Sinking of UB72, 12 May 1918

This first appeared on WW1-L in February 1999, and is reproduced here courtesy of the author, Colin Hague (

My late uncle (Petty Officer James Hollier Hague, born c1890) transferred to submarines in 1911 after previous RN service and was released in 1919. I'm told that he first enlisted, as a boy, on sail training ship Arethusa in about 1904 (I must check this at PRO). Subs must have been quite a culture shock. Perhaps it merited an extra sixpence a day! It was during his time in D4 that he was awarded the DSM for the action in which UB72 was sunk. At the time he was coxswain, in the rank of Petty Officer. I have yet to investigate why he in particular was singled out for the DSM (the CO, Lt Claud Barry, was awarded DSO for the same action). The info from the RN Submarine Museum includes the following transcript re UB72 (source unknown), including some 'human interest' communicated by survivors.


On 27 April 1918, after being delayed by the presence of minefields, UB72 under Trager left Heligoland and, after being escorted through the danger zone by five minesweeping trawlers, proceeded up the North Sea. After passing around the north of Scotland via the Fair Isle Channel and through the Minch UB72 passed down through the North Channel and Irish Sea, and by 9 May 1918 was patrolling in the vicinity between the Scillies and the mainland. Throughout the voyage UB72 was constantly attacked by destroyers and patrol craft and, during her passage through the St Georges Channel, she was depth-charged for two hours by a British destroyer. Although 23 depth-charges were dropped UB72 evaded destruction but, as a result of this encounter, a leak was started in the U-boat's port ballast tank, which left a trail of oil astern. On another occasion 20 depth-charges exploded in UB72's vicinity and, besides smashing some electric light bulbs, resulted in damaging the U-boat's forward starboard oil tank. Later that same day five more depth-charges were heard to explode. Despite these attacks UB72 reached a position off the Scillies and, after proceeding across to the approaches to Brest, Trager cruised up the English Channel and, by early morning on 12 May 1918, UB72 was approximately midway between Guernsey and Portland Bill.

At 0430 that morning HM Submarine D4, whilst on patrol in that vicinity, observed UB72 on the surface travelling in a southerly direction some two miles distant. Five minutes later Lt Claud Barry in command of D4 saw UB72, obviously unaware of the British boat's presence, alter course so that the U-boat appeared to be approaching D4. In order that his presence should not be detected Lt Barry lowered his periscope for a few minutes but at 0443 D4's periscope was raised to reveal UB72 steering an easterly course. A few minutes later UB72 was on the British boat's port side. and Barry waited until the the U-boat came on to his sights. At 0450 Lt Barry fired a torpedo and after lowering periscope for a few moments he released a second missile. Ten seconds later the crew of D4 heard an explosion and felt a violent concussion. Barry brought his boat to the surface and headed towards three men swimming in a patch of oil. He succeeded in picking up these men, who were the only survivors of UB72's crew of three officers and thirty-one men. The three men were Petty Officer Laabs, Able Seaman Diers and Stoker Gabriel., and by a remarkable coincidence they were all making their first war cruise in a U-boat. From the survivors the brief story of the end of UB72 was elicited:

Just before D4's torpedo struck UB72, the latter boat was motoring along the surface at ?? knots. On the conning tower as Officer-of-the-Watch was Petty Officer Heroch, whilst Laabs and Diers were acting as look-outs. Gabriel had just come up on deck and as he spotted the track of D4's torpedo racing towards UB72's side he dived overboard. Seconds later the torpedo struck and UB72 sank like a stone, stern first. The three men on the conning tower were carried below as the U-boat sank beneath them but a rush of air carried them up to the surface. Before D4 could reach them, Heroch sank, but Laabs, Diers and Gabriel were picked up by the British boat and eventually landed at Plymouth as prisoners-of-war.

The following info re D4 was also kindly supplied by the museum:

Built by Vickers, laid down 24 February 1910, launched 27 May 1911, commissioned 29 November 1911, sold for scrap 19 December 1919.
Displacement 495 tons surfaced, 620 tons submerged.
Length 164ft 7ins, beam 20ft 5ins, mean draft 11ft 5ins.
Crew of 2 officers + 23 ratings.
Propulsion 2x 600bhp diesel engines, 2x 277bhp electric motors, twin screw.
Range 29tons of oil to give 2000m @ 11.5knots surfaced, 65m @ 5knots submerged.
Armament 2x 18ins bow torpedo tubes mounted vertically, 1x 18ins stern torpedo tube, six torpedos (3 in tubes + 3 spare), 1x 12pdr 8cwt Mk1 gun (D4 was the first British sub fitted with a gun).
Max speed of 14.5knots surfaced or 9knots submerged.

Regarding the sinking of UB72, the brief history in this spec says " ... while on patrol in the Channel, D4 was ordered to intercept an enemy submarine suspected of lying in ambush for US Troop Transport 'Olympic' ... " and that the torpedos were fired at a range of 600yds.

 Return to WWI The Maritime War

 Return to WWI Archive main page.

Last Updated: 17 April, 1999.