The Beached German Submarine U-118 at Hastings, England

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In the morning of 15 April, 1919, the townsfolk of Hastings, in Sussex, on the south coast of England, woke up to an astonishing sight. A huge German U-boat had washed ashore right in front of the popular Queens Hotel. The wreck of the submarine became an overnight sensation, drawing in tourists from all over England, Wales and Scotland.

The submarine SM U-118 was commissioned on 8 May 1918, and put into service in the eastern Atlantic. The SM U-118 scored its first hit on the British steamer Wellington after four months. Early the following month, U-118 sank its second and last ship, the British tanker Arca. With the ending of hostilities on 11 November 1918 came the subsequent surrender of the Imperial German Navy, including SM U-118 to France on 23 February 1919.

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Following surrender U-118 was to be transferred to France where it would be broken up for scrap. However, in the early hours of 15 April 1919, while it was being towed through the English Channel towards Scapa Flow, its dragging hawser broke off in a storm. The ship ran aground on the beach at Hastings in Sussex at approximately 12:45am, directly in front of the Queens Hotel.

Initially there were attempts to displace the stricken vessel. Three tractors tried to refloat the submarine and a French destroyer attempted to break the ship apart using its cannons. These attempts however were unsuccessful and the proximity of the submarine to the public beach and Queens Hotel dissuaded further use of explosive forces.

Meanwhile there was a steady stream of visitors to Hastings to see the beached vessel. Seeing an opportunity at fund raising, the vessel was put in charge of the local coastguard station and the Admiralty allowed the Town Clerk of Hastings to charge a small fee for people to climb on the deck of the submarine. In two weeks, the town collected almost £300 (UK£ 13,100 in 2015) which helped fund an event to welcome the town's troops returning from the war.

The visits to the ship were however curtailed when the two men of the coastguard tasked with showing important visitors around inside the submarine became severely ill. Initially It was thought that rotten foodstuffs in the submarine were causing the problems however, despite the visits being discontinued, the illnesses continued and got worse. Both men died shortly after. The cause of the deaths were later identified to be a noxious gas, possibly chlorine released from the submarine's damaged batteries, that had caused abscesses on the lungs and brains of the unfortunate men.

Although visits inside the submarine were stopped, people continued flock the beach to take pictures of themselves standing alongside or even on the deck of the U-boat. Eventually, between October and December 1919, U-118 was broken up and the pieces removed and sold for scrap.

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Photo credit: rarehistoricalphotos.com

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Photo credit: rarehistoricalphotos.com

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Photo credit: rarehistoricalphotos.com

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Photo credit: Unknown/Wikimedia

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Source: Wikipedia

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