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Model of sunken German U-boat comes to National WWI Museum

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BerichtGeplaatst: 20 Sep 2008 6:05    Onderwerp: Model of sunken German U-boat comes to National WWI Museum Reageer met quote

Model of sunken German U-boat comes to National WWI Museum

If you stood the German U-boat from World War I upright it would be slightly taller than the tower of the Liberty Memorial.

So it is unlikely that the National World War I Museum will ever acquire, much less display, a U-boat of that size.

But the museum this week unveiled the next best thing: an exact metal model of a U-boat that sank eight Allied ships before succumbing to depth charges in the final months of the war. The exquisitely detailed model, 53 inches long, was made in 1916 by the same manufacturer that built the real thing in the same shipyard in Bremen.

“That puts it into a class by itself,” said Museum Director Eli Paul. “It’s not something that was made by an enthusiast decades later. I can’t imagine it could be more accurate.”

Like tanks and airplanes, submarines were a critical and deadly innovation in the art of warfare that arose with World War I. But the Liberty Memorial’s displays were lacking in that area until now.

Officials created a space for a U-boat model when the museum was built, but searched unsuccessfully for a craftsman who could create one suitable for a scholarly display. Liberty Memorial Association member Dick Rubenstein, a graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy, suggested contacting the Navy.

It turned out that the Naval Sea Systems Command had a large collection of models from fleets around the world, including just what the Liberty Memorial was looking for. After some negotiation, the Navy agreed to make it a long-term loan to the museum in Kansas City.

“Such a qualified institution as the National World War I Museum gives us the rare opportunity to display a significant ship model in complete historical context,” said Dana Wegner, curator of ship models with the Navy.

Merilyn Kelly of Louisburg, Kan., on Tuesday was one of the first visitors to view the U-boat model.

“It’s really fabulous,” Kelly said. “We’re used to seeing the modern submarines. That’s just amazing.”

The detail on the model includes a life preserver that was hung on the conning tower, a spotlight, five topside hatches and the railing used by the sailors. The deck was armed with an 88mm gun and a 105mm gun, as well as a machine gun for air defense. Six torpedo tubes, four bow and two stern, also meant business.

Germany was not the only country with submarines, but it was the one that used them as a strategic weapon.

The superior British surface navy had tightened a blockade around Germany to try to starve her out of the war. The Germans retaliated by sending U-boats to attack merchant shipping bringing supplies to Britain. That led to the defensive innovation of the convoy system across the North Atlantic.

In 1914, Germany had 20 U-boats and hit 15 Allied ships. By 1917, Germany had 140 U-boats and hit 3,660 ships. By that year, German U-boats had destroyed about 30 percent of the world’s merchant ships.

Germany’s willingness to also attack passenger liners such as the Lusitania and the Laconia contributed to the U.S. decision to enter the war in April 1917.

The Liberty Memorial’s model is of the U-104, which Curator Doran Cart described as “an ocean-going raider,” as opposed to a costal defensive ship.

It was launched July 3, 1917, and commanded by Kapitänleutnant Kurt Bernis. The U-boat met its end April 25, 1918, in the waters between Ireland and Wales, sunk by the HMS Jessamine. Bernis was among 41 crewmen who died. One German sailor survived.

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