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On 23rd May 1916 the U - 75 German submarine laid 22 mines after travelling around the west coast of Orkney undetected. The U - 75 together with two other U - boats the U - 43 and the U - 44 were part of a German master plan, the intention was to ambush the British Grand Fleet as it sailed from Scapa Flow. As a result of poor communications the German U - boats did not receive any signal to begin attacking British ships. The Grand Fleet also sailed later than was originally planned which helped to confuse and mix up any plans the Germans had. Once the Grand Fleet returned to Scapa Flow, they were wounded but undefeated after the battle of Jutland (30th/31st May) the three German submarines had already left the Pentland Firth, but by this time the U - 75 had laid it's 22 mines in the area.
U-75 TECHNICAL DETAILS
Special thanks to Ralph Anton (www.kaiserliche-marine.de) who provided information to help make this page.
Official German History
Below is a translation of the official German history on the sinking of the Hampshire by the U75 which was written in about 1926. Provided and translated by Gary Staff.
From Der Krieg in der Nordsee Volume 5, By Fregattenkapitän Oskar Groos.
Prior to the battle of the Skagerrak the German were deploying U-Bootes of all types around the British bases.
On May 20th the UB27 departed to position herself off the Firth of Firth and to possibly penetrate past the Island of May to search for and attack warships as they put to sea. The operation of the U-Bootes were estimated to continue fourteen days.
A different task fell to U46, which on the night of 21st-22nd May was to reconnoiter off Sunderland, the probable attack point of the High Sea Forces, and to report on traffic, navigation and give cues for safe mine free routes. Then the U-Boot was to wait until June 2nd off Peterhead, between Firth of Forth and Moray Forth.
However, U46 was not ready for sea on the departure date and was replaced by U47, who originally was to operate with the remaining bootes in the northern North Sea.
At the same time the large mine laying U-Bootes U72, U74 and U75 were to lay 22 mines each off Firth of Forth, Moray Firth and the west coast of the Orkney Islands. With the imminent Fleet undertaking the enemy would have only a short time to search for and clear these new barriers. It was hoped this new mine blockade would considerably hinder the enemy fleet’s attempt to put to sea. U74 put to sea on the 13thMay, while the other two bootes followed on 23rd and 24th May.
The Kommander of U75, Kapitänleutnant Curt Beitzen, knew that the enemy guard forces were more attentive and concentrated off the eastern coast of the Orkneys. On May 27thU75 was off Utsire and curved north of the Shetland Islands past all the guard and counter submarine forces and by the night of May 28th-29th U75 was off the west of the island.
There had been continuing fog and mist and overcast skies since the U-Boot had left Norway. The fog was still dense when at about midnight a large warship was sighted. However, due to the fog there was insufficient time after sighting the vessel to obtain a torpedo firing position.
Later it cleared though, and towards 01.10hrs the lighthouse of Noup Head was made out. Experience had shown that warships traveled south of this point between Marwick Head and Brough of Birsay, approximately two nautical miles off shore. U75 would blockade this area. Between 06.00hrs and 03.35hrs, completely undisturbed by guard forces, the U75 laid her mine barrier in several separate parts, 7 metres below the high water mark. The load of 22 mines was laid and U75 began her homeward voyage. In the meantime U72 had been forced to return home before being able to carry out her mining operation. The U74 was destroyed on May 27th and the High Kommand expected little from U75’s small mine barrier.
On June 1st the U75 was alone on the Skagerrak battlefield. On May 31st at 08.00hrs she had arrived off Utsire in the Norwegian coast. She was unaware of the great battle and on June 1st, about 90 nautical miles west of Hanstholm U75 came upon a large field of debris, beams, planks, hammocks, boats oars and lanterns. About 15.00hrs at position 57°3’N, 6°o’E, she sighted a wreck (Invincible) and nearby was an English destroyer. Remarkably she did not sight the Battlecruiser Fleet. Now the wind increased and the sea became heavier.
In the clear sunshine the powerful, heavy sea crashed over the boot, which proved to have excellent seagoing qualities. Large masses of water swirled down the conning tower hatch, and the Kommander and personnel frequently hung by their safety belts.
The air intake for the diesel motors had to be shut and air for the engines had to be sucked through the conning tower hatch. Suddenly the crew and boot were in great danger, as water closed the hatch and threatened to starve the diesels. Fruitlessly the kommander searched for the conning tower hatch from the outside, in order to tear it open.
However, inside the boot the Chief Engineer, Marineingenieur Hans Schmidt, recognized the danger and raised and opened the air intake mast. Just in time a powerful rush of water and air was sucked in and the boot was saved. U75 the loitered around Horns Reef, watchful to ambush enemy submarines, where she received the report on the Skagerrak Battle from a Picket steamer and on June 3rd she ran into Helgoland.
Three days later the U75’s minefield laid on May 29th in the warship channel route to the west of the Orkneys achieved good results.
On June 5th Field Marshal Lord Kitchener and his Staff of six Officers arrived in Scapa Flow. There they were to embark on H.M.S. Hampshire, an armoured cruiser, to continue their journey to Archangel.
The purpose of this trip was to strengthen Russian resistance on land and to stop Russian procrastination. On the evening of Lord Kitchener’s arrival a heavy storm blew up from the east, so that Hampshire’s original route to the east of the Orkneys could not be swept of mines.
It was hence resolved to send the armoured cruiser to the west of the island close under the shore, where, in the lee of the land the destroyers could probably accompany her. It seemed practical that this area could be free from German surface minelayers and minelaying U-Bootes were thought have insufficient range to reach the Orkneys as the farthest they had been seen were the seas off the Firth of Forth.
They seemed to present little danger. The bad weather was fortunate for the U-Boot minelayer as for three or four days no minesweeping could be carried out on either side of the Orkneys.
However, despite these considerations, on June 2nd the drifter Laurel Crown ran onto one of U75’s mines and was sunk. The English Fleet Directors must have known of U75’s mine barrier.
Despite this Hampshire chose the disastrous route. The only explanation could be that in the confusion after the Battle of Jutland the report of the trawlers sinking was delayed, or paid no attention to and the Fleet Directors were unaware of it.
Otherwise the demise of Hampshire was deliberate. About 18.30hrs on the 5th of June, Hampshire with Lord Kitchener on board, put to sea in the company of two destroyers.
To make matters worse the wind shifted to northwest and at about 20.00hrs the destroyer turned back as they could no longer maintain the cruisers speed in the heavy seas. Half an hour later, only 1.5 nautical miles off shore, between Brough of Birsay and Marwick Head, the armoured cruiser struck a mine and sank, as observed from the shore, within 15 minutes.
In the heavy seas it was impossible to get any boats away, and as she capsized only 12 men could make their way to shore on a float. The remainder of the crew, including Lord Kitchener and his Staff, met death in the icy waters, before the destroyers and picket boats could arrive on the scene.
All England lamented the loss of Lord Kitchener, a pillar of the Empire and grand imperialist, considered by many as a symbol of national unity, aswitnessed by his obituary.
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