Explosion on the submarine Deutschland in dry dock 1921

Manchester Guardian, Sept 11th 1921, Liverpool Saturday

Explosion on the German U-boat Deutschland in dry dock at Birkenhead

Three, 17yr old apprentices lost their lives and three were injured

The German U-boat Deutschland, which has been lying at Birkenhead for many months was the scene of a calamitous explosion. At the Glover, Claytons ship-repairing yard, Birkenhead, work was proceeding there in the dismantling of the engine room, about 11am large explosion, in the confined space of the engine room, hurled them against the sides of the engine room

Killed instantly, battered almost beyond recognition

William GARDE, Walker Place, Tranmere

John MAXWELL, Cressington Ave, Higher Tranmere

John FARRELL, Central Rd, Port Sunlight


Harold Charles PERRY, Gorsefield Rd, Prenton

John TIFFEN, Bebington Rd, Higher Tranmere

David McGOWAN, Red Rock St, Liverpool

The three injured were rushed to Birkenhead Borough Hospital, two are in a serious condition and the life of one is despaired of.

PERRY and TIFFEN died later in hospital from their injuries.

The explosion is a mystery

Following the explosion smoke issued from an uncovered hatchway and immediately afterwards a search party went below. Some of the youths were found in the motor room others in the storeroom, having apparently been thrown through the doorway. A number of bags and sacks lying in the engine room were smouldering, but it is not known how they caught fire. The small blaze was easily extinguished, the Fire Brigade were present but its services were not required.

The explosion ,although so disastrous to human life, could not have been of an extremely violent character, as the bilk heads seemed to be in tact, but owing to the confined space in which it occurred the men were hurled against the steel plates and badly battered. There were a number of oxygen cylinders lying about, but they appeared empty, and none seemed to be leaking.

German U-boat Deutschland's career

The Deutschland was the German under sea "Dreadnought" which made the famous voyage to New York in June 1916, under the command of Captain Paul KOING. She carried a cargo of precious stones, dyes and patent medicines to German firms in the United States. Following upon this trip she took part in the unrestricted submarine warfare carried on by Germany, and after the armistice she was handed over to Great Britain. After this she became a show ship and visited various East and South coast ports, where she was visited by no fewer than 138,000 persons, From the Isle of Man, where she was on exhibition last, she was brought on Oct 8th 1920 to Birkenhead, and in June of this year was put into dock in Messers Glover, Clayton and Co's shipyard.

Oct 21st 1921

Deutschland explosion, Admiralty and unsuspected danger

Birkenhead Tuesday

The presence of cylinders containing hydrogen as well as others containing oxygen and compressed air was stated at the inquest at Birkenhead today to be the cause of the explosion on September 10th on the ex-German submarine Deutschland as a result of which five apprentice engineers were killed. All the cylinders, it was stated, had remained on board, from the time the vessel was taken from the Germans but inasmuch as hydrogen gas is never carried on British submarines, and it was not known it was carried on German U-boats, its presence was never suspected and was not discovered until after the explosion.

The Deutschland was acquired from the British Admiralty by Mr Horatio BOTTOMLEY, M.P, and was on exhibition at various places, including, Newcastle, Yarmouth, Margate, Ramsgate, Eastbourne and Douglas, and in 18 months over 150,000 persons had inspected the ship. She arrived in Birkenhead in June to be broken up in accordance with the Peace Treaty terms.

Several apprentice engineers gave evidence that orders had been received to remove valves from the cylinders, which would allow the gas to escape, and for this purpose some were removed to the quay, but others were allowed to remain in the ship as she lay in dry dock. Previous to this operation being performed several of the lads had been playing cards in the engine-room by candle light, and none of them remembered the candles being extinguished. Smoking had also been indulged in.

James SMITH, analytical chemist, who investigated the cause of the explosion, said, two cylinders contained hydrogen and others oxygen, and when these gases were released in the ship they would form highly inflammable vapour. He had not the slightest hesitation in coming to the conclusion that this mixture had been ignited by coming into contact with a light, such as a candle or the heat represented by a burning cigarette and the explosion ensued.

Mr TOPHAM, factory inspector, stated he agreed with this view.

John W. BEATTY, who had charge of the submarine while on exhibition, stated that inspection was frequently made for explosives or German booby traps, but none had been found and the hydrogen was never discovered.

