Diving the UB-88 Submarine Wreck

UB-88 Submarine U-boat wreck

What it's like to dive a 190' deep World War 1 U-Boat wreck

Part of the allure of technical wreck diving is getting the opportunity to experience bits of history that very few others, not even many other divers, get to experience. This is why when I received an invitation to go dive the UB-88, a German WWI U-boat off San Pedro, California, and the only U-boat wreck on the West Coast, I jumped at the chance.

History of UB-88

UB-88 was a UB-III type submarine launched in Hamburg in 1917. Armed with 10 torpedoes and a deck gun, she was credited with sinking 16 Allied vessels during the war. In November of 1918, UB-88, along with the rest of the German fleet, was surrendered under the terms of the Armistice with Germany. As one of six U-boats allocated to the United States, UB-88, manned by a U.S. Navy crew, traveled to the U.S. to tour over 40 cities along the Atlantic coast, the Mississippi River, and the West Coast as far north as Seattle, all as part of the Victory War Bond drive. She completed her tour in Los Angeles in 1920, where she was stripped and dismantled. Some of her brass was made into commemorative paperweights.

On March 1, 1921, UB-88 was towed outside of San Pedro Harbor and shot down by the destroyer USS Wickes. She sank in about 190 feet of water.

Diving the UB-88 Submarine Wreck

Surface conditions were beautiful--the sun was shining, the water was blue, and the wind and swell were virtually nonexistent. With our hopes up for a great dive, we started to drop down the shot line, and our optimism was rewarded when, at about 120 feet, we could see the first team on the bottom.

The first thing I noticed was the cloud of fish enveloping the wreck. The health of the fish population on our deeper and more remote wrecks is plainly evident, particularly in comparison to those wrecks that are shallower, more accessible, and more often fished. Penetrating through the fish layer, we found what we had come for--a 180ish-foot chunk of rusty metal that has been resting on the sea floor for nearly a century.

Given its time underwater, the wreck is in remarkably good shape. Unfortunately, submarines just aren't really all that much to look at from the outside, particularly one that was so thoroughly stripped as UB-88. Of course the most prominent feature on what was otherwise a fairly nondescript metal tube was the conning tower, which we swam around a handful of times. Every time I dive a sub, I'm reminded just how small submarines are. It's hard to believe that a crew of over 30 men sandwiched themselves in here.

UB-88 Submarine U-boat wreck

Conning tower, UB-88.

 

Moving forward of the conning tower, we came across the majority of the damage inflicted during UB-88's sinking. Wickes purportedly fired 20 rounds into the U-boat's bow before the sub listed forward and nose-dived into the waves. Parts of the outer hull are gone, giving a view of the pressure hull.

UB-88 Submarine U-boat wreck

Moving forward along the deck of UB-88

UB-88 Submarine U-boat wreck

Moving forward along the deck of UB-88

UB-88 Submarine U-boat wreck

Looking aft toward the gun mount and the conning tower

UB-88 Hull

Deteriorated outer hull and exposed pressure hull

UB-88 Submarine U-boat wreck

Exposed torpedo tubes and wreckage.

UB-88 Submarine U-boat wreck

Exposed torpedo tubes and wreckage.

 

We came across the biggest wolf eel I've ever seen in the wreckage. Its head was the size of a basketball.

UB-88 Submarine U-boat wreck

Wolf eels inhabiting wreckage of UB-88.

 

Circling around to the port side, we came across the business end of the U-boat's four forward torpedo tubes.

UB-88 Submarine U-boat wreck

Forward torpedo tubes of UB-88. Spot the wolf eel!

UB-88 Submarine U-boat wreck

Forward torpedo tubes and diving plane of UB-88.

The aft section of the submarine was not very interesting, save for some deck features and a few gaping holes in the hull.

UB-88 Submarine U-boat wreck

Deteriorated outer hull and pressure hull, UB-88

UB-88 Submarine U-boat wreck

A cleat?

UB-88 Submarine U-boat wreck

A hand wheel

I had been advised not to miss the ghost nets on the stern of the sub, and they really were truly spectacular. Decorated with Metridium and strawberry anemones and suspended by still-intact fishing floats, they hung over the wreck like an eerie—and deadly—curtain.

UB-88 Submarine U-boat wreck

Stern of U-boat and ghost net floats.

UB-88 Submarine U-boat wreck

Diver framed by ghost nets on the stern of the UB-88 submarine.

UB-88 Submarine U-boat wreck

Ghost nets on the stern of the UB-88 submarine.

UB-88 Submarine U-boat wreck

Ghost nets on the stern of the UB-88 submarine.

 

With nearly an hour of decompression looming over the dive, it was time to go. If one allure of deep diving is the exclusivity, another almost addictive quality is the necessarily ephemeral nature of the dives. There's just never quite enough time to see everything, and it keeps you wanting to come back for more. I'll definitely bite again the next time a UB-88 dive trip comes around!


5 Responses to “Diving the UB-88 Submarine Wreck”

  1. Steve Peterson says:

    Great photos and writeup? How much bottom time did you have? diving from a private boat or charter? If charter, which one? Were you using air, rebreather, or trimix? Would you ike to be a guest speaker for our dive club, Channel Islands Divers, located in the Oxnard/Ventura area. We meet the 3rd wed each month.

    · December 24, 2013 @ 10:31 am

    Reply

    • Ashley Hauck says:

      Hey there Steve! I apologize for not having responded! On this dive, I believe I had 20-25 minutes of bottom time–not very much at all :( We chartered Darrell Walker’s inflatable to get out there; I’m not sure of the name, but I can find out if you’d like! I am available to speak at dive clubs if you are still interested. Feel free to shoot me an email at ashley@ashleyhauck.com :) Thanks for commenting!

      · April 16, 2014 @ 1:03 pm

      Reply

  2. Pascal says:

    Magnifique! I’m used to dive wrecks victims of U-Boot WWI. I also know 2 U-Boot of WWII. It is rare even images (superb) of such a U-Boot WWI. It is very successful. Congratulations!

    U-976 : http://www.regardelamer.com/article-u976-loup-gris-solitaire-119674476.html

    Pascal
    http://www.regardelamer.com

    · April 16, 2014 @ 12:38 pm

    Reply

    • Ashley Hauck says:

      Merci, Pascal! Vos photos de U-976 sont vraiment incroyables. La profondeur de U-976 est à seulement 2 mètres de moins que UB-88, mais la lumière est tellement meilleur! La visibilité dans Yeu doit être vraiment excellent. Merci pour le partage! Je veux plonger en Europe un jour!

      · April 16, 2014 @ 12:56 pm

      Reply

      • Pascal says:

        Merci Ashley. Vos photos sont plus colorées. C’est très beau. De même, les poissons d’eau froide sont impressionnants ! Ils feraient presque peur ;-). Hier et ce matin j’ai passé pas mal de temps sur vos pages. Les photos sous les plate-forme de forage sont très belles !
        Dans la région ù je plonge (et où j’habite) Yeu, Saint-Nazaire, Noirmoutier, Belle-Ile il y a de nombreuses épaves de cargos coulés pendant la WWI. La visibilité ici est très changeante. Les épaves très au large comme le U976 situé à 40km des côtes on parfois une visibilité incroyable et méconnue. Nous sommes peu nombreux à plonger les épaves du large. L’été 2013, nous avons plongé l’Hirondelle, une victime de U-Boot en 1917. Une épave lointaine, profonde et très peu visitée.
        http://www.regardelamer.com/article-hirondelle-plongee-d-exception-119375688.html

        Bonne journée.
        Pascal

        · April 17, 2014 @ 7:00 am

        Reply

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