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Forgotten Wrecks of the First World War

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SM U-103

Built: 1917

Lost: 1918

Reason for Loss: Rammed

Olympic, sister ship to the ill-fated Titanic, was requisitioned by the Admiralty for war work in 1915. In May 1918, with an escort of American destroyers, Olympic was heading for France carrying 9,000 American troops. South of Cornwall, a number of U-boats lay in wait, hoping to intercept the fast convoys coming into the English Channel.

In the early hours of the 12th May, U-103’s lookouts spotted the liner, but the submarine was sighted as it prepared to attack. Guns on Olympic opened fire and Captain Bertram Hayes turned his ship towards the U-boat at ramming speed. U-103 dived but the Olympic rammed into its port side causing it to sink stern first to a depth of 50m.

Severely damaged, the tanks of U-103 were blown to bring the U-boat back to the surface and 36 men were able to escape; 27 of them were picked up by the destroyer USS Davis.

Olympic continued on to France and Captain Bertram Hayes was awarded a Distinguished Service Order (DSO) for this action.  After the war he was knighted for “valuable services in connection with the transport of troops during the War”.

Today the wreck of U-103 lies at a depth of approximately 90m halfway between Cornwall and France. Its location and depth makes it largely inaccessible to divers but in 2008 it was surveyed by a Remotely Operated Vehicle (ROV) and subsequently identified.

During the First World War, 200 U-boats were lost with more than 5,000 officers and crew. They are commemorated on the U-boat Memorial at Möltenort near Kiel, Germany.