This post is a little late as its subject has since run its course on social media and has been discounted (or at least forgotten, hopefully). This post is regarding a fake news story that made waves on social media a year ago and its implications. In February 18, of 2016 came this headline: “USA: Mysterious Nazi Submarine from WWII Discovered In Great Lakes” from the infamous faux news site World News Daily Report. The issue isn’t the fact that this is a fake news article cobbled together from facts gathered from skimming Wikipedia and poor photo shopping. The issue is that people believed it. World News Daily Report is a fake news site done for the sake of satire and they actually say as much, that its done for entertainment purposes with a large picture of a finger pointing at you mockingly for believing it. Articles like this happen quickly and it was interesting to see it spread across social media with even reputable history pages sharing it. It was shared to various historians by those wondering if the story was true. Although this article has hence blazed its way across social media and has been discounted by Snopes, this post will go through the article and discuss each historical inaccuracy, accuracy and discuss the real history that was utilized for this article; finishing with the real story of a German submarine in Lake Michigan. An article like this that has been shared on Facebook 77.8K times certainly merits a closer look.
The Original Article
The original article on World News Daily Report reads as such:
“Niagara Falls. Divers from the U.S coast guard took part this morning, in a delicate wreck recovery operation to bring to the surface a Nazi submarine discovered two weeks ago on the bottom of Lake Ontario.
The U-Boat was spotted for the first time by amateur scuba divers in late January and they had contacted the authorities. Archaeologists associated with Niagara University of (….?) and master divers from the U.S. Coast Guard were mobilized on site to determine what it was, and they soon realized that they were dealing with a German submarine that sank during World War II.
A wreck recovery vessel of the Great Lakes Shipwreck Historical Society was mandated to refloat the ship and bring it back to Niagara Falls, where it must be restored before becoming a museum ship. The delicate recovery operation took nearly 30 hours to complete, but the submarine was finally brought down on the bank with relative ease.
The submarine was identified as the UX-791, a unique experimental German submarine, based on the U-1200 model, and know to have participated in the “Battle of the St. Lawrence.” It was reported missing in 1943 and was believed to have been sunk near the Canadian coast.
Professor Mark Carpenter who leads the team of archaeologists, believes that the U-boat could have traveled up the St-Lawrence River, all the way to the Great Lakes, where it intended to disturb the American economy.
A report from the (….?) dated from February 1943 suggests, that the ship could have attacked and destroyed three cargo ships and two fishing vessels, even damaging the USS Sable (IX-81) an aircraft carrier of the U.S. navy that was used for training in the Great Lakes, before finally being sunk by anti-sub grenades launched by a Canadian frigate.
“We have known for a long time that the Nazis had sent some of their U-boats in the St-Lawrence River, but this is the first proof that they actually reached the Great Lakes,” Professor Carpenter told reporters. “This could explain the mysterious ship disappearances that took place in the region in 1943, and the reported “Battle of Niagara Falls” which had always been dismissed as a collective hallucination caused by fear.”
The restoration of the submarine could take more than two years, but once completed, the museum ship is expected to become one of the major tourist attractions of the region. “
*Editor’s note: the (…?) was were the article trailed off not completing the sentence. The link to the original article will be posted in the references section at the end of the blog post.
There is much discussion to come from this short, hastily written article. Mainly because this article hits upon every trope and cliché that comes from reporting shipwreck news. There are facts that this article has that are historically accurate. There was a Battle of St. Lawrence in WWII where German submarines did in fact attack Canadian vessels located in the Gulf of St. Lawrence and into the river immediately beyond the gulf though none made into the Great Lakes. No German U-boats were sunk in the St. Lawrence but, many were damaged and two submarines surrendered to Canadian vessels at the end of WWII. There was also a battle of Niagara Falls but, this occurred during the War of 1812. There was an aircraft carrier on the Great Lakes named the U.S.S. Sable (IX-81). Operating out of Chicago with the U.S.S. Wolverine (IX-64) both vessels were used to train pilots in carrier operations throughout WWII. Neither were ever attacked. The reason why the Great Lakes was chosen as naval training area is because Lake Michigan was secure entirely within U.S. borders away from both prying eyes and attack. The “UX-791” would have had to traverse two sets of locks in order to get into Lake Michigan in order to attack the U.S.S. Sable. Although there are many Great Lakes Maritime History organizations and society’s such as the Association for Great Lake’s Maritime History there is none called the Great Lakes Shipwreck Historical Society and none would have the resources nor the capability or desire to raise a shipwreck.
