UB_14_with_its_crew

14 August 1915 – Aegean Sea

Seen above, SM UB-14 has already made an epic journey from Bremen, where she was first laid down in November, to the Austro-Hungarian Navy port at Pola on the coast of Croatia. Upon commissioning, A.G. Weser shipbuilders broke the boat into sections, loaded the parts onto trains, and reassembled them at Pola, where her German crew re-launched at the beginning of June. Commanded by Oberleutnant zur See Heino von Heimburg, and reflagged as SM U-26 of the kaiserliche und königliche Kriegsmarine (Imperial and Royal Navy) because Germany is still not officially at war with Italy, the UB-14 torpedoed and sank the 10,000-ton Italian armored cruiser Amalfi right away on June 7th. Another example of the asymmetric threat represented by the U-boat, this loss shocked the Italian Navy into a defensive crouch that is making them dependent on their new partners to fight for control of the Adriatic Sea.

But pickings have been slim since then, and the pleadings of Turkish allies have been constant, so the UB-14 was towed to the Strait of Otranto and then motored past Crete, where the ship’s engine and gyrocompass promptly failed. Limping into the Aegean port of Bodrum, Heimburg’s ship needed custom repairs by a German team from Constantinople before finally returning to sea yesterday in search of their second victory. After an uneventful night in the sea lanes, they do not have to wait very long today before sighting quarry.

Passing up a hospital ship in transit to Alexandria with wounded men from the disastrous Gallipoli campaign, Heimburg closes on the Canadian-flagged 11,000-ton troopship Royal Edward, bound fast for the Dardanelles with reinforcements. Firing one of his two torpedoes, Heimburg hits the steamer dead astern, and she sinks quickly with 855 men of the 29th Infantry Division still aboard, the largest loss of troops to a torpedo so far in the Great War. About six hundred men and crew are rescued by nearby ships, including the hospital ship Soudan which Heimburg had just left alone. Leaving the scene, the UB-14 must dodge a pair of French destroyers, damaging their gyrocompass again, requiring further repairs at Bodrum.

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The Royal Edward was indistinguishable from a passenger liner. It was her cargo that made the ship a target

When Oberleutnant Heimburg and his crew get back to sea, they have a new passenger on board: Prince Heinrich XXXVII Reuss of Köstritz, a junior member of a young branch in one of the oldest noble houses of Europe, bound for Constantinople. Enroute on September 2nd, the U-14 hits and severely damages the 11,900-ton steamer Southland ferrying Australian troops to Gallipoli, barely missing with their second torpedo. At that point, they have earned the distinction of torpedoing three of the largest ships of the war — a feat out of balance with their low overall total of ships sunk.

Heino von Heimburg

Heino von Heimburg after receiving the Pour le Mérite

The attack causes another mechanical breakdown, however. Two days later, Heimburg and ‘Prince’ Heinrich hear that the British submarine E7, part of the flotilla which has wreaked havoc on Turkish naval and commercial traffic, is caught in an anti-submarine net off Nagara Point. Not content to remain beached with so much excitement at hand, they row out to sea with the UB-14‘s cook and use a plumb line to find the E7, dropping a ‘sinker mine’ right on top of it and forcing her captain to the surface. Between the Turkish shore batteries, which open up a furious barrage, and the British submarine’s scuttling charges detonating, the daring trio is very nearly killed in the ensuing chaos.

But upon completing their repairs, the crew of the UB-14 are reassigned to the Black Sea, which is a very different environment. Alarmed by the appearance of German submarines, Russian Admiral Andrei Augostovich Eberhardt reacts exactly like the Italians, adopting an extremely conservative posture to prevent the loss of any precious battleships to their torpedoes. After sinking two small Russian steamers in October, and a daring mission to intercept and destroy the British submarine E20 in November, the UB-14 only manages to claim one more victim during her career. In part, this is because she is so temperamental, constantly in need of fixes to one system or another, but it is a curious irony that the ship’s success always seems to make her enemies so scarce.

The Italian armored cruiser Amalfi, sunk by the UB-14

The Italian armored cruiser Amalfi, sunk by the UB-14 in June, was much larger and more expensive than any submarine