A U-Boat propeller dating back to the First World War has been returned to the German Navy after it was stolen from the North Sea.
Two propellers from the UC-75 submarine were found in a storage unit during a police raid in Bangor last September – it followed a search warrant at a house on Anglesey.
It’s thought the propellers were recovered illegally by a diver off the Yorkshire coast and destined to enter the scrap metal trade. No charges were pressed but a man was formally cautioned.
Built in Hamburg and launched in November 1916 – less than a year after it was ordered by the Imperial Navy – the UC-75 sunk fifty eight ships, including two warships, and damaged eight more by torpedo and mines.
But the UC-75 met its end in 1918 when it was sunk in retaliation by the foundering HMS Ferry in May 1918 – seventeen crewmen died and another 14 survived.
Now, one of the two propellers has been handed over to the German Navy on board FGS Bonn in Plymouth, where it is currently in dock for training.
It will be given to the naval museum in Laboe in time for the centenary of Armistice Day in November. The other propeller will go on display at the Royal Navy Museum in Portsmouth.
Captain Matthias Schmidt, German Naval Attache said: ”The propeller witnessed the struggle for life 100 years ago. It will come home….the story of UC-75 is ending in a message of reconciliation and hope – the fruit of the close partnership between our two nations that has brought us together here today.”
Vice Admiral Sir Alan Massey, the Maritime & Coastguard Agency’s chief executive, added: ”These propellers tell a story of bitter conflict and human loss, but also of bravery, selflessness and love. It is fitting that they will now serve to remind citizens in both our countries of the realities of war and the personal sacrifices that inevitably follow.”
The coastguard worked with North Wales Police and Historic England to retain and preserve the two propellers. It took over 50 hours for students at Southampton College’s marine skills school to clean the first item in time for the handover back to Germany.
Two Remembrance ceremonies will be held in both the UK and Germany in November to honour the fallen of both sides.
Alison Kentuck, the MCA’s receiver of wreck, said: ”The shipwrecks of the First World War are an important part of our shared cultural heritage and divers are making a huge contribution to our knowledge and understanding of these wrecks by finding new sites and putting names to previously unidentified ones.”
”However, it’s not a case of ‘finders’ keepers’ and all recoveries of wreck material must be reported to the Receiver of Wreck so that legal owners can be given an opportunity of having their property returned and museums and other institutions can be given an opportunity to acquire artefacts of historic significance.”
Historic England archaeologist Mark Dunkley said the salvage of the propellers, stolen for their scrap value, showed the vulnerability of a shared past to ”a small criminal minority”.