Mr O. K. ETHERIDGE, naval architect of London, said he conducted the negotiations on behalf of Mr BOTTOMLEY when the Deutschland was purchased, and was assured by the Admiralty representatives that all dangerous equipment had been removed from the ship, including bombs and torpedo heads.

The Coroner stated he had expected the Admiralty would submit evidence, but was now informed they had made no arrangements for doing so. Seeing they sold the submarine with the knowledge it was to be used for exhibition purposes they must have made a search to see whether any dangerous substances remained on board. That search, he assumed, failed to find these hydrogen cylinders, and he thought there ought to be some evidence.

Mr J. PAXTON, representing the Admiralty, said he did not know what passed between them and Mr BOTTOMLEY, and what had occurred since he could not say.

The jury, in reply to a question submitted by the Coroner, expressed the view that there ought to be Admiralty evidence to show what efforts were made to clear the ship of the dangerous articles, and the inquiry was adjourned until next Wednesday for this purpose.

Oct 27th 1921

Deutschland explosion

Caused by unsuspected hydrogen

Formalities the due compliance with which was demanded of German commanders at the surrender of submarines was mentioned yesterday at the resumed inquest into the deaths of five apprentices who lost their lives on September 10th as a result of an explosion on the ex-German U-boat Deutschland while being dismantled in Glover, Clayton and Co's shipyard, Birkenhead.

Mr J. PAXTON [representing the Admiralty] stated that the Deutschland was one of a total of 55 submarines surrendered by the Germans. On the surrender of each of these submarines the German commander of each vessel handed to the British Officer in charge a signed declaration that no explosives of any sort and no infernal machines or booby traps of any sort were on board.

These conditions were complied with added Mr PAXTON, and several of the surrendered submarines were opened for public exhibition at various ports. Hydrogen was not used in submarines in the British Navy, and it was supposed it was due to the fact that the Deutschland being used for making long distance trips that the hydrogen was on board. He was not suggesting that the cylinders were left on board in the nature of a trap.

The Admiralty had no reason to believe there was anything dangerous on board, nor that they suspected the existence of the hydrogen, although it was known that there were bottles or vessels on ship which were supposed to contain compressed air or oxygen. In fact, they were the only things anybody thought they would contain.

The jury found that the cause of death in each case was shock, that the explosion was one of a mixture of hydrogen and oxygen, that the hydrogen was released from the two bottles by some of the dead men, who believed the contents to be oxygen, and that the explosion was accidental. They added that the Admiralty should have taken greater care in examining the different cylinders before delivering to any other owner.

The submarine Deutschland misc snippets

The submarine Deutschland misc snippets

Liverpool Echo, Aug 11th, 1916


An English woman living in London

Captain Paul KOENIG, commander of the German submarine Deutschland which left Baltimore, United States, last week on its return voyage across the Atlantic, was married some 15 years ago in Winchester to an Englishwoman. His wife is now living in a London suburb.

Before the war her husband was an officer in the North German Lloyd and as such an officer in the German Navy. Early in 1914 he commanded the liner Schleswig, and in June finished a Mediterranean trip at Bremerhaven. Mrs Koenig was then living at Winchester, her home since her marriage.

Desiring to consult a German specialist concerning the health of one of her children she joined her husband in Germany. In July Captain Koenig was called to the navy and saw his wife only at rare intervals during immobilisation. Then came the news that we had declared war on Germany. Although practically the only English woman in an important German naval port, Mrs Koenig did not waver in her patriotism, nor did the marriage tie alter her loyalty.

"My husband like the man he is recognised that, although I might technically be a German by marriage, I am English through and through, and when I said to him, "You do not expect me to take sides against my own country?" he replied, "No everyone must stand by their own country in these times. You would not be worth your salt if you did not, stand by mine! On that we parted and I have not seen him since"

After a great deal of difficulty Mrs Koenig was allowed to return to England. "I have not heard from my husband from that day to this" she continued, " although once or twice I have heard indirectly that he is well"

"On the morning that it was announced that the U-Liner had reached America I was travelling by train and had just read the news on the placards. A friend came up to me and said, "Don't you know that Paul is the captain?" "Paul, my husband, I echoed. I ran to the bookstall and bought all the papers I could. Sure enough there was his name, and the photograph published later set all doubt at rest."

"I am sure he had never been in a submarine before. I expect he was selected for his command because of his extensive acquaintance with American ports and Americans."

