SM U-20

SM U-20

SM "U-20" was a German Type U 19 U-boat built for service in the Kaiserliche Marine. She was launched on December 18, 1912, and commissioned on August 5, 1913. During World War I, she took part in operations around the British Isles.


On May 7, 1915, "U-20" was patrolling off the southern coast of Ireland under the command of Kapitänleutnant Walther Schwieger. Three months earlier, on February 4, the Germans had established a u-boat blockade around the United Kingdom and had declared any vessel in it a legitimate target.

At about 1:40 pm Schwieger saw a vessel approaching through his periscope. From a distance of about 700 m Schwieger noted that she had four funnels and two masts making her a liner of some sort. He recognised her as the RMS "Lusitania", a vessel in the British Fleet Reserve, and fired a single torpedo. The torpedo struck on the starboard side, almost directly below the bridge. Following the torpedo's explosion, the liner was shattered by a second explosion, possibly caused by coal dust, munitions in the hold, or the self-destruction of its boiler plant, so huge that Schwieger himself was surprised. The "Lusitania" sank rapidly in 18 minutes with the loss of nearly 1,200 lives.

Fifteen minutes after he had fired his torpedo, Schwieger noted in his war diary::"It looks as if the ship will stay afloat only for a very short time. [I gave order to] dive to 25 metres and leave the area seawards. I couldn't have fired another torpedo into this mass of humans desperately trying to save themselves."

There was at the time and remains now a great controversy about the sinking, not only over whether the rules of engagement permitted Schwieger to attack and whether "Lusitania" was smuggling contraband war material to England, but also over the number of torpedoes Schwieger fired.

Before he got back to the docks at Wilhelmshaven for refuelling and resupply, the United States had formally protested to Berlin against the brutality of his action.

Kaiser William II wrote in the margins of the American note: "Utterly impertinent" and "outrageous" and "this is the most insolent thing in tone and bearing that I have had to read since the Japanese note last August." Nevertheless, to keep America out of the war, in June the Kaiser was compelled to rescind the unrestricted submarine warfare order and require that all passenger liners be left unmolested.

On September 4, 1915 Schwieger was back at sea with "U-20", eighty five miles off the Fastnet Rock in the south Irish Sea. This rock held one of the key navigational markers in the western ocean, the Fastnet Lighthouse, and any ships passing in and out of the Irish Sea, would be within visual contact of it.

The RMS "Hesperian" was now beginning a new run outward bound from Liverpool to Quebec and Montreal, with a general cargo, also doubling as a hospital ship, and carrying about 800 passengers.

She was attacked off the Fastnet, a landmark islet in the north Atlantic, off the south-west coast of Ireland. The "History of the Great War: The Merchant Navy, Vol. II", by Hurd, reads::"Only a few days before, Count Bernsdorff, the German Ambassador, had assured the United States government that passenger liners will not be sunk without warning and without ensuring the safety of the non combatants aboard providing that the liners do not try to escape or offer resistance."

This time, Schwieger was received with official disgust upon his return to Wilhelmshaven. Ordered to report to Berlin to explain himself, he was required to apologise for having sunk another passenger liner in defiance of a direct order not to do so again. He complained about his treatment in Berlin thereafter.

After his death in 1917, Schwieger was forgiven in Berlin. He received Germany's highest decoration: Pour le Mérite, having sunk by that time 190,000 tons of ships.


On 4 November, 1916 "U-20" grounded herself on the Danish coast around position coord|56|33|N|08|08|E|scale:10000000. Her crew blew her up the following day. [ [ Royal Danish Naval Museum] (found dead 1/13/2008)]


Clive Cussler claims his National Underwater and Marine Agency (NUMA) located the remains of the WWI-era "U-20" in 1984. [ [ North Sea and English Channel Hunt] ]


External links

*cite web | title=| work= List of all U-Boats – U-20| url=| accessdate=February 28| accessyear=2007

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