|Through the window of his helmet, Dusty Miller was pleased to see that the charge he had set a few minutes earlier had neatly blown the conning-tower hatch-lock and the cover was now sagging free. As he pulled the cover up and made to descend into the U-boats control room, he jerked back. A German officer came up the ladder and, poking his head above the lip, peered wide-eyed round about him.|
Though Dusty Miller was known for his nerve, he almost panicked as the German kept on coming up out of the hatchway. Within seconds, however, Dusty had himself back under control. The man was dead and it was only a small amount of air still inside the sub which was pushing the body up at him.
Dusty pulled the officers body free and saw it float, rather than fall, downwards over the hull by the gun and then merge into the gloom of the seabed. Only then did Dusty go down into the dark of the U-boats interior and begin searching by the light of his lamp for the iron box containing the boats code and signal books.
By this third year of World War One, Warrant Shipwright Ernest Charles Miller had carried out this kind of search many times before and had thought that nothing he saw in the sunken U-boats could upset him. But this time, as the dead bodies of the U-boats crew crowded around him, seeming to cluster closer at his every movement, he felt, as he said later, a bit twitchy.
He found the code box on the floor of the control room without much difficulty and dragged it towards the hatch ladder. He was about to hoist it upwards when he suddenly heard the subs engines start up. But that was impossible - the sub had been sunk a fortnight ago!
Mental pictures of crazed engineers trapped for all that time in the engine room of the U-boat flashed into his mind. It says a lot for his strength of will that instead of making a hasty exit Dusty hauled more line and airpipe into the control room and, with only his torch to light the way, set off towards the engine noise.
It was with great relief that he saw that the engine rooms watertight door was open and, shoving it wider, he could see that the engines were still and the compartment completely flooded. His mad engineers were dead, their bodies floating up in the top of the hull. But the sound of running engines still vibrated through the boat!
Even Dusty had now had enough. He returned to the control room, hoisted the code box up ahead of him and dragged it along the hull towards his shotline near the bow. It was as he finished pushing the box securely into a hoist net that he realised where the engine noise was coming from. Hanging down from one of the damaged bow torpedo tubes was a torpedo with its engine running flat out. When Dusty Miller had blasted the hatch open, the shock had started the torpedos engine.
At any moment the torpedo would succeed in breaking free and driving down into the seabed under the hull. Then the explosion would blow Dusty, his code box and much of the submarine to pieces. Dusty cracked. He jerked the emergency up pulls on his signal rope, at the same time yelling Up, up, up into his helmet telephone. Even so, he was only just out of the water and not even properly on the deck of the trawler when the torpedo explosion surfaced in an eruption of white water.
Whatever Dustys feelings about it, the Admiralty thought the dive had been very worthwhile. The iron box, which was recovered unharmed, contained not only the latest code signal books but a complete set of blueprints of the U-boat, which, as she was the latest type of minelayer, were also gratefully received by their lordships.
Dusty Millers undersea war against the German U-boats led to many other narrow escapes. For Royal Navy divers this was a war fought out in clumsy helmet diving gear, sometimes almost on hands and knees, inside the shattered and crumpled compartments of more than 50 sunken submarines around the coasts of Britain.
Signs of that undersea war can still be seen today. If you dive a World War One U-boat and find her hatches open, dont think that this must mean that the crew tried to escape. Open hatches may well indicate that Dusty Miller was there more than 80 years before you!
Ernest Charles Millers war began at midnight on 4 August 1914, at the same time as for all the rest of Britains armed forces. But the excitement of the declaration soon died away and Shipwright Miller found his Naval life as boring as it had been in peacetime. So he took a diving course.
His instructors expected little of him. He was thin and pale-faced, but he was keen and turned out to be surprisingly wiry. His end-of-course report said he was very proficient, cool and courageous and able to withstand pressure better than most. His marks on the underwater explosives course were very high too. So it is not surprising that Dusty Miller quickly became an instructor at the Navy diving school at Whale Island, Portsmouth.
German U-boat attacks on Allied shipping soon began to take effect, with the largest and most controversial (was she or was she not carrying munitions) sinking of the 30,396-ton liner Lusitania in May 1915. But the Navy began to hit back and sank nine U-boats during the first 11 months of the war at sea. The 10th U-boat to be lost in the war was, however, the result of an accident. And it was to change Dusty Millers life.
