Three “U-Boat” in the Pitiusan Seas
The U-34, U-35 and U-38 sank dozens of ships near Ibiza and Formentera, whose shores were reached by some of their crews.
The Great War may seem far away, thousands of miles from Ibiza, but despite the supposed neutrality of Spain, the Pitiusan smelled the gunpowder and witnessed this brutal slaughter. The Pitiüses were a crossing land for spies and their waters were violated, from day one, since that 28th of July, 1914, in which the war was declared by all contestants, especially the French, who controlled overzealously the traffic of merchant vessels and passengers.
But it was between August and September 1916 when the front line came closest to these shores. At that time, three German U-boats (submarines) wreaked havoc among their enemies’ merchant and warships, especially the Italian. As a pack of wolves (though this attack tactic was baptized in 1936, their behaviour in World War I was very similar) the U-34, U-35 and U-38 bit against any neutral boat or ship belonging to the Triple Alliance. And what the Germans called unrestricted submarine warfare (Uneingeschränkten U-Boot-Krieg) was yet to come (late January 1917).
The first that came perilously close to these waters was the U-38, one of the three German submarines (although by then had Austrian flag) which has sunk more ships in naval history. Led by Max Valentiner, on August 26th it sank the ‘Atlántico’ an Italian ship southeast of Formentera. And it was not the only one: four days later it ended the life of the Italian sailboat ‘Nostra Guardia della Signora’ while sailing within 25 miles of Sant Antoni with a coal cargo. Thirteen of the crew arrived two days later to the San Antonio Bay in boats, while the captain and three sailors finished in Cala Saona (Formentera) after rowing for 30 hours, according to what the Diario de Ibiza collected in its pages. There they were attended by the sailor Mariano Castelló, who offered them food and water. Those who came to Sant Antoni were attended first at Can Truy, a diner and coffee house then run by Bartomeu Ribas, before being welcomed into the hotel Marina run by Josep Planells.
With the ‘Nostra Signora della Guardia’ the usual procedure in these cases was repeated: first, they got a warning shot with the 105mm canon for them to stop the ship and vacate. Then blasting, most times with explosive charges and torpedoes. For the ‘Nostra Signora della Guardia’ seven loads where enough. “It was the most economical method,” recalls Fernando García Sanz in ‘España en la Gran Guerra’ (Spain in the Great War), detailing these procedures and how Eivissa was closest to the heat of battle than we imagine.
One day later, on August 31st, 1916, the U-34, which had roamed these shores for a week, sank in only one day the Italian ships ‘Santa María’, ‘Quinto’ and ‘Nostra Signora Assunta’ which covered the stretch between the Balearic Islands and Alicante. Their commander was then Claus Rücker, although a couple of years later his helm passed to Wilhelm Canaris, one of the key figures in Germany during World War II.
The three merchants were, as in the case of ‘Nostra Signora della Guardia’, destroyed with explosives after taking the crew’s documentation and telling them to abandon the boat. Both the fourteen crew of ‘Santa María’ and the sixteen of ‘Nostra Signora Assunta’ reached the coast of Sant Antoni rowing.
The U-34 had already begun its carnage in April when it defeated the British ‘Orlock Head’, while sailing between Ibiza and Valencia, and later in May, when in a few days it sank fifteen ships, including the Italian ‘Cornigliano’, which ended its days midway of the Balearic Islands and the Columbrete.
But the one that caused the most havoc was the U-35, the German submarine that holds the record of sunken ships in naval history: more than two hundred. At its command was Lothar von Arnauld de la Perière. In just nine days in June, he sunk nineteen ships scuttled near the Spanish coast.
These attacks and his later incursion into the Cartagena port to had King Alfonso XIII a thank you letter from the Kaiser for the Spanish help in the repatriation of the German troupes from Cameroon and its subsequent miraculous harmless departure from that port (outside French and British were waiting wanting to turn the submarine into gruyere cheese), almost endangered the Spanish neutrality. The Italian ambassador complained in person to the Count of Romanones, saying it was very suspicious that so many sinkings were happening in Mallorcan and Ibizan waters.
He was right. The Germans strolled through these shores, where the Allies believed they stocked up. And what happened to the U-35 was not normal. After leaving Cartagena, the U-35 began one of the most destructive known crossings: the commander, who had taken the helm of the U-35 in November 1915, sank fifty ships between July 26th and August 20th. A total 90,000tons of shattered boats.
The macabre profile of its nearly 65 meters in length made the history of the German Navy. And of Ibiza, as it caused a stir on the island on September 23rd, 1916. That day, Lothar von Arnauld de la Perière sent the ‘Charterhouse SS’ to the bottom of the Mediterranean, which was 26 miles southeast of Formentera, in full journey between Toulon and Gibraltar in ballast. Part of the crew (thirteen sailors) reached the coast of Andratx, while the rest reached the coast of Ibiza, Sa Cala specifically. The Es Diari of the time explained that the second captain, the first and third engineers, nine sailors and several canon men got there and stayed at Can Miquel des Port, owned by Vincent and Joan Marí Marí. Von Arnauld took the captain and two assistant gunners manning the defensive prisoners. A day earlier, the ‘Garibaldi’ was shattered after receiving eight canon shots from the U-35. It was just one of the twenty two merchant ships Von Arnauld destroyed between September 19th and October 5th in the western Mediterranean, another of his wartime exploits. The bloodiest was the sinking of ‘Gallia’, French troops’ transport in which more than 1,300 people were killed.
The three submarines (two of them among the deadliest three of the Kaiser’s Navy) met their end in the same way hundreds of other ships which torpedoed along that bloody war: they were turned into mush. The U-35 was scrapped after being handed over to the Royal Navy after the surrender. The end of the U-34 is unclear, although it is believed that it was sunk near Gibraltar by a British warship. It is missing since October 18th, 1918. The U-38 was delivered, along with the rest of the submarine fleet, to the Allies: the French turned it into scrap in the port of Brest.