Raising the gun- UB130

Raising of the deck gun from the UB 130


By Jamie Smith

This is the story of the raising of the deck gun of the UB 130 - a First World War German U boat. Tunbridge Wells BSAC, under the leadership of Roger Theabold, planned and executed the task. It has been written as a diary of events, gleaned by interviewing those involved. Whilst the story is written with humour, the project was highly planned and professionally conducted with safety a paramount feature.

The start of her story

She was one of the last U boats to be laid down during WW1, built by A.G.Weser, who was responsible for building UB III type submarines 118 to 132.

The UB 130 was part of the Unterseebootsflotille 1 that was commanded by Korvettenkapitan Pasquay. Kapitan-Leutnant Prince Heinrich the 37th was given her command; he had distinguished himself in the Mediterranean commanding the UC 54. Unfortunately this was not to be so with the UB 130; she developed problems on her maiden voyage and had to return for repairs. Germany surrendered before repairs were completed, thus ending UB130’s chance of seeing action.

She was taken over by the French and it was decided that she would be broken up in England, although there seems to be some confusion in records as some report that she was broken up in Toulon.

In 1921, on her journey to the breakers, she stopped over in Newhaven then commenced tow to the breakers. In a rough sea and with hatches open, she never made it, sinking eleven miles east of Newhaven.

It wasn’t until 1975 that she was found, by Hounslow BSAC. It seems from the report that she was in fair condition with the gun in position and her props attached. It was from the props that rubbings were taken and we positively identified her as the UB 130.

In 1978 there were three applications to purchase the wreck, all of which were denied.

Today she lays in a broken and battered state with only a section of 7 metres still intact. When we found her, the gun lay on the sea bed to her starboard side. The props are gone and the conning tower is some eight metres to the north east. She is barely recognisable as a submarine but is, none the less, an interesting dive site.


A diary of events (raising idea) 
It was Roger Theabold who thought that it would be a great idea to raise the gun. With no casualties on loss and no real history to the wreck, why not raise it for the general public to enjoy? With that in mind, enquiries were made at the local maritime museum. Thumbs up! They would love to have it! Next he contacted the Maritime and Coastguard Agency for permission to raise it. Thumbs up again! (There didn’t seem to be any records of ownership, but the towage firm were responsible for the wreck.) Next to the German archives to inform them of our intentions. Did they mind if we raised it? With a full set of thumbs, planning commenced.

Some more dives were made to assess the possibilities of the lift. Mr Berry tied a Sainsbury’s bag to the barrel of the gun as a reference point for those who couldn’t find it!!

With the underwater survey complete, the real planning commenced.


The success of the operation would be dependant on good planning and preparation.
Plans were drawn up and problems talked over. How do we get it up? How do we get it back to Newhaven (if it comes up)? How many divers will be needed? How many lift bags? How heavy is the gun? Where can we get big lift bags?! How much air will be needed to fill the lift bags at 30 metres? (How many 12 litre cylinders is that?) How do we get the tanks in position? How do we attach them, and where? What is the worst sea state in which we will attempt the lift? What is the worst visibility we are safely prepared to work in? Will the boat be able to tow it against the tide? The task seemed to be getting worse by the minute!
How much extra lift would be needed to pull it out of the sea bed and free of the periscope tube? Who is going to be silly enough to help? Well, that wasn’t a problem as ‘silly’s’ were in plentiful supply! Well, at least that was one question answered.
The plan was calculated and recalculated, boats arranged, big lift bags (2 tons - donated by JW Automarine for the lift) couriered down from Norfolk, dives planned with volunteers, safety divers, dive marshals etc., cylinders sourced, ropes spliced, date pencilled in (if conditions were acceptable for the attempt).