On 2 July 1915, UC-2, one of the smallest of the minelayers and commanded by Oberleutnant Karl Mey, was on her first voyage across the North Sea when she was hit, while at periscope depth, by an almost equally small coastal steamer called Cottingham.
After the steamers captain reported hitting something that might have been a submarine, minesweepers dragged the Yarmouth Roads area with nets and sweeping gear, and hooked into an obstruction. Later that evening, there was an explosion from the buoyed position, which suggested that the sweepers had shaken something loose.
When this report reached the Admiralty, someone had a brainwave. Why not send a diver down Perhaps he could tell them about the U-boat - was she really carrying mines If so, how many What sort of periscopes was she using - the list of questions was almost endless, because the Navy knew very little then about Germanys undersea fleet.
The diver chosen to be the first man to dive a sunken German submarine was Dusty Miller. Together with his helmet, an air-pump, all his other diving gear, and two attendants, he was rushed by Naval lorry from Portsmouth to Yarmouth.
There they were joined by Commander Guybon Chesney Castell Damant, a famous Navy diver who, nine years before the war, had carried out research into Haldanes decompression tables for the Admiralty. He was also a former deep diving world record holder (210ft in 1906) and the fact that he was now put in charge of this U-boat diving operation shows how important the Admiralty considered it.
At dawn, they went by trawler to the scene of the sinking. It was not an easy dive. The buoyed line led down through almost pitch-black water to a tangle of netting and weed, and it was some time before Dusty could be sure that he was on a submarine and not an old shipwreck. However, he finally found the submarines conning-tower, which had its hatch firmly shut. Diver Miller then moved along the hull towards her bow. He had gone only a yard or so before he discovered a huge hole in the subs starboard side. He examined the hole carefully by the light of his torch. Though he feared for his airpipe against the jagged edges, he could not answer any of the Admiraltys questions by staying outside. To add to his problems, the tide was starting to run. He tied off his airline to a projection near the hole with a lanyard so that the only pull on it once he moved into the hull would be his own.
Afterwards, he was unable to say why he knew he was in the officers quarters as soon as he moved carefully in over the inner hull plating. He had found himself up against a closed, but unfastened, watertight door. He forced it open.
As he went through, he fully expected to come face to face with the bodies of the crew and had steeled himself for the shock, but there was no one in what was clearly the U-boats control room.
He took his time studying the periscopes and other equipment, and committed as many details to memory as he could. He was about to leave when his torch shone on an iron box on the floor. It was unlocked and opened easily. Too easily - for the disturbance of lifting the lid sent a cloud of loose papers floating out, up and around him. Left in the box were several books. Dusty gathered as many of the papers as he could and stuffed them, together with the books, into his canvas pouch before making his way back to the shotline and so to the surface.
Commander Damant did not try to conceal his delight with Dustys haul. He had little doubt that two of the books contained secret codes and that the third book was the current German High Seas Fleet signal manual. He was right. The loose papers turned out to be part of a plan of a minefield laid only hours before and showed that the submarine was part of the new Flanders Flotilla. She had cleared Zeebrugge only three days before.
Unfortunately, the exact position of the new minefield was on one of the papers which had floated clear of Dusty Millers grasp. But that seemed a minor point. The Admiralty was over the moon about his haul and Dusty Miller became the founder diving member of the Royal Navys U-Boat Flying Squad. Commander Damant and Diver Miller were now given priority access to all sinkings of U-boats around the coast of Britain, and Damant was also given powers to commandeer any suitable ship for use as a diving tender.
UC-2 had apparently sunk herself with one of her own mines. This was confirmed a short while later when the U-boat was raised and found to have six rearward-sloping chutes for dropping 12 mines. One of the chutes was blown wide open and had made the hole in the hull through which Dusty Miller had entered. The mine in the chute had exploded when its arming device was triggered by the minesweepers efforts to hook the sub.
The next call for the diving flying squad was not long in coming. In fact it was only a month later that Damant again took his little command to Yarmouth and put all their gear aboard a trawler. They had been asked to examine a submarine reported sunk off Smiths Knoll Spar Buoy by the gunfire of a decoy vessel, but for three days the weather put an end to any chance of going out. On the fourth day, despite the heavy sea still running, Damant decided to risk putting his diver down. Dusty had his doubts, but after something of a surface struggle he went down a line hooked into the sub as fast as he could.
