A submarine in the Thames

27 Aug

Submarines were a potent symbol of German ‘frightfulness’ in the Great War. They were tools in the Kaiser’s attempt to starve out the British population by blockade in 1915 and again in 1917.  In 1916, one of these monstrous machines appeared in London for the public to visit.

In 1915, the German Government declared that from 1915 the waters around the UK were to be subject to unrestricted submarine warfare – that no warning would be given to ships before they were attacked. The fact that this was in response to the British blockade of Germany was either ignored or deemed irrelevant by Britons, who saw German submarine attacks (along with Zeppelin raids) as barbarous acts reinforcing the righeousness of Britain’s part in the war.

One of the submarines (the phrase ‘U-boat’ was more common in the Second World War than the First) in the German fleet in 1915 was UC5 launched in 1915, under the command of Oberleutenant Herbert Pustkuchen. Led by Pustkuchen and his successor Ulrich Mohrbutter, UC5 sunk 30 ships and damaged 7 more before running aground on sandbanks off the Suffolk coast in April 1916. It was captured by the British and towed to Harwich for repairs.

Submarine UC5 in British hands

Soon afterwards, the submarine was moved to London for public display.  Moored in the Thames – at Temple Pier – it became a tourist attraction.

On 1 August 1916, Major-General Sir Sam Hughes – the Canadian minister for Militia and Defence – paid a visit to the submarine and was greeted by cheering crowds.

“I only wish we had a thousand of them” – Maj-Gen Hughes climbing out of UC5 (Daily Mirror, 2/8/16)

Maj-Gen Hughes at Temple Pier, with UC5 visible in the background. (Daily Mirror 2/8/16)

Hughes was enthusiastic about the use of captured enemy submarines to promote the good work of the Royal Navy. “I think that whenever and wherever practicable the public should be given such first-hand opportunities as this for appreciating the wonderful work of Britain’s silent sentinels on the seas.”

The submarine was later sent on to the USA and was displayed in Central Park as an advert for Liberty Bonds.

UC5 on display in Central Park, New York City


Daily Mirror, 2/8/16 – from pages on the ship and this article


Posted by on 27 August 2012 in Events, Famous People, People, Places


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2 responses to “A submarine in the Thames

  1. Warsearcher

    31 March 2014 at 8:16 pm

    Greetings, this is a fabulous blog site! The image of Sir Sam Hughes climbing out of UC-5 is probably also Canadian Official photograph M-98 “Maj. Gen. Sir Sam Hughels entering the captured German submarine mine layer.” A very similar minelaying outfit (mine, sinker, and rails) from a UC-class boat seems also to be on display in the Canadian War Museum’s LeBreton Gallery of Military technology. I’ve got a decent research note about a First World War German deck gun from the same collection at my “War Trophies of Canada” wordpress site! Cheers.


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