It was on a trip across the Atlantic 16 or 17 years ago that he first met his wife.


Liverpool Echo, 24 August 1916


HER 50,000 CARGO

Captain feted a national hero

The Deutschland, has reached Germany again after her voyage to America. She is reported slightly damaged and has a cargo of rubber and nickel, anchored in the mouth of the Weser and all is well on board.

She is slightly damaged, the crew are very unwilling to give details of their homeward voyage except they took the same route on both voyages.

Captain KOENIG is today feted as a national hero and has been summoned to the Kaiser's headquarters to report on his two voyages.

The Deutschland has a cargo of rubber and nickel worth a million marks and has also brought three mail bags from Count Bernstorff


Telegraph, 20 November 1916

U BOAT DEUTSCHLAND. Lawsuit Begun. New London, Connecticut, Sunday. The bailiff arrived here yesterday and served the owners of the Deutschland with papers in an action to recover 2500 per ton of the tug Scott, which was rammed by the Deutschland when the submarine freighter was engaged in a dash for the open sea on Thursday night

The Deutschland now lies on the slip from which she started with a hole stove in either of her bows while the dead bodies of 5 men forming the crew of the Scott lie in water 50 fathoms deep.

There is a Federal inquiry under way to solve the mystery, it is known that the Deutschland left suddenly and unexpectedly with a cargo of rubber, nickel, and silver bars and had two supporting tugs.

Captain KOENIG and his crew were suddenly drafted from a cinema show at the New London to man the submarine when the vessels agents gave the word that the time had arrived to start. The public had been told the submarine would not leave for another week, and the mysterious order to get away immediately excited speculation.

Pending the Federal inquiry the men concerned refused to make statements, and because all the submarine crew are wanted as witnesses there is no immediate prospect of another dash to sea.

Dec 15th 1918

Deutschland under allies

The Deutschland is the original German submarine of that name, which made three voyages to America as a merchant ship. He [as a submarine is always he] was afterwards fitted with two 5.9 guns and two torpedo tubes and went out on the usual pirate business. He sank several merchant ships, but there is nothing in the atrocity sense known against him. His cargo space for 1,000 tons was used for stowing spare torpedoes of which he carried 8. He is 213ft long and the British officer in charge told me that he had just discovered that he carried a crew of 74 many of whom must have been men in training for U-boats. He could keep the sea for three months and unlike the newer types, he has only one periscope.

Near the bow on deck you trip over a small dome, this is the top of the telephone buoy, which a submarine, sunk and unable to rise, releases to lie on the surface, in the hope that another submarine may come along and telephone down below, and if possible assist, or if too late, the buoy is evidence of his fate. There is also on board compartments with divers outfit and air connections which can be used below water for repair work.

The British crew reported that when taken over the Deutschland was in a horrible condition, with a bad stench, potatoes and other rotten vegetables and old bread lying everywhere. There was evidently no scarcity on submarines. Before leaving the German crew had played some tricks with the engines, but nothing serious. The machinery was very roughly finished, and although it differed in many ways from all English types it did not show any new ideas. The officer in charge, who had evidently enjoyed himself professionally in finding out all its workings, said, that after his two days on board he thought he could dive or trim the submarine all right.

"Did the Germans leave any keepsakes for you?" I asked one of the sailors. "Well, not what you might call keepsakes," he replied, rubbing his shoulder vigorously. J.B.


Western Morning News, 24 March 1922



Evidence in regard to the two new charges opened against Mr Bottomley on Wednesday was called at Bow-street Police Court, yesterday. An Admiralty witness related details as to the purchase and exhibition of the ex-German submarine and a bank official and Mr Bottomley's solicitor deposed to transactions in regard to 100,000 worth of Victory Bonds and Mr Bottomley's purchase of "The National News" and "The Sunday Evening Telegram"

Exhibition of the Deutschland

Mr Frederick F. Fisher, Assistant Director of Naval Contracts at the Admiralty, produced the records of the sale of the Deutschland and Mr Bottomley's proposals for exhibiting her. Witness was not familiar with the state of the boat at the time and could not say whether it had been adapted to allow people to go through it.

Mr Bottomley, You do not know whether any undertaking was given by me not to make any profits.

Witness, This is the Admiralty record

Mr Bottomley undertakes to give all the proceeds, after, payment of necessary expenses to the King George V. fund.