The “UX-791” and Submerged Cultural Resources Management
To go from a shipwreck discovery to shipwreck recovery in just two short weeks would be unprecedented especially in the middle of winter on the Great Lakes. Raising a vessel is not a simple act and it would take much longer than two weeks to recover a vessel. Due to the current climate of historic preservation and the laws protecting shipwreck sites in the bottomlands of the United States make raising a vessel a challenge if not out of the question. If the “UX-791” was real and there had been a crew that perished when it sank in Lake Ontario, then the site would be designated a War Grave and as such would be protected under Sunken Military Craft Act. Enacted in 2004, the Sunken Military Craft Act applies to U.S. military ships and aircraft wherever located around the world and also applies to sunken foreign craft in U.S. waters that are defined to include the internal waters, territorial sea and contiguous zone. The Great Lakes would fall under this. The act protects sunken military vessels aircraft and the remains of their crews from unauthorized disturbance. Raising the “UX-791” would constitute an unauthorized disturbance and would require both our government and the German government to agree to raise the vessel, which would require a comprehensive plan for the raising and the conservation of the vessel and associated artifacts. All of which would take more than two weeks. Being that the “UX-791” would be a German shipwreck sunk in United States the wreck would be granted Sovereign Immunity. Sovereign Immunity makes government owned noncommercial vessels (I.E. a German Submarine) like an embassy for the Navy that owns the ship. It means that no one can work or salvage a shipwreck unless they had the permission from the Navy that owns the wreck. Although the Kriegsmarine capitulated with the rest of the Nazi regime, modern ownership would fall to the current German Navy even though the wreck is located in United States territorial waters. As this vessel would be granted Sovereign Immunity, it would not be protected under the Abandoned Shipwreck Act because the shipwreck is already protected in perpetuity by the country that owns the wreck. It would take a lot more than two weeks to get the arbitrate these laws in order raise a wreck and most likely, the German government would tell the potential salvors “No” as they have in the past with other submarines. There are however two shipwrecks in Lake Ontario that do have Sovereign Immunity the armed schooners U.S.S. Hamilton and U.S.S. Scourge which participated in the War of 1812. Due to being sunk during a squall on the Canadian side of Lake Ontario, they have Sovereign Immunity with the U.S. Navy. Lastly, it would be unlikely that the United State Coast Guard would participate in raising a vessel much less mandating others to do so for them. The raising and recovery of a historic vessel would not be a Coast Guard priority. This is all assuming that the wreck was sunk on the American side of Lake Ontario; the story mentions a Canadian Frigate sank the “UX-791” if it was sunk in Canadian waters legally speaking, the story would be different.
The Real “UX-791”: The Soviet Submarine K-159 & The German Submarine V-80
The photo that World News Daily Report used was clearly Photo Shopped. Here it is shown in comparison with the original photograph.
“UX-791” is an entirely fictional name however, there was a U-791 that was ordered by the Kriegsmarine in February 1942 but was cancelled in August 1942. There was never a U-1200 class. The U-791 was never built although this article had gotten the fact right that had this submarine been built it would have been a prototype experimental design. The historical U-791 was to be an upgraded version of the German V-80 type submarine. The German V-80 was the brainchild of Helmuth Walter who had devised a hydrogen-peroxide turbine propulsion system. The V-80 submarine was the test bed for this device. The end goal of this propulsion system was to have a propulsion system independent of air, something that would not be seen until over a decade later with the advent of nuclear powered submarines. Walter had also designed the hull of the submarine itself realizing that the submarines of the time were designed for surface action rather than submerged. His goal was a hydrodynamic hull design and had actually tested the hull of the V-80 in a wind tunnel. The V-80 had the following specifications: 72 feet 4 inches long overall, 6.8-foot beam, 10 feet in height, 75 tons displacement. The vessel was built entirely for researching the propulsion system, being unarmed and carrying a crew of only 4.
The V-80 shattered underwater speed records of the time, reaching 28 knots while submerged outpacing every other submarine in WWII and would not be reached again until the nuclear age. The V-80 was launched in April, 1940 at Kiel and taken out of service in 1942. It never left German waters. The final disposition of the V-80 was that it was scuttled at Hela in 1945. (Which is good because that means this submarine could still be found someday) The V-80 was a submarine ahead of its time, whose potential was not realized within the Kriegsmarine. The historical U-791 was to be a larger version of the V-80 with a conning tower and was going to be the only one of its type and would’ve been the logical next step in the evolution to a full fledged attack submarine. It was cancelled in favor of more promising designs. “UX” was never used as a submarine designation by the Kriegsmarine even for experimental, prototype submarines.
