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Der U-Boats: Seenschlange?

"The imperious seas breed monsters..."
~Cymbeline, Act IV, Scene 2

Ah, the final week of fall term at Drexel. The time of year when even the weather turns against us, doing its best to derail our final-exam efforts. That's why, for my last article of the term, I decided to go back to my roots and write about a sea monster. Not just any sea monster, though: a sea monster that eats submarines. German submarines.

The year was 1918, and the war to end all wars was rolling to a close. Though the fighting on land was one of static positional warfare, what with the trenches and such, warfare on the high seas was a bit more flexible. The Germans had developed a formidable new weapon, der underseeboot, or "under-sea boat." A submarine. Of course, the British, not to be outdone, began to custom tailor their navy to hunting down and destroying submarines. U-boats were renown for their stealth and tenacity in battle: Often times, the first sign that there was a U-boat in your area was when one of their torpedoes appeared, heading towards your ship.

Thus, you can imagine the surprise of the crew of the British patrol vessel Coreopsis when, while sailing off of Belfast, they came across a U-Boat just lounging about on the surface. They were even more surprised when the entire crew of the submarine abandoned ship and surrendered. Enthusiasts in sea monsters claim that the crew of this U-boat (UB-85) was in for an experience "they would never forget." Whether or not they never forgot it, they certainly never talked much about it: All the sources I can find are second hand at best, "I heard once that a ship…" or "it was claimed that…" type of things. That should be the first sign that something is, if you will forgive the nautical pun, fishy.

According to the internet, that scourge of modern ethical reporting, the captain of the U-boat, a fellow by the name of Gunther Krech, told an amazing tale. The story goes that he claimed the U-boat had surfaced during the night to recharge her batteries and give the sailors a chance to have a smoke. While surfaced, an enormous sea serpent appeared and climbed onto the side of the ship. The men, startled, began shooting at it with their sidearms, which apparently infuriated the beast and made it bite down on or grab hold of the forward gun. The sea monster was so massive that the U-boat began to slip to the side, and the captain feared that the open hatch might slip below the water level, flooding the interior of the boat and sinking her. The sailors continued firing away at the monster, who eventually grew tired of such things and left, swimming back into the mysterious depths from which it came, leaving behind only terrified sailors and a badly damaged submersible. In his little on-deck tap-dance, the monster supposedly damaged the forward deck plating. The U-boat would never dive underwater again!

That is, supposedly, how the crew of the Coreopsis was able to take prisoner the entire crew of the UB-85. The captain is said to have described the sea monster as: "This beast had large eyes, set in a horny sort of skull. It had a small head, but with teeth that could be seen glistening in the moonlight." Of course, because this is something involving the paranormal, it's not possible to trace the source that first reported these astonishing words. Just like supposed evidence proving the existence of UFOs, it's something a friend of a friend of a relative read on the internet somewhere one time.

This tale is amazing. It's fascinating. It's not even remotely true. There was no sea monster that night, and this tale is one of the many, many tales that gets passed around by internet and word of mouth until everyone assumes it is true. What proof do I have of this? The official report of the incident, as recorded by the British Naval Department:"(UB-85) Hit by gunfire of Coreopsis while attempting to dive. Resurfaced and abandoned by her crew at 5447N 0523W" Those last are coordinates that, apparently, mean something to people that are better at geography than I.

But wait, there's more! U-boat buffs and paranormal enthusiasts alike are quick to point out that this is not the only time when one of the Kaiser's great oceanic hunters reported a close encounter of the extremely strange kind.

Earlier in the war another U-boat, the U28 Schmidt, was going about its' daily routine; that is to say, it was shooting at a British freighter. The U-boat was able to hit the freighter, the name of which seems to have been the Iberian, with a torpedo and sink it. The Iberian sank beneath the waves, on her way to a watery resting place, and set off a tremendous explosion, either the cargo she was carrying or her fuel supply going up. Into the air was thrown, supposedly, all sorts of debris, including a 60-foot long crocodile. According to various sources, the captain of the ship described it as "…with four limbs resembling large webbed feet, a long, pointed tail and a head which also tapered to a point."

These two stories have a lot in common, in that they both involve gigantic sea monsters, and in that there is absolutely no proof that either of them ever happened. While the action reports of the Coreopsis lend credence to the idea that the first story is made up, the fact that no one can track down a World-War One era freighter named Iberian seems to shoot a hole in the veracity of the second one. Both UB-85 and U28 were real vessels; one can find all the information they want about them on the internet.

It should be mentioned that in none of the iterations of these stories that I've been able to find has any crew member from these two submarines been mentioned by name other than their captains. Maybe it's not such a coincidence that, on the various sites dedicated to nautical themes, only the captain's name is listed next to the name of a submarine.

Finally, one should always beware stories that don't have any sources. I've not been able to find a recounting of these tales of horror that have any source information more specific than "the captain said…". Where, when, and to whom they said these things is never mentioned; reputable publications in which their comments were reprinted appear to be non-existent. This especially should be a giant red flag to anyone interested in the occult and paranormal. It is the obligation of the people making these ridiculous claims to back them up with solid evidence and convince everyone else; I remain thoroughly unconvinced by stories that don't at the very least cite a single source.

So there it is: Two fictional stories of fictional sea monsters with just enough detail to sound right. As always, ask yourself which is more likely: that sea monsters are cruising around the north Atlantic and, for some reason, decided to make themselves known right about the First World War, or that people on the internet like to exaggerate?

This is the last issue of the paper for this term. Next term, you've got some good reading to look forward to. On deck there's an interview with a fellow who spotted the Hudson Valley UFO of which I wrote a few weeks ago and, to my great surprise, a gentleman actually accepted my challenge to a debate on any paranormal-related incident of his choosing. It looks like I've got a busy winter break ahead of me.

Be seeing you.

First Published in The Triangle, 9 December 2005

Author's note: neither of the two articles I said would be written in the future panned out. Both of the sources to whom I had been talked seem to have dropped off of the face of the earth.