Oh, hang on! Did we work out how much fuel we would need? (Have we got a big enough tank?) A lorry with hyab was found for lifting the gun out of the water at the slipway so that it could be taken to the shot blasters, ready for a new coat of paint.
Well, that’s sorted then. Piece of cake!
Let’s get Meridian News out - should be good advertising for the club, just as long as we keep all the ‘silly’s’ out of view and don’t let them say anything.
Diving jobs were worked out with estimated times to achieve these tasks as each job was not to take the divers into decompression time. Each diver had 20 minutes, working on a maximum depth of 30 metres. Let’s hope each task isn’t too complicated!!
Raising the gun

Lift day was planned to coincide with our annual Newhaven Club Diving Week – 9 July 2001.
8th July 2001
A last visit was made to the wreck site the day before lifting plans commence. The visibility in the water (‘the viz’) was fine and the Sainsbury’s bag was still in place. Checks were made and last minute adjustments to plans and equipment were carried out.
9th July 2001
The shot-line was attached to the gun barrel ready for the lift. All was looking good and going to plan, except the weather! It was now due to blow up for the next few days.
A very early dive crew was mustered to retrieve the shot-line from the gun barrel before the wind struck, as forecast. The wind came. Ferries were cancelled and so was the rest of Newhaven Week. Everything was packed away for calmer weather.
Two weeks later it was looking possible for another attempt, with favourable sea conditions and small tides. The lift was rescheduled for the weekend of 27 July 2001.
22nd July 2001
A second advanced party was put together for attaching a shot-line to the gun, ready for the lift day. The wreck was located and the shot deployed. Slack water came and in we went. Woops; landed on the conning tower! Which way now? We managed to reel off in the right direction (for eight meters) and tied the reel off on the gun barrel (next to Sainsbury’s bag).
Back on the boat, they asked ‘did you do it?’ ‘No’, we said. Oh well, lets stick the bloke with the silly hat back in to do it then. In he went, with the tide now running, but at least it was running in the right direction. He rolled up the reel line as he went to the gun, tied the rope on the gun and sent up the lift bag with the other end of the rope on it. Job done! Slack water buoys were attached to the line. (Slack water buoys go under when the tide is running then surface as the tide slackens off.) All was ready for the lift day.
27th August 2001 - Lift day.
Safety divers, dive marshals and boat coxswains ensured all plans were followed and that the divers had adequate support. They ensured that operations ran smoothly. Paul Berry, Mark Card, Alistair Stephen, Brian Savage, Gavin Bruce, Paul Williams, Phil Mason, Derrick Scott and others were on hand too, eager to assist if required.
Rick and Richard from Woolwich Sub-Aqua Club were there with their cameras to capture the event.
Jamie Smith, Keith Ward and Dave Harman were all under strict orders from Roger Theabold. If the viz is less than 4 metres, abort mission.
The boat was attached to the shot-line, which in turn was attached to the gun barrel. Then the lift bags were slid down the line with the cylinders.
In went Jamie, Keith and Dave. As they descended, it got darker and darker. This was no surprise as it was usually poor viz in this area. On reaching the bottom it was about 1.5 metres viz, or possibly 1 metre. Jamie and Keith started attaching the lift bags with assistance from Dave. They looked at each other through the murk. Both thought if he’s attaching his bag it must be ok. It was running like clockwork; too well, in fact. Dave appeared out of the gloom with tanks. Now what did Roger say? Oh, that was it; just attach the bags; don’t fill them with air. As Dave went back for the other tanks, Jamie and Keith emptied their tanks into the lift bags. The bags now looked very big and yellow. Thankfully, the second set of tanks were not discharged but were left for the next wave of divers.
On their return to the surface, the second wave of tanks were attached and sent down. Roger Theabold and Alan Knight were next in. ‘Is everything ok?’ they asked. ‘Yes, all attached and waiting for you’!! (Surely they must have known we were not to be trusted?)
With paperwork filled in, the dive marshal gave the nod. Reaching the bottom they were unpleasantly surprised. Bad viz! They could just make out the enormous yellow bags glowing in the dark. As they emptied the next set of tanks, there was a bang. It was on the move! Roger made a quick exit (unfortunately due to the murk he swam headlong into the outer hull). Alan, practicing his underwater gymnastics, went up a short distance and rolled off backwards, with his life flashing before his eyes. Now was a good time to get as far away as fast as possible in case the bags collapsed on surfacing and went back down. This would be quite nasty, with a ton of gun metal landing on top of you at 30 metres.
All divers were logged back on, safe and sound, singing the praises of those who tied the bags on. (In time they found forgiveness!)

