Over the years Mike has written many scripts, books and other musings. You will find some of them here.
Juppy’s first published novel, synopsis and review.
‘It’ll All Be Over By Christmas’
Newspaper series on little known stories of Disasters, catastrophes, stupidity and heroism from The First World War.
‘THE DARK SIDE OF SUSSEX’
Tales of disaster, scandal, murder, mayhem, folklore. Fiasco, origins and warfare. From my home County of Sussex!
‘It’ll all be over by Christmas’ – was a collection of articles written for The Observer Series of Newspapers as part of the 2014 centenary commemorations of WW1.
The popular image of, ‘The Great War’ is of 2 vast and opposing armies, cowering in muddy trenches, separated by a few yards of barbed-wire festooned killing fields known as ‘No Man’s Land’
That image is only partly true. The First World War was exactly that, a WORLD war. My stories were of; action, heroism, sacrifice, catastrophe, and unbelievable stupidity: events that have been mostly forgotten and consigned to the murky backwaters of history.
The mechanical villain of the first tale ended its shameful life just a few miles from my Bognor Regis home, deep below the waves, just a few miles out from the West Sussex coast.
“IT’LL ALL BE OVER BY CHRISTMAS”
27th of June, 1918, approximately 21:30 (local time) a clearly marked, and illuminated Hospital Ship bound for Liverpool from Halifax, Nova Scotia, was sunk in the Atlantic Ocean.
She sank in less than ten minutes some one hundred and sixteen miles south-west of Fastnet (Ireland), after being torpedoed by the German submarine, U- 86.
The hospital ship had 258 people on board, including 94 Medical Officers and Nursing Sisters of the Canadian Medical Staff.
24 survived the sinking and, on the 29th June, were rescued by the English Destroyer HMS Lysander. The other 234 that had survived the sinking, mostly crew and medical staff, were then systematically murdered by the crew of U-86
The commander of U-86 was First-Lieutenant Helmut Brummer-Patzig (1890 –1984)
U-86. THE SUSSEX SEA MONSTER
About 25 miles off the coast of Bognor Regis, lies the rotting carcass of an almost 100 year old dead monster. ‘Kaiserliche Marine Unterseeboot’ U-86, is upright on the seabed and remarkably well preserved. Its long-since blind periscope reaches out from a corroded, seaweed decorated conning tower in some 80 feet of water.
The idea of deliberately sinking a cruise liner or, heaven forbid, a hospital ship, was unthinkable at the time. It was not only an unthinkable anathema but was in direct contravention to the ‘Cruiser Rules’- part of The Declaration of Paris’ (1856) and the Hague Convention. (1899 & 1907) However, by 1915 the war of morals was being lost by both sides! Such additions to the generally observed ‘Laws of War and Humanity’ as the ‘Cruiser rules,’ were being flagrantly breached by all of the major combatants.
The world-famous British passenger ship, the RMS Lusitania was rumored to be carrying munitions. That, argued the Germans, is why just one torpedo hit had resulted in such a massive explosion, and not, as claimed by the British, as the result of exploding coal dust and the ship’s boilers.
Immediately after the torpedoing of the Lusitania, U-20’s commander, Kapitänleutnant Walther Schwiegera wrote;
“It looks as if the ship will stay afloat only for a very short time. [I gave order to] dive to 25 metres and leave the area seawards. I couldn’t have fired another torpedo into this mass of humans desperately trying to save themselves.”
No such humanitarian thoughts entered the head of commander; First-Lieutenant Patzig on that dark, calm night. After U-86’s attack, the Hospital Ship had sunk within ten minutes of being torpedoed. Patzig was well aware that Hospital Ships were rumored to be carrying combatants as well as wounded troops. He was also aware of the strategic worth of allied air power. Unlike conditions in WW2, WW1 American and Canadian pilots had to cross the Atlantic by ship. If there had been North American aviators on the Llandovery Castle, Patzig may have been justified in sinking the ship. But there weren’t!
Patzig was well aware of the trouble that could be caused if news of his mistake were to reach the outside world. The Kaiser and Germany’s reputation would suffer badly; if not fatally amongst some of the neutral countries that Germany was anxious to keep neutral.
The sinking of the Lusitania had resulted in American outrage. 128 out of the 1,198 dead were American nationals, a fact that influenced the US’s in 1917. decision to declare warwn Germany in 1917.
It has been dead since 1921 but, nearly a century later, its corpse and reputation still stain the sea around it.
Meanwhile, lying on the seabed several hundred miles away, this time off the southern coast of Ireland, are 2 more ships, both sunk in WW1 and both sunk in controversial and similar circumstances. One is the wreck of the famous RMS Lusitania, the other is of the now forgotten Union Castle Hospital Ship, ‘HMHS Llandovery Castle’.
