second U-boat wreck we have located that has been fitted with the 'ring float' schnorchel head. It is great to have found two wrecks which have this very rare fitting.

The conning tower hatches were open, as was the galley hatch. There was no evidence of the wreck being fitted with life raft canisters. Again the visibility was superb and the video footage is of the finest quality.

This great dive concludes phase one of OPERATION DEADLIGHT EXPEDITIONS. A fuller report on our findings will be published in due course. We have learned much and still have much more to investigate. This includes making two extra-deep dives to film an example of the Type IID and the Type XXIII. Sadly U2506 and U541 have eluded us. We will need to employ side scanning sonar next year to locate these.

Operation Deadlight Expedition Phase II will be running from 3rd to 18th May 2002. Any interested sponsors and divers should e-mail me as soon as possible. We are making history - the hard way - please support us.