The Navy retained the alphanumeric name carried by this former Imperial German Navy vessel at the time of her acquisition.
(World War I Prize Submarine: displacement 798 (surfaced), 996 (submerged); 1ength 235½'; beam 20¾'; draft 11¾'; speed 16.4 knots (surfaced), 8.4 knots (submerged); complement 36; armament 6 20-inch torpedo tubes, 1 4.1-inch, 1 3.4-inch; class U-111)
U-111 was launched on 5 September 1917 at Vegesack, Germany, by Bremer Vulcan under subcontract to the Germaniawerft in Kiel; completed by Germaniawerft in Kiel; and commissioned in the Imperial German Navy on 30 December 1917, Kapitänleutnant Hans Beyersdorff in command.
After completing her shakedown cruise on 17 March 1918, she was posted to the IV U-Flottille, Hochseeflotte (Fourth Submarine Flotilla, High Seas Fleet). She departed Heligoland, the fortified island and naval base located well inside the German Bight, on 25 March. After the outward voyage, which took her around the Orkney Islands, west of the Hebrides Islands, and south along the western coast of Ireland, she arrived in her patrol area near St. George’s Channel during the first week in April.
On 7 April 1918, U-111 sighted the 2,346-ton British armed merchantman Boscastle (Capt. Samuel Lewis, 40, master), operated by the Hatfield Steamship Co., Ltd., and carrying a cargo of Welsh steam coal earmarked for the Royal Navy at Scapa Flow, in the Orkney Islands. The submarine made a surface attack and torpedoed the steamer without warning 14 miles north-northwest from Strumble Head, off the coast of Wales, sinking her with a single torpedo; 18 men, including Capt. Lewis, two Royal Navy enlisted men, and 15 members of her civilian crew, who included four Indian firemen, perished. Boscastle, however, proved to be her only victim during this first cruise. After operating in proximity of the St. George’s Channel for another five days without encountering further shipping and then began the voyage home to Germany. After backtracking along the route she had taken on the outward voyage, U-111 reached Emden on 24 April.
A month and three days later, the U-boat emerged from the Ems estuary to begin her second cruise to raid Allied merchantmen, and headed through the North Sea. On 28 May 1918, her second day out, U-111 came upon the 393-ton Dronning Margrethe, a Danish steamer en route from Göteborg to Rouen with a cargo of wood pulp. Declining to expend a valuable torpedo on such a small target, Kapitänleutnant Beyersdorff brought his deck guns to bear and sank the Dane with gunfire.
From the North Sea, the U-boat followed substantially the same route as on her initial voyage, reaching the St. George’s Channel early in June 1918. After an unsuccessful patrol off the entrances to the St. George’s and English Channels, the U-boat retired from the area and again retraced her outward route. On 22 June, just outside the Skaggerak, during the last leg of her homeward voyage, the submarine encountered a Norwegian sailing vessel laden with timber for English mines. Once again, Beyersdorff scorned the use of a torpedo in favor of his boat’s 4.1-inch and 3.4-inch deck guns and riddled the 272-ton Rana with gunfire. Leaving that ship sinking, U-111 headed south through the North Sea for Wilhelmshaven, where she arrived on 26 June.
U-111’s third and final war patrol proved to be the least successful of all. She departed Wilhelmshaven on 25 August 1918, transited the Kiel Canal, and stood north through the Baltic Sea around Denmark to emerge into the North Sea by way of the Skaggerak. Thence, she rounded the Orkneys and the Hebrides and headed south along the west coast of Ireland. The U-boat then transited St. George’s Channel and entered the Irish Sea. Stormy weather and heavy seas, however, plagued her throughout the cruise, and she appears to have encountered no Allied shipping. She followed the same route back to Germany and concluded her last patrol at Emden on 30 September.
Apparently, U-111 remained in port at Emden through the cessation of hostilities on 11 November 1918. Nine days after the armistice, she was surrendered to the Allies and interned at Harwich, England. When the U.S. Navy expressed an interest in acquiring several of the latest types of U-boats, the Allies allocated six boats (U-117, U-140, UB-148, UB-88, UC-97, and U-164) to the United States on condition that they be destroyed within a year of the transfer.