Preparations for the tow

The lift bags and shackles were checked, more bags were attached and tow lines made fast.
A safety man was positioned at the tow rope. If the bags collapsed on tow, he would cut the rope to prevent the boat being dragged down with the gun. A 35-metre line was run out with small buoys attached. If the gun did sink, this line would mark its position.
A Meridian News cameraman, picked up from the shore at Burling Gap, filmed the tow.
The tow went to plan. She made approximately 3-4 knots over ground, thus taking four hours to make the eleven mile journey. The tow back was against the flood tide as we wanted to dive the wreck site at low water. On reaching Newhaven it would be almost high water. This would be the best time to place the gun on the slipway, ready for retrieval at low tide, when she would be high and dry.
Last minute adjustments were made before entering the harbour. This would not be the place for things to go wrong, with the ferry and other large vessels using the port. It could mean a night in the cells!
With Mr Scott at the helm, the run was made. All went well until adjustments for the turn into the slipway were made. Ropes were slackened; a bit too much slack in fact as it made its way across the harbour under its own steam! Woops; stuck in the mud! There was some quick manoeuvring, ropes were retrieved, and a second attempt was successful. More adjustments were made to the bags and she was then drawn as far up the slipway as possible.

Lifting out
As the tide receded the gun saw daylight for the first time in 80 years and we could now appreciate the size of it.
When the tide was sufficiently low, the pre-arranged lorry from the local scrap yard moved into position ready for the lift. On seeing the lorry and hyab, Roger was concerned it wouldn’t be able to lift the gun. With assurances from the driver, preparations were made. With lots of revving and pulling of levers, the lorry wobbled about. Pipes squirted hydraulic oil into the air and the gun didn’t move. The lorry went back to the yard. The tide came back in and the gun was re-floated into the harbour and sunk in a safe spot.
New arrangements were made. The Marina very kindly offered to lift it out for us (we think they just wanted to get it out of their harbour). Lift bags were attached and the gun was raised again and drawn up to the slipway. Slings were positioned and up it came. It was then laid on blocks ready for collection.
Lifting onto the lorry went to plan this time and off it went to be grit-blasted and to get a new coat of paint.

New Home
Preparations were made at Paradise Park, Newhaven. A timber stand was concreted into the ground ready for the gun to be lifted on. When she was ready, she was placed into position and a fence erected round her; she is an excellent exhibit for the Newhaven Maritime Museum.
The Maritime and Coastguard Agency had awarded Roger the salver and owner of the gun. Ownership was passed on to the Museum for £1; Roger donated this fee to the RNLI.
The gun is nearly 4 metres long, with a calibre of 4.0 inches (105 cm). The maximum firing range would have been 7 miles, at a rate of 8 rounds per minute, with the shells weighing 31 pounds each.
For anyone who is interested in seeing it, the gun can be viewed during the opening hours of Paradise Park, at the far end of the car park outside the Newhaven Maritime Museum


Email recieved from Hamish Mackenzie December 2010;

I have just read your article on the lifting of the gun of UB130 and thought that you may be interested in a bit more info on her.
 In 1977 or 78 the forward section of her was blown up. A charge of 50lbs was put down her forward hatch, which was ajar and I managed to open fully, and blown, we were after her torpedo tubes,this accounts for the damage up forward, the after section was blown after this on a date,which I dont know.
 Unfortunately I dived on her the following day but the vis was nil,literally pitch black so was not able to acertain the results,then the weather deteriorated for several days .I did not dive on her again as I was only seconded to the outfit that was working on her and had to return to another salvage job.
 We did not know her name or number and I only found out today after reading your article and it defintiely was her, as I found a plaque attached to her periscope giving details of Hounslow SAC dive on her.It
 was white plastic with red writing on it. Incidently the vessel was completely intact when we found her, apart from the lenses on the periscope,someone from Hounslow SAC must have nicked them.