DAILY BREEZE UB-88 article

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Posted by . on October 18, 2003 at 13:04:17:

Divers say theyíve found WWI U-boat

WRECKAGE: Four share pictures, but say they wonít reveal location of German sub in San Pedro Bay.

By Andrea Sudano

Ray Arntz, Gary Fabian, Kendall Raine and John Walker share a secret they say theyíll take to their graves.

At the bottom of the San Pedro Bay they found UB-88, the only German U-boat on the West Coast. The much sought-after World War I sub is considered by some divers to be the Holy Grail of California wreckage sites, but the four refuse to disclose its exact location.

Iím happy as heck, Arntz said. This is the coup de grace of California diving.

But donít bother asking him where it is. Arntz, 50, wouldnít even tell his wife.

Danger is the main reason for the secrecy, he said. The submarineís resting place is deep in the San Pedro Bay ó much deeper than 130 feet, the cut-off for recreational diving.

Itís very serious diving, Arntz said. Only a seasoned technical diver who breathes a combination of helium and diminished oxygen and nitrogen would be experienced enough to reach the site safely.

The group worries that if it released the subís exact coordinates and depth, inexperienced divers might end up dead. Iíve brought up dead divers before and itís no fun, Raine said. Another reason for secrecy is that supposedly 25 pounds of unexploded TNT were placed inside the stripped sub by the U.S. Navy before its sinking in 1921, Fabian said.

UB-88 was a part of Project 44, a 1918 German commission to build bigger and stronger submarines. Thanks to a British shipping blockade, Germany was running out of fuel and supplies, and their Untersee boats were its only hope.

The new subs were longer, faster and more heavily armed than any previous U-boats. UB-88 was 185-feet-long, had two 500-horsepower diesel engines, 10 torpedoes, one 88 mm deck gun and a 34-man crew.

Under German orders to attack without warning any ships traveling to or from allied countries, UB-88 sank 13 ships in 10 months.

The sub was one of six U-boats given to the United States by Great Britain at the end of World War I. To promote the purchase of U.S. victory bonds, UB-88 toured the Atlantic and Pacific coasts, the Gulf of Mexico, and the Mississippi River before being dismantled in San Pedro. On Jan. 3, 1921, the U.S. Navy sunk UB-88 by live fire. The remaining TNT was placed inside the boat as a precaution in case live fire could not sink the sub. The scuttling charge was not necessary, but it remains a source of worry for the four divers. Despite the danger, other divers are eager to be let in on the secret, Walker said. At a recent presentation of their findings ó sans exact location, of course ó he said some audience members timed their video presentation, looking for an indication of the shipís depth.

The vultures are out there, he said.

Walkerís main fear is that should others find the site, they will try to salvage the subís contents, which the team has no intention of doing. All parties agree the U.S. Navy probably gutted the ship, but Walker, 42, said that wouldnít stop some divers.

A lot of people would go out there and rape and pillage the wreck, he said. Itís almost like a machismo thing.

Pat Miller, president of the California Wreck Divers club, understands the secrecy.

Itís part of the tradition from the old explorer days, she said.

Miller said UB-88 has long been a big mystery in Southern California and she has spent many days searching for it herself. Arntz has been searching for the sub for 20 years. Fabian began seriously searching for the ship a year-and-a-half ago. On July 9, by using U.S. Geological Survey high-resolution digital imagery and an underwater video camera, Fabian found the sub. Nearly two months later, divers Walker and Raine, 42, examined the site and took extensive photographs which were compared to the subís deck plans. They matched and the team was ecstatic. Weíve been looking for this for quite a long time, Walker said. Itís a blast. Still, the men kept their mouths shut for almost two months until they released their findings. Fabian, 40, wanted to get their documentation in order.

We wanted to have the right impact, he said. There are always rumors that so and so found it, but no oneís ever come forward and showed a picture. We didnít want to be those guys. Walker said he wasnít bothered by keeping tight-lipped for two months. It was fun because among our group we could snicker and giggle about our secret, he said.

Adding to the envy of Southern California divers, the History Channel contacted the group with interest in producing a documentary about their discovery.

Arntz said UB-88 was just one of the many wreckage sites up and down the coast of California heís interested in finding.

Thereís so much stuff out here, he said. I have a couple in mind, but I canít tell which ones.

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