The submarine used in the photo-shopped photograph is a real shipwreck. It is the former soviet submarine K-159. The K-159 is a November class submarine, the very first iteration of Soviet nuclear powered submarines. The very first submarine of the November Class Submarine K-3 was the first Soviet submarine to reach the North Pole, 4 years after the U.S.S. Nautilus. The K-159 was launched June 6, 1963 at the Severodvinsk shipyard. November class submarines were 361 feet long, with a 26-foot beam, 21-foot draft and displaced approximately 4,380 tons. These vessels were powered by 2 pressurized water nuclear reactors pushing two propellers. They carried a crew of 105 with 30 officers. They were armed with 8 torpedo tubes. They had a maximum speed of 28 knots. The life of the K-159 is left to pages of history, the submarine had served its duty. The real story of the K-159 begins when the vessel was decommissioned in May of 1989.
The vessel was left laid up for 14 years. Fearing an environmental disaster from Russia’s rapidly degrading nuclear fleet, a coalition of many concerned countries put forth the resources in order to assist Russia in properly disposing of these vessels before they degrade to a point where they contaminate the world’s oceans with their radioactive cargo. It’s a large environmental issue that continues to this day. In 2003, K-159 had its date with the scrapyard, and had four pontoons spot-welded on either side of the hull to assist with keeping the vessel afloat. A skeleton crew of 10 was aboard for the journey from where the K-159 was laid up at Gremikha to the scrapyard at Polyarny in order to keep the submarine’s hull pumped out and keep the pontoons pressurized. The K-159 was taken under tow. Two days later the K-159 had encountered a storm that tore away one of the pontoons. Presumably after having the pontoon torn off, the K-159 could not maintain itself in the wind and waves and the pumps couldn’t keep up with the water coming in. The towline snapped and the K-159 sank off Kildin Island in the Barents Sea, in over 500 feet of water taking seven of the crew down with it. Two of the crew died after rescue leaving a single survivor. The picture that was used in the photo shopped image for this fake new piece may very well be the final picture taken of the K-159 and its skeleton crew before its fateful journey. The K-159 went down with unspent nuclear fuel still in its reactors, although the Russian Navy had expressed interest in raising the K-159, the wreck still remains on the bottom. In 2010, the K-159 was imaged with sonar as the British government was planning to raise the submarine for the Russians. K-159 remains a nuclear threat sunk under the Barents Sea. The “UX-791” is an amalgamation of both the K-159 and V-80.
German Submarines on Lake Michigan: The U-505 and The UC-97
Many people who read this article and shared it, are going to be disappointed when they find out that there is not going to be a German submarine museum at Niagara Falls. There is already a WWII German submarine on display on the Great Lakes in Chicago, the U-505 at the Museum of Science and Industry. The U-505 is a Type IXC Submarine that was captured by US forces in June 1944, it was the first U.S. capture of an enemy vessel since the War of 1812.
There is in fact, a sunken German submarine currently on the bottom of Lake Michigan, though it wasn’t the result of a nefarious plot to raid American shipping in the Great Lakes. The UC-97 is a type UC-III mine-laying Submarine that was completed and launched March 17, 1918 at the Blohm & Voss shipyards in Hamburg, Germany for use in the First World War. The UC-97 was commissioned in September 1918 but neither completed any patrols or sunk any ships. World War I ended on November 11, 1918 and the UC-97 was surrendered to the U.S. on November 22, 1918. The UC-97 was 185 feet 5 inches over all, 18 feet 2 inches beam, and displaced 483 tons surfaced. Powered by two 6 cylinder diesel engines and two electric motors the UC-97 was capable of 11.5 knots surfaced and 6.6 knots when submerged. The UC-97 would have carried a crew of 32 and was armed with 6 mine tubes, 3 torpedo tubes (2 bow, 1 stern) and 1 4.1 in. Deck Gun. The UC-97 would have carried 7 torpedoes and 14 mines.
The U.S. Navy had an interest in acquiring several German Submarines as war prizes and using them for display purposes for victory bonds. The UC-97 alongside the UB-88, U-117, UB-148 and the Submarine tender U.S.S. Bushnell (AS-2) the “Ex German Submarine Expeditionary Force” steamed from Harwich, England to Ponta Delgada Azores, from the Azores to Bermuda and then from Bermuda to New York City, arriving April 27, 1919. The UC-97 initially had issues with faulty machinery and had to be taken under tow by the U.S.S. Bushnell; the submarine crew was able to repair this problem and the submarine traveled under its own power for the rest of the trip. After New York, each submarine then moved to its region to be on display for War Bonds and the UC-97 traveled into the Great Lakes.
