The German U-boat that sank the USS Covington on July 1-2, 1918 was a Mittel U type boat built by the Germaniawerft Shipyards in Kiel, Germany. She was ordered on 23 June, 1915 and Laid down on 5 November, 1916 and was launched 7 November, 1916 and Commissioned 30 November 1916. Her Commanders were: 30 Nov, 1916-22 Jun, 1917 Friedrich Crüsemann; 23 Jun, 1917-25 Jan, 1918 Alfred Götze; 26 Jan, 1918-11 Nov, 1918 Helmut Patzig.
During her career she had 12 war patrols from 21 Feb, 1917 - 11 Nov, 1918 and was in the IV Flotilla. Her successes 33 ships sunk for a total of 125,580 tons (warships excluded). U-86 became infamous on 27 June, 1918, when it sank the Hospital ship Llandovery Castle in violation of international law and standing orders of the Imperial German Navy. The captain, Oblt.z.S. Helmut Patzig, then allegedly ordered his crew to machine gun survivors in the water and ram the lifeboats. Because of this, Patzig and his watch officers were tried for war crimes in a German court after the war and sentenced to four years imprisonment.
Firing at a hospital ship was against international law and standing orders of the Imperial German Navy. The captain of U-86, Helmut Brummer-Patzig, sought to destroy the evidence of torpedoing the ship. When the crew, including nurses, took to the lifeboats, U-86 surfaced, ran down all but one of the lifeboats and machine-gunned many of the survivors. There were only 24 people in one surviving lifeboat that survived the sinking. The survivors were rescued shortly afterwards by the destroyer HMS Lysander and they testified as to what had happened. Only 6 of the 97 hospital personnel survived. Among those lost were fourteen nursing sisters from Canada, including the Matron Margaret Marjory (Pearl) Fraser, formerly of Nova Scotia (daughter of Duncan Cameron Fraser who served as Lieutenant Governor of Nova Scotia, 1906-1910 ).
Sergeant Arthur Knight was on board lifeboat No. 5 with the nurses. He reported:
Afterward, HMS Morea steamed through the wreckage. Captain Kenneth Cummins recalled the horror of coming across the nurses' floating corpses;
After the war, the captain of U-86, Lieutenant Helmut Patzig, and two of his lieutenants, Ludwig Dithmar and John Boldt, were arraigned for trial in Germany on war crimes. On 21 July 1921 Dithmar and Boldt were tried and convicted in the case became famous as one of the "Leipzig trials". Patzig was able to avoid prosecution as he fled the country and avoided extradition; and though Dithmar and Boldt were convicted and sentenced to four years in prison, they both escaped. At the Court of Appeal, both lieutenants were acquitted on the grounds that the captain was solely responsible.
On 1 July, 1918 in the North Atlantic U-86 torpeoded the US troopship USS Covington which sank the next day on July 2. The fate of the U-86 ended on 20 November, 1918 when she surrendered. She sank while being towed off the English East coast on the way to be broken up in 1921.
A view of U-86 underway at sea. Officers can be seen on the bridge and crewmen at attention on the after-deck.
The photo on the left is of U-86 at Devonport, England tied along side British Submarine K-14 on 8 March 1919. She was being commissioned into the Royal Navy for experimental work. U-86 surrendered to the Royal Navy about November 22, 1918 at Harwich.
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