Germany had deployed a number of submarines to guard the North Sea and the English Channel hundred years ago when the WWI was in full swing. The Germans used to call those submarines ‘U-boats’ (or U-boot, abbreviation of Unterseeboot or undersea boat in German language). The destruction of enemy shipping by German U-boats was a spectacular feature of both WWI and WWII.

The wreck of such a German UB-II type submarine, which sank during WWI, has recently been found in the North Sea off the Belgian coast. The Belgian government claimed that 23 bodies were inside the submarine and surprisingly, those were in ‘good condition’.

Governor of western Belgian province of West Flanders Carl Decaluwé said: “The submarine is in such good condition that we reckon all the bodies are still on board.” He also said: “This sort of submarine would have had a standard crew of 22 and one commander.”

Experts say that the Germans invented the U-boat in 1915-16. These submarines, around 88ft tall and 20ft wide, were able to dive to a depth of around 150ft. Germany had deployed 93 such ‘U boats’ in the North Sea near various major coastal cities in Europe during WWI and used them to destroy around 2,500 ‘enemy’ warships. However, the Allied forces, led by Britain, destroyed 70 U-boats and killed around 1,200 German soldiers.

According to a different source, the Germans stationed about 18 such vessels with the Flanders Flotilla in the Belgian city of Bruges between 1915 and 1918 in order to disrupt British trade routes in the English Channel and the North Sea. Thirteen of those 18 submarines were destroyed, of which the Belgian authorities have found 11 so far. The local government in West Flanders suspects that the recent find was part of the Flanders Flotilla and the “best preserved” of them all.

However, the Belgian authorities did not disclose the exact location where the U-boat is lying. Brussels said that the location of the wreck was being kept secret in order to prevent people going near it and to stop the submarine being looted or damaged. The Belgian officials only said that the vessel is lying at about a 45 degree angle, between 82-98ft below the surface.

Decaluwé informed the media that from the damage to the front of the submarine, it appears that the vessel might have struck a mine with its upper deck. Although two torpedo tubes were destroyed, the lower tube is still intact and closed. According to the governor, the main door of the U-boat was closed from inside and all the 23 bodies are still intact probably because the temperature was very low inside the vessel.

Meanwhile, Decaluwe contacted the German ambassador in Brussels. “We need to see what can do with the remains,” he said.

Koushik Das, based in the Indian capital of New Delhi, is a senior news editor with more than 15 years of experience. He also runs a blog – Boundless Ocean of Politics. E-Mail: [email protected]