The UC-97 then began a tour of ports in the Great Lakes although never made it to any Lake Superior ports due to further engine issues. During August of 1919, the UC-97 traveled down the ports of Wisconsin down to Chicago where she arrived on August 19, 1919. There the UC-97 was put on display at the Municipal Pier (Now Navy Pier) she was then turned over to the 9th Naval District and laid up at the Great Lakes Naval Station later moved to the north branch of the Chicago river. It was briefly considered making the UC-97 into a museum ship at Lincoln park, Grant park or at the Field Museum. There the submarine sat until June 7, 1921 where it was sunk under the provisions of the Treaty of Versailles, which required every German warship in allied possession to be destroyed or sunk. The UC-97 was stripped of everything of value including one diesel engine and the periscope. (One wonders where those ended up) The UC-97 was towed by the U.S.S. Hawk (IX-14) out into Lake Michigan approximately 20 to 30 miles offshore of Fort Sheridan (Highland park, Illinois) and used as target practice by the Naval Reserve training vessel U.S.S. Wilmette (IX-29) (formally the Eastland). The U.S.S. Wilmette (IX-29) fired 18 rounds from its 4 inch gun, 10 of those shells found their mark and the UC-97 sank.
The UC-97 remains a somewhat obscure yet highly coveted Great Lakes shipwreck second only to La Salle’s ship Le Griffon. The UC-97 was located in 1992 in over 250 feet of water by Chicago salvage company A&T recovery who, much like the case of the fictitious “UX-791” did have designs to raise the UC-97 and turn it into a museum vessel. A&T recovery is responsible for finding many of the aircraft that where lost on Lake Michigan during training flights, many of them being raised, restored, and put on display in museums the world over. The UC-97 apparently does not have Sovereign Immunity because although it is a foreign vessel sunk in U.S. waters, the U.S. Navy still technically owns the wreck due to the UC-97 being a war prize. Germany has a Chicago consulate, which affirmed that the German government would not have claim on the UC-97. An Illinois court of claims ruled in April 1996 that the UC-97 belongs to the state of Illinois due to the Abandoned Shipwreck Act. It is unknown if raising the UC-97 would constitute a violation of the treaty of Versailles.
Although there are a few success stories, raising a shipwreck is a fundamentally bad idea and the case of the UC-97 is no different. Raising a shipwreck is a massive undertaking in terms of resources and require a comprehensive preservation plan before the wreck is pulled out of the water. A&T Recovery had apparently estimated that recovery of the UC-97 would cost an estimated $1.5 million. The case of the K-159 is different in that it still has unspent nuclear fuel in its reactors it needs to be removed prior to the wreck degrading into an environmental catastrophe. The UC-97 is better served being left where it is at the bottom of Lake Michigan. With today’s technology, there are easy ways to share discoveries like the UC-97 and engage with the public remotely. I will explore the folly of museum shipwrecks in a later blog post(s). Currently the exact location of the UC-97 is still unknown. A&T has no plans to share the location. Which is a shame, because it is a fascinating piece of Great Lakes history and most likely one of the only wrecks of its kind in existence. It will most likely take another interested party to stumble across the wreck of the UC-97 again to find it.
This article it an interesting one, even though it was entirely fictional it had a few nuggets of historical truth with the “UX-791” being amalgamation of two different submarines. It is that little truth that helped make the story believable. The author must have had some advanced knowledge in order write this especially with the obscure information of the German prototype submarines U-791 and the V-80. The point I’m trying to make is that this story the World News Daily Report fabricated already essentially exists with the story of the UC-97. Shipwreck stories are captivating, sexy and people do generally find them interesting. So it’s easy to fabricate something as click bait in order to generate advertising revenue. The important fact is this is another misrepresentation of history that duped people into sharing it thinking its true. The true history is far more interesting.
References & Resources
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Somers, Paul M. Lake Michigan’s Aircraft Carriers. Images of America
NavSource Online: Service Ship Photo Archive: USS Sable (IX-81)
Abandoned Shipwreck Act. National Park Service
Abandoned Shipwreck Act Guidelines, National Park Service
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Bass, George F. The Ethics of Shipwreck Archaeology In Ethical Issues in Archaeology Zimmerman, Larry J., Vitelli, Karen D., Hollowel-Zimmer, Julie. Pgs. 57-69
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Helgason, Guðmundur. Type V-80. UBoat.net
Helgason, Guðmundur. The Walter U-Boats. U-boat.net
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K-159 Submarine 1963-2003.Wrecksite.eu
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U-505 & UC-97
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UC-97. Dictionary of American Fighting Ships Vol. VII. Pgs 384-385
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Boyer, Dwight. True Tales of The Great Lakes
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UC-97. A&T Recovery
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A&T Recovery Inc. v. The State of Illinois
NavSource Online Submarine Photo Archive: WWI U-Boats: UC-97
NavSource Online: Service Ship Photo Archive: USS Willmette (IX-29)
NavSource Online: Patrol Yacht Photo Archive: Hawk (IX-14)