Both ships were torpedoed by U-Boats, but whereas the survivors of the Lusitania were simply abandoned to their fate by Captain Walther Schweigera of U-20, the passengers and crew of the Llandovery Castle were systematically murdered by being run down, shelled and machine gunned. Murdered on the direct orders of U-86’s commander, First-Lieutenant Helmut Patzig.
U-86 pulled alongside one of the lifeboats which contained Canadian medical personnel, some of the ship’s crew and the Captain of the Llandovery Castle, R.A. Sylvester. Captain Sylvester was helping to pull survivors into the lifeboat but was ordered to stop at gunpoint and the lifeboat then threatened with the U-Boat’s main gun. Sylvester and a Canadian doctor were taken aboard U-86 and interrogated over the supposed munitions, and accused of transporting 8 American pilots.
After vehement denials the two men were put back on the lifeboat, with one of the submarine’s deck officers, obviously aware of what was about to happen, telling them that they had better,” Clear off at once!”
U-86 then slid away into the darkness. The survivors in the lifeboat soon heard the flashes and bangs of about 14 rounds fired from the submarine’s canon and the rattle of machine gun fire. They heard the rumbling and splashing of the circling submarine and. at one point.were nearly rammed as it passed by them at high speed. Then silence. Nothing more was heard, the screams had died away into the depths along with the unfortunates that had made them.
Cold blooded murder had been committed on the high sea!
The occupants of the other lifeboats, mostly Canadian nursing sisters and doctors had been blasted and machine-gunned to pieces, and those already in the water had drowned or been cut to shreds by the U-Boats propellers. Unluckily for Patzig he had missed the 24 survivors in the Captain’s lifeboat, and it was those witnesses that were rescued two days later.
Far out in the Bristol Channel on June 29th a British Destroyer came upon the results of U-86’s work. Greeting the Royal Navy ship was a scene of drifting, heartbreaking horror. Captain Kenneth Cummins (1900 – 2006) of HMS Lysander recounted;
“We were in the Bristol Channel, quite well out to sea, and suddenly… we were sailing through floating bodies. We were not allowed to stop – we just had to go straight through. It was quite horrific, and my reaction was to vomit over the edge. It was something we could never have imagined … particularly the nurses: seeing these bodies of women and nurses, floating in the ocean, having been there some time. Huge aprons and skirts in billows, which looked almost like sails because they dried in the hot sun.”
In 1920 the Allies presented a list of 900 ‘War Criminals’ (including Kaiser Wilhelm II) to the new German government. They were to be tried at Leipzig as the Germans refused to extradite wanted personnel. The Allies accepted the German terms, with the Germans eventually producing a mere 45 out of the wanted 900, the others having ‘disappeared’. In the event, out of that final, pitiful, tally of 45 miscreants, only12 actually stood trial.
Helmut Patzig was not one of them!
In his absence, Patzig was found guilty and sentenced to 20 years imprisonment. U-86’s two deck officers, Dithmar and Boldt who had overseen the carnage, were found and tried. The two men refused to give evidence to the court and received sentences of 4 years each. However, just like their elusive commander, they too did not see the inside of a prison because, as they were being taken away to serve their time, they ‘escaped’ from their sympathetic captors!
The ‘disappeared’ Helmut Brummer Patzig’s U-Boat career was far from over. The ex Captain would soon become responsible for many more deaths, this time in WW2.
Though past official retirement age, Patzig was given command of another U-Boat and then served on the Staff of Admiral Donitz. It is without doubt that Patzig’s expertise was put to good use in the Battle of the Atlantic where U-Boat ‘Wolf Packs’ killed so very many allied sailors. In 1945, he ‘retired’ and once again ‘disappeared’, along with a lot of other Germans.
Just as he had been absent from the Lepzig Trials, Helmut Brunner Patzig was absent from the Nuremberg trials; indeed he was absent from any trials and died peacefully in bed on the 11th March 1984, aged 94!
Seemingly, ‘you can get away with it!
And U-86? – It was surrendered to the Allies at the end of the War. In December 1918 a Royal Navy crew of thirteen men steered the U-Boat into the port of Bristol where it was put on display and opened to the paying public. Many of the intrigued and jubilant Bristolians had no idea of U-86’s murderous career. Because of wartime reporting restrictions, they had even less idea that 100 of their fellow Bristolians had been among the massacred crew of the Llandovery Castle, and that only two of them had survived the atrocity.
In 1921 U-86 was towed from Bristol along the English Channel to a scrap yard destination. It broke its tow lines in rough seas to the east of the Isle of Wight and was finally scuttled. The result of the deliberate sinking, a missing bow and stern section can still be seen at the submarine’s final seafloor resting place – unlike any evidence of its human victims.
In 2006, using a submersible ROV, WESSEX ARCHAEOLOGY filmed the wreck,
U-86’s main deck canon, the gun that destroyed the lives of so many, including 14 young nurses is shown in remarkable condition.
Uncomfortable but compelling viewing.
It is available at –
For further information
The Leipzig Trials
Written by: Claud Mullins