Last resting place of man who killed Kitchener

Share this article

HE SANK the face of Britain's war effort, but the German submarine commander's final resting place had become a secret of the sea.

Now, almost 90 years later, experts believe they have found where the remains lie of the man behind the death of British war minister Lord Horatio "Your Country Needs You" Kitchener.

An investigation into two submarine wrecks off Orkney yesterday provisionally revealed that one was commanded by Kurt Beitzen.

It was Beitzen who laid the mine that blew up Kitchener's boat and drowned the minister whose moustachioed image had emphatically pointed out the importance of individual contributions to the First World War.

Earlier this year a routine sonar survey of the Orkney and Shetland coastline by a Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA) tug discovered the wrecks of two uncharted submarines about 70 miles east of Sanday Sound.

Grainy images of the submarines were captured using a three-dimensional sonar device, but their identities and nationalities were unknown.

However yesterday Rob Spillard, the MCA's hydrography manager, revealed: "It looks like they are German U-boats (U102 and U92) sunk in 1918 on the Northern Barrage, a series of mines which was laid east of Sanday Sound.

"One of the subs, it seems, was commanded by quite a famous commander - the man who sunk the ship that Lord Kitchener was on - so this is his watery grave."

That man was Beitzen, who on 23 May, 1916, was in charge of submarine U-75 on a deadly mission around the waters of Orkney and, with two other subs, secretly laid a carpet of 22 mines around the coastline.

Shortly after the Battle of Jutland in June 1916, HMS Hampshire was detailed to take Lord Kitchener, the secretary of state for war, his staff and a number of government officials from the anchorage of Scapa Flow to Northern Russia for discussions on plans by the Russians to buy munitions for their war effort against Germany.

The Hampshire and her escorting ships left Scapa Flow on 5 June 1916. Because of poor weather the escorts were forced to turn back and the Hampshire went on alone.

It is believed that, as a result of a failure to communicate intelligence information, the ship's captain, HJ Savill, was not aware that the area around Marwick Head had been mined.

At about 8pm the Hampshire struck a mine, possibly two, off mainland Orkney between Brough of Birsay and Marwick Head. It caused an electrical power failure and the cruiser's 650-strong crew could not launch the lifeboats.

The men jumped into the freezing waters as the Hampshire sank in just 15 minutes. Kitchener was last seen on the deck talking with members of his staff. His body was never found.

There were only 12 survivors, all of whom managed to reach the shore after spending at least an hour in the storm-tossed sea. The dead included Kitchener's interpreter, Second Lieutenant Robert David MacPherson, of the 8th Battalion Queen's Own Cameron Highlanders.

U-75, along with U-43 and U-44, were part of a German master plan to ambush the British Grand Fleet as it sailed from Scapa Flow. But due to poor communications the subs did not receive the signal to begin attacking British ships.

Once the fleet returned from the Battle of Jutland, the submarines had already left the Pentland Firth, but had laid their deadly mines in the area.

Beitzen later transferred to U102. In the autumn of 1918 the submarine was on its way back home to Germany when it was lost with all 42 hands somewhere on the Northern Barrage, an area of three separate minefields stretching between North Ronaldsay and Shetland.

By examining records, the researchers - Bobby Forbes of SULA diving in Stromness, and Kevin Heath of Stromness and Mike Lowery, an American author and authority on U-boats, also believe they have identified the second submarine as U-92, also "missing" since 1918.

Forbes was one of the team involved in the recent ScapaMap survey, which successfully mapped the locations of the remains of the German fleet scuttled at Scapa Flow in 1919.

The discovery of the U-boats was not part of the Scapa Flow project, but came during the MCA's ongoing process of undertaking hydrographic surveys in UK waters.

Mr Spillard went on: "If they are those two U-boats, it's clear that there were no survivors. It might also be the case that as well as being the graves of their crew, the submarines will still have live ammunition in them."

The data will now be passed to the hydrographic office for inclusion on the next edition of the charts to ensure the safe navigation about the coastline. The Receiver of Wrecks at the MCA will also look into questions about the ownership and scheduling of the wrecks, which will be a decision for the German government.

In the meantime work will be carried out to positively identify the submarines, which are effectively German war graves.

The discovery of the U-boats was part of efforts by the MCA to get accurate information about the seabed for safe navigation.

As the newly identified U-boats are in 70 metres of water, they pose no danger to passing shipping, but fishing boats could snag nets on them.

Mr Spillard said: "The tug's main role is to intervene when large vessels require towing away from the coast in order to protect shipping, lives and the environment."

In June 1919, 51 German ships were sunk in Scapa Flow on the orders of Rear Admiral Ludwig von Reuter to prevent them falling into Allied hands. Nine German sailors were shot by the British as troops tried to prevent the scuttling.

SINKING THAT LAUNCHED MANY THEORIES

MANY theories have been put forward about the sinking of HMS Hampshire and the death of Lord Kitchener.

It has been claimed the ship was sabotaged by a stowaway and even that the man on board was not the real war minister.

The Hampshire followed its fateful route despite a drifter, Laurel Crown, being sunk earlier by one of U-75's mines. News of the earlier sinking was delayed or even ignored.

Questions have been raised about the speed at which the ship left port in a storm and why little was done to save Lord Kitchener's life.

Local people claim armed soldiers were posted on the cliffs around Birsay to keep them away.

Theories for the sinking include the ship being blown up by Ernst Carl, Germany's master spy, with the help of Sinn Fein agents. It has also been claimed Kitchener shot himself in a government building and this was covered up by saying he was on the Hampshire.

Others said his death was a ruse to fool the Germans, that he was taken prisoner by a U-boat, or was living as a hermit on a remote island. There were sightings of his distinctive figure in Washington, Cairo, Rome and Cyprus.

Arthur Vectis Freeman, a journalist who wrote as "Frank Power", reported that the Admiralty had deliberately sent Kitchener to his death. Mr Power led an expedition to take the body back

from Norway to the UK, but when a coroner investigated the coffin it was found to be filled with tar.

Back to the top of the page