Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 30 August 2014

A new Battle of the Atlantic

TV companies fight it out to film Derry council's bid to raise Nazi submarine

Divers swim over the wreck of a sunken U-boat

World-renowned documentary producers are competing to film efforts to raise a Nazi submarine, Derry City Council has revealed.

TV companies have contacted the council to express their interest in filming the exploration and raising of the U-778 that sank after World War II.

Interest is so great that the council has - for the first time - drawn up terms of reference for the filming of operations to ensure it retains as much control of the filming as possible, as well as keeping the cost to the ratepayers as low as possible.

The Discovery Channel, National Geographic, UTV, RTE and Channel 4 have all approached the council about filming U-778, which sank while being towed from Scotland to Derry. It lies 70 metres below the surface, 16 miles north-west of Malin Head.

SDLP councillor Shaun Gallagher said: "The council agreed to fund the initial dive on September 17, weather permitting. We have had that much media interest, the council has had to set out terms of reference. It gives everybody a fair crack of the whip. The terms will cover the cost for the ratepayer and we can make sure that any documentary can be monitored.

"There has been unprecedented public interest from the city point of view, the Siege and the Battle of the Bogside have both been very well documented, but in the middle of it is the Battle of the Atlantic and very few people know anything about Derry's involvement in it.

"It is one of the best kept secrets of World War II that the convoys were co-ordinated from here. Hitler would have flattened the city had he known. I have total admiration for the merchant seamen who took part in it. Some of them sailed as many as 26 times and they were sitting targets the whole time. There were 256,000 lives lost in the Battle of the Atlantic and they have had no real recognition.

"The Royal Naval Association have been very keen to have it documented, as have the merchant seaman's association.

"I never had a project that saw this much interest and one that has seen so much cross-community interest. The Protestant community has been very proactive in coming forward with pictures and stories of people who were involved at that time.

"Another great thing is that the documentary teams are as interested in the raising of the submarine as they are in the people's stories. It is unique. It went down intact and the depth it is at there is very little marine life, and the deeper the water the less the corrosion."

The Nazi U-boat fleet surrendered at Lisahally on May 8 1945. They were then taken out one by one and sunk north of Malin Head, having been used for target practice. The operation lasted from November 12 1945 to February 12 1945.

A tripartite agreement between Britain, the US and Russia requires all three former allies to grant permission before any salvage work is done but Mr Gallagher believes this will not stand in the way.

U-778 is not designated as a war grave and Mr Gallagher said: "Since the EU came into being the Treaty of Rome or later legislation may have replaced the agreement. We're looking into it."

U-778 will not be the first submarine to be brought back from the depths. In 1993 U-534 was raised between Sweden and Denmark at a cost of £3m and was put on display in Birkenhead.

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