A TEAM of divers is celebrating following a search lasting 12 years, after finding the wreck of a U-boat scuttled by its crew off the Scottish coast.
Just weeks before the Second World War ended in 1945, the submarine with 40 German sailors on board was apparently forced to surface after filling with chlorine gas following a toilet malfunction.
U-1206 was then spotted and attacked by Allied aircraft in the North Sea, forcing the captain to order it to be sunk and the crew to abandon ship.
Two days ago, with conditions deemed perfect for a dangerous deep-sea dive, a four-man team explored a spot 12 miles off Cruden Bay, Aberdeenshire, and, at a depth of 86 metres, became the first people in 67 years to see the wreck.
Jim Burke, who led the expedition, said: “The feeling on seeing it was one of elation and excitement.
“We found ourselves looking at a unique piece of Second World War history. The buzz was amazing. This was a significant bit of history.
“We have spent so much time and energy looking for her. It was great that we could finally see this boat that we had spent so much time researching.”
The IT engineer added: “Most dives we do involve discovering a wreck and then finding out her story.
“This was the first one where we have known all of her story beforehand, but finding her remained elusive until now.”
According to historians, the fault with the toilet – or “heads” – was caused by a crewman opening the wrong valve to flush it. This caused the contents of the toilet to flood the submarine’s batteries underneath, producing poisonous chlorine gas.
The problem derived from the toilet’s complicated high-pressure valve system, developed so U-boats could dive deeper to evade Allied attack.
Mr Burke said the German U-boat archive had shown the incident happened during repairs to the diesel engines after they stopped recharging the batteries. It recorded Captain Karl Schlitt as stating: “I was in the engine room, when, at the front of the boat, there was a water leak. What I have learned is a mechanic had tried to repair the forward WC’s outboard vent.
“The engineer who was in the control room at the time managed to make the boat buoyant and surfaced, despite severe flooding.
“Meanwhile the batteries were covered with sea water. Chlorine gas started to fill the boat.
“We were then incapable of diving or moving. At this point, British planes and patrols discovered us. I let the boat sink.”
The remaining crew of 37 were taken prisoners of war after three had drowned.
The incident has grabbed the imagination of television producers, with the story featuring on the popular children’s series Horrible Histories, and a Hong Kong production company plans to produce a documentary.
An uncorroborated theory from a relative of a crewman that the toilet fault was a cover story for the captain who had wished to surrender has been dismissed by nautical archaeologist Innes McCartney, who is completing a doctorate in U-boat wrecks at Bournemouth University.
Mr Burke, 48, has been working with the Buchan Divers group for 12 years.
The four-strong team had already found several other wrecks before this week’s success.