Picture Postcards from the Great War

The story behind a Great War postcard - Tony Allen

(20) The German submarine UC-5

During the war, a German mine-laying submarine, the UC-5, was responsible for sinking 32 Allied ships, but ended her service not in glory, but in humiliation and later appeared on at least two British propaganda cards and one of them is illiustrated below.


This British postcard sketch showing a cut-away section through UC-5, illustrated how the mines were stacked in tubes and dropped from the bottom of the sub. After it was captured, UC-5 went on display at Temple Pier on the Thames and proved a huge propaganda coup. Details on the back of the card warned it was, ā€˜Not to be reprinted without permission of [the] Controller of H.M. Stationery Office.ā€™


Built at the Vulcan Shipyard in Hamburg, UC-5  was launched on 13th June 1915, and a week later joined the Flandern U-Flottille with Herbert Pustkuchen as her commander. Between July 1915 and April 1916, she carried out a series of 29 two-day and three-day patrols in the English Channel and North Sea. During this time, the submarine sank 32 vessels, including a warship and seriously damaged four other craft. 

One of the victims of UC-5 was the hospital ship Anglia. The U-boat had previously laid a field of mines in the English Channel and on 17th November 1915, H.M.H.S. Anglia was returning to Dover from Calais with 390 wounded on board and struck one of the mines. She started to sink bow first with her propellers spinning as her stern rose above the water and within fifteen minutes she sank. One hundred and twenty nine sick and wounded soldiers and crew were lost. Steaming to the stricken hospital ship was the collier Lusitania which also struck a mine and then sank. In June the following year, the activities of UC-5 ended abruptly, as the postcard depicted above testifies.

How did the British manage to capture the German submarine? Well, on 24th April 1916, under the command of Oberleutnant Ulrich Mohrbutter, UC-5 left her base at Zeebrugge. His orders were to lay a field of 12 mines one nautical mile east of the Shipwash light vessel. A heavy presence of Allied ships in the area forced UC-5 to submerge.

On the 27th, she surfaced only to run aground on the Shipwash shoal. A strong current forced the German vessel further onto the sandbank trapping it. Mohrbutter radioed Zeebrugge about the problem. However, unfortunately for him the British intercepted the message and when the destroyer H.M.S. Firedrake arrived on the scene, he ordered his men to abandon the U-boat and fire the scuttling charges ā€“ which failed to detonate.

The Royal Navy detained Mohrbutter and his crew of seventeen. Later, UC-5 was raised and then exhibited on the Thames at Temple Pier to generate funds for war loans and charities. The submarine arrived in London on 24th July 1916, said The Times, "lashed to the tug Princess" and "towed by the tug Bruno" and stayed on the Thames for three weeks. Over 200,000 people paid "a charge of 6d. and 3d...with the money going to sailors funds." Later, UC-5 was shipped to America and exhibited there too.



Copyright Ā© 2014 Picture Postcards from the Great War 1914-1918. All rights reserved.