In fact, he reported reaching 100ft in less than a minute with his ears giving him hell. His boots clunked on to the sub near the conning-tower. She was lying over on her port side amid thick kelp which, despite the depth, was swaying madly in the surges from the swell up above.
Although there were rather graphic reports of the sinking by a decoy vessel - the gunners claimed their three-pounder shells burst right in the conning-tower - Dusty Miller could find only one hole in her hull, a hole much too small for him to wriggle through. The conning-tower hatch was sealed, so he decided to blow it open. He placed a gun-cotton charge rigged with firing-circuit wiring which he had taken down with him, and then surfaced and somehow got back aboard the trawler. The charge was then detonated.
Dusty went down again through a cloud of dead fish and tied off his airline by a lanyard to a rail near the conning-tower, leaving himself about 30ft the other side of the tie. Then through his phone he ordered: Haul taut!
His attendants pulled the airpipe and his line as nearly straight as the tide and surge would allow. The lanyard took the strain off Dusty and ensured that there was no loose pipe to thrash around and get entangled in the wreck. He then set about entering the sub through the blown-open hatch.
It was a grisly experience. As he lowered himself gingerly down through the opening, he was immediately surrounded by bodies. So closely did they press in on him that he had to tie them to the roof of the control room with lanyards before he could search the interior with his torch. It took him some minutes to find the strong-box, which was identical to the one in his first sub except that it was locked. It took him more minutes to manoeuvre the box up through the hatch, attach a line to it and give the signal to haul it up.
Now he had to look after himself. He released the lanyard holding back his air-line and gave the order: Up pipe! The pipe lifted clear and Dusty throttled back the air-vent on his helmet. As the air started to fill his suit, he slid up the shotline towards the surface.
At 30ft he swapped from the shotline to a short, heavily weighted line waiting for him. While hanging there, he swung his arms and legs about in exercises that he had been trained to use to aid his decompression by increasing his blood circulation. Then after five minutes he moved up to 20ft for 10 minutes, and then up again for a final 15 minutes before surfacing.
Long before he reached the open air, another smaller block of gun cotton had bust open the recovered strong-box, revealing that Dusty had hit the jackpot once again! Sodden but still readable were books of new codes, a complete blueprint plan of the sub, which was revealed as UB-4, and a bonus - plans of two new German minefields in the North Sea.
UB-4 is today at 52 43 00; 02 18 00E. Her depth is 30m. She is well broken and it looks as though some salvage has been done in recent years. She is well into the sand-silt seabed. She was commanded by Oberleutnant Carl Gross and was one of the new small attack boats. On 15 August 1915, Gross made the fatal mistake of surfacing close to Smiths Knoll, Yarmouth, intending to sink by gunfire an apparently harmless fishing smack called Inverlyon. She might have looked harmless, but in addition to her normal crew of three she carried a three-pounder and five naval ratings to man it.
Gross had barely shouted his command for the Inverlyon crew to abandon ship when he was hit by six shells rapid-fire. Holed by at least two of them, UB-4 sank swiftly and there were no survivors. Inverlyon had her trawl down when attacked and then made sure that she hooked fast into the U-boat wreck. It was one of those trawl lines that was used by Dusty Miller to get down to her.
Though Dusty was obviously winning his war, it had to be kept top secret. Only Dusty, his diving attendants, Commander Guybon Damant and a few very senior Naval officers knew how it was that the Royal Navy seemed so incredibly well informed about German submarine activities.
As Dusty dived to more and more U-boat sinkings, junior RN officers too were puzzled when told that a minefield had been laid in such and such an area and would they please go and sweep it up. Sometimes the mines had been down only for a day! Soon German U-boat crews were saying that British Naval Intelligence knew more about their movements than they did, but they blamed the British Secret Service, which they credited with having agents everywhere in Germany. If he had known what they were saying, Dusty Miller would have been pleased, but so many U-boat wrecks now needed searching that he was diving almost every day in the hunt for more of their secrets.
|It has not been possible to guide todays divers to all the U-boats explored by Dusty Miller, as the Official Secrets Act and Admiralty instructions made him reluctant to give the identity and number of some submarines when recounting his experiences. However, many of the U-boats have been pinpointed and they are named here, together with todays diving information about them. Anyone who dives these German U-boats, which were first examined by Dusty Miller and the World War One Royal Navy Diver Flying Squad, commanded by Captain G C C Damant, should not enter any of these sunken submarines as they are considered to be war graves.|
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