German WWII submarine U 581 found off Portugal

Photo: Ewonik

Researchers have found the ‘U 581’ World War II submarine belonging to Nazi Germany’s Kriegsmarine.

The submarine lies at a depth of nearly 900 meters on the sea bed off the Portuguese Azores island of Pico.

Researchers from the German Rebikoff-Niggeler-Foundation found the wreck in September 2016 but announced the discovery this February.

The U 581 sunk between February 1 – 2 after an attack Royal Navy destroyer HMS Westcott. After being hit, the submarine’s captain decided the submarine should surface in order for the crew to evacuate. 42 crew members survived the evacuation and four lost their lives.

The sister ship of the world-renowned U 96, well-known from the film Das Boot, is a rare find for marine researchers. Thanks to maritime records the time of her sinking can be pinpointed to the early hours of February 2, 1942. Since then, the boat’s hull—67 meters long, weighing nearly 800 metric tons, and broken in two—has been lying at a depth of 870 meters. The vegetation growing on it is now giving researchers valuable information on the rate of biological development in deep waters that are in almost complete darkness.

These findings have been made possible by a plexiglas dome developed by Evonik for the LULA1000 submersible. The dome is almost invisible under water, permitting high-resolution videos to be recorded without distortion even at great depths.

Filipe Mora Porteiro, director of Marine Affairs for the regional government of the Azores and himself a marine biologist, was impressed by the first pictures of the wreck: “I’m astonished by the large number and rapid growth of the corals.” There has so far been very little research on the rate at which the many species of coral reefs develop in deep waters.

The discovery of U 581 is due to a husband-and-wife team of German explorers, Kirsten und Joachim Jakobsen. They are the driving force behind the LULA1000, which is owned by the Rebikoff-Niggeler Foundation. Evonik has been supporting the research projects of the Foundation since 2013. The Jakobsens are in great demand as consultants for deep-sea video recordings for marine biologists and television stations throughout the world. They started their research on U 581 some years ago, and expected the first findings last autumn. Pictures had already confirmed that it was indeed U 581 they were looking at.

By means of advanced lighting engineering, the Foundation plans to record more high-resolution pictures, from which a 3-D model of the submarine will be generated. Also on the cards is a TV documentary on the history and scientific value of the sunken warship.

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