Propeller believed to belong to first World War submarine recovered in Cork harbour

German submarine sank off Roche’s Point in 1917 while mining Cork harbour to disrupt British supply lines

The German submarine propeller discovered in Cork.

A propeller thought to belong to a first World War submarine used to mine Cork harbour has been recovered from the sea for preservation.

The 49-metre, 400-ton German UC-42 sank just off Roche’s Point in 1917, leading to the loss of all 27 crew.

The marine archaeological team behind Monday’s recovery hope to confirm the propeller, salvaged in an attempt to protect it from damage, was part of the German submarine following further tests.

Last year, Timmy Carey of Blackwater Sub-Aqua Club discovered the previously unidentified propeller lying close to the wreck.

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The recovery operation involved Blackwater SAC and Mizen Archaeology, supported by the National Monuments Service, the National Museum of Ireland and German embassy officials.

“Knowing that it was vulnerable to potential damage from trawling, anchoring or salvage, I knew I had to put a plan in place to safeguard the object,” he said.

A popular diving site, the UC-42 had been the subject of a garda investigation in 2011 into the illegal removal of artefacts, including sailors’ clothing.

At that time, there were also indications that damage had been caused by salvagers attempting to remove one of its propellers, although it was not clear if that was the same propeller.

Monday’s recovery operation was a collaborative effort involving Blackwater SAC and Mizen Archaeology, and supported by the National Monuments Service, the National Museum of Ireland and German embassy officials.

According to the team, the entrance to Cork Harbour had regularly been mined during the war as part of efforts to disrupt British naval supply lines.

The UC-42 sank in 30 metres of water, following what is believed to have been an explosion of a mine on-board.

The wreckage was later discovered and inspected by the British Navy whose divers found the stern completely destroyed, indicating an explosion. They also found the hatches open, suggesting the crew had attempted to escape.

Now more than a century old, the site is protected under the National Monuments Acts and a licence is required to dive there.

“The UC-42 wreck is a significant part of our underwater cultural heritage and the final resting place of the German crew who were on board,” said Minister of State for Heritage Malcolm Noonan. “It remains incumbent on us all to ensure we respect their remains.”

Efforts at excavating the propeller have been going on for a number of months by divers and underwater archaeologists. On Monday it was brought aboard the MV Harpy dive boat from Kinsale. It is due to go on display at the Spike Island Museum in agreement with Cork County Council.

German ambassador to Ireland, Cord Meier-Klodt, said the project would encourage more engagement with both German and Irish wartime history.

Mark Hilliard

Mark Hilliard

Mark Hilliard is a reporter with The Irish Times