In March 1919, 12 officers and 120 enlisted men arrived in England to ferry the six submarines back to the United States. The crew assigned to U-164, a U-94-class boat that had been only commissioned on 17 October 1918—less than a month before the Armistice—however, found that vessel in such atrocious condition that it was impossible to ready her for the Victory Bond drive—the ostensible reason for which she had been acquired. For that reason, U.S. authorities in England arranged to secure U-111 substituted for the cannibalized and dilapidated U-164. Soon thereafter, U-111 was placed in commission in the U.S. Navy, Lt. Cmdr. Freeland A. Daubin in command.
Since she had been substituted for U-164 at the very last minute, U-111 did not put to sea on 3 April 1919 with the rest of the Ex-German Submarine Expeditionary Force. She remained in Harwich for an additional four days while her crew conducted a crash familiarization course and completed last-minute repairs. Finally, on 7 April, she steamed out of Harwich and stood down the English Channel. Rather than follow the route taken by the other U-boats, via the Azores and Bermuda, Lt. Cmdr. Daubin, U-111’s commanding officer, sought to make up the time he had lost by heading directly across the Atlantic via a great circle route. Fog, gales, and heavy seas harassed the U-boat all the way across the ocean. On one occasion, she came near sinking when she began filling with water because of an open sea-cock. One of her crewmen, however, crawled under her engines and into the slimy dark water to find and close the offending apparatus. In spite of adversity, U-111 made her passage successfully and moored at New York on 17 April, in plenty of time to carry out her tasks in the Victory Bond campaign.
At New York, swarms of curious tourists, reporters, and photographers roamed throughout the submarine. Navy technicians and civilian shipbuilders also came to try to learn everything they could about German submarine construction in the brief time before U-111 departed New York for visits to various ports on the Victory Bond circuit. For the bond drive, the coasts of the United States and the country’s major waterways were divided into five different regions, one for each of the captured U-boats except U-140. U-111 visited ports along the New England coast and received visitors in conjunction with the sales campaign. The submarine completed her assigned itinerary late in the summer of 1919. Following that, she and UB-148 underwent an extensive series of performance tests before being laid up at the Philadelphia [Pa.] Navy Yard.
By late summer and early autumn of 1919, the Navy went on to evaluate U-111 in comparison with S-3 (Submarine No. 107), and determined that the latter was faster (14.7 knots vice 13.8) on the surface as well as submerged (12.4 knots for S-3 and 7.8 for U-111) in addition to possessing a better radius of action (10,000 miles at 11 knots for the U.S. boat versus 8,500 miles at 8 knots for the German). Those who compared the two submarines found U-111 “congested, overly complicated, and difficult to maintain,” while S-3 was “habitable, accessible,” and “more seaworthy.” The Navy then evaluated U-111 in mechanical efficiency tests in the waters off the coast of Florida and off Cuba (October 1919—April 1920), where the U.S. crew bettered the results that their German predecessors had achieved in attaining 17.08 knots on the surface vice 13.8, and one knot more than the former adversary’s submerged speed. Upon conclusion of those evolutions, U-111 proceeded to Portsmouth [N.H.] Navy Yard to be decommissioned and prepared for final disposition.
U-111, however, seemed to balk at what lay in store for her. Slated to be expended as a target in the planned Navy and Army bombing tests off the Virginia capes in the summer of 1921, U-111 was being towed toward those waters when flooding began to occur as she neared the area of her planned destruction. Some 50 miles short of her destination, she sank by the bow in 35 feet of water on 18 June 1921 approximately three miles off Cape Henry. Her stern protruding from the sea having posed a hazard to navigation, the minesweeper Falcon (AM-28), whose other commitments to the fleet kept her busy until that point, buoyed the boat with pontoons on 14 August 1922 and towed her to the Norfolk Navy Yard, Portsmouth, Va., where, soon after being placed in Dry Dock No.3, she sank again before she could be pumped out.
De-watered, U-111 cleared the Norfolk Navy Yard on 30 August 1922, but the following day was opened to the sea, Falcon detonating a depth charge next to the boat that then sank in 300 feet of water along the Virginia coast, in proximity to the Winter Quarters Shoal Light Ship.
Raymond A. Mann
Updated, Robert J. Cressman
8 February 2021