Witness added that he or his department recently applied to Mr Bottomley for particulars of the financial results of the exhibition, and a net loss from the exhibitions was shown of 5,720. The vessel was now being broken up at the direction of the Admiralty.

Mr Bottomley questioned the cost of breaking up and witness answered approximately 5000, adding that when the Admiralty originally sold the vessel for 3000 they described it as "a converted mercantile submarine.

Mr Bottomley, Were not the Admiralty rather surprised to hear from Mr Billing and myself that it contained enormous torpedoes fitting from the beginning as part and parcel of her construction ?

Witness, I cannot answer that, further questioned, he had read in the papers in the course of breaking up the vessel quite recently, dangerous explosive gases were discovered which killed several members of the crew, but he was not aware that Mr Bottomley had been personally sued by the dependants of those victims for compensation.

Mr Robert James, Managing Director of James Dredging, Towage and Transport Company, said that the vessel was delivered to the representatives of John Bull Ltd, on the instruction of Mr Pemberton Billing. He did not see Mr Bottomley at all in reference to the sale of the boat.

Mr John Garloch, accountant, gave details of the receipts from the exhibition of the Deutschland. His statement showed that profits were made in London and the Isle of Man and losses at Yarmouth, Southend-on-Sea, Ramsgate and Brighton.

Mr Norman Carter, formerly accountant to John Bull Ltd, until that company was wound up, produced an agreement between John Bull Ltd and Mr Bottomley for the purchase by Mr Bottomley of the Deutschland for 15,000, John Bull Ltd paid Mr Pemberton Billing, 17,000 for the ship.

Mr Francis John Cowing assistant manager of the Credit Lyonnais, Cockspur St, stated Mr Bottomley opened an account in May 1920, in June of that year there were lodged at the bank 100,000 worth of Victory Bonds, later they agreed to advance Mr Bottomley 50,000 against these bonds, on June 22nd, the account was overdrawn by 39,000, and on June 28th 100,000 worth of bonds were taken away, on the following day 71,000 was paid into the account.

Mr Roome who appeared with Mr Travers Humphreys pointed out that, that was the amount realized by the stock broker on the sale of the Victory Bonds

Mr Arthur S. Cohen solicitor gave evidence that in September 1919, Mr Bottomley wanted him to carry out on behalf of him and a friend, the purchase of "The National News" and "The Sunday Evening Telegram" and handed him 100,000 worth of Victory Bonds on which a temporary loan, with part of the advance obtained, the purchase of the "The National News" was effected. Advances from his bank on the security of the bonds amounted to 56,000, when he spoke to Mr Bottomley about it Mr Bottomley to realise 75,000 worth of stock on the stock market, Mr Bottomley paid into the bank 25,000 which wiped out the loan and left a credit balance. He agreed that the account showed that 24,500 was due to Mr Bottomley from the Victory Bond Club. The account purported to show that the total subscriptions were just over 482,590

Hearing adjourned until April 6th.



A judgement for 3,356 was given against Mr Bottomley, in the Admiralty Division, at the instance of Messers Clover, Clayton and Co, Ltd, ship repairers, Birkenhead, who claimed that amount for work done, materials supplied and money advanced in respect of the ex-German submarine Deutschland, and for graving dock dues. They further asked for a declaration that they had possessory lien upon the vessel and order for her sale, she was a mere shell and not likely to fetch more than 200, there was no objection on the Admiralty's part to the sale.


Aberdeen Journal 23 June 1922

BOTTOMLEY'S U BOAT. The German submarine Deutschland was sold at Liverpool yesterday for 200, to Messers Robert .Smith and Sons, Birkenhead, who intend to dismantle her at Rock Ferry Beach and sell her as scrap.

September 9th, 1933

U-boat Captain dies

Captain KOENIG who made a sensational submarine cross of the Atlantic during the world war, has died at Magdeburg, Prussia, aged 66.

He astonished the world, who knew nothing of such German plans, by appearing at Baltimore, Maryland on July 10th, 1916 in the German U-boat Deutschland having crossed the Atlantic for Germany.

As the hero of such a sensational stunt he was well received and applauded at Baltimore, in spite of the growing hostility to Germany at the time.

The Deutschland carried a cargo of dyestuffs, chemicals and medical supplies and after a brief stay at Baltimore Captain KOENIG safely brought the Deutschland back to Germany. He had crossed the Atlantic twice when the seas were scoured by warships and dotted with submarine nets.

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