The Haunting Of UB65 And Ghostly Goings-On At Sea

By
Marcus Lowth
Published Date
May 23, 2021
Estimated Reading Time
17 min read
Posted in
Supernatural, Ghosts & Hauntings

Submarines must be cramped and claustrophobic places at the best of times. And when those conditions are shared with an apparent ghostly apparition, they must surely intensify significantly. That would seemingly be the case with an apparent haunting of the German submarine, UB65.

What is perhaps particularly intriguing about the apparent haunting of the First World War German U-boat is that it appears to be an intertwining of truth, fact, and urban myth. That the vessel existed is beyond doubt, as are the circumstances surrounding its sudden demise. Whether or not, though, the ghost of an officer who once served on the submarine continuing to appear throughout its lifetime are as factual, at least to some, is open to debate.

Depiction of a submarine with a ghost on the deck

Did the ghost of an officer haunt the UB65?

What’s more, this incident is far from the only case of spooky happenings and ghostly goings-on taking place at sea. As we will see, there are many chilling accounts from the world’s waters that are just as disturbing and unsettling. Indeed, life out on the open waters, at least at times, appears to be more mysterious and unsettling than many of us might think.

The alleged haunting of UB65 has been told in many ghost books and online articles over the years. And while some might debate the authenticity of the accounts, they are intriguing nonetheless, and still of interest over a hundred years later to paranormal researchers around the world.

“Jinxed” From The Start?

It would appear that the negative energy that would seemingly surround UB65 began almost as soon as the construction did in 1916. Only a week into the building of the vessel disaster struck. As a huge girder was being put swung into place it would slip from the chains holding it aloft. It crashed down to the ground, striking two workmen. One died instantly, while the other spent the last hour of his life under the crushing weight of the object before finally submitting to his injuries.

Several weeks later, a second disaster unfolded. This time, while working in the engine room, three workmen became trapped and eventually overcome by the fumes. By the time colleagues had gained entry, all three were dead.

This string of unfortunate events would continue when the UB65 went on her trial run. A huge storm overtook the waters causing one of the crewmen on the submarine to be washed overboard to a watery grave.

The UB 65

The UB 65

Another test mission – this time for diving tests – saw the submarine develop a leak in one of the tanks. They were ultimately stranded below the water for just over 12 hours. When the UB65 did manage to surface and the hatches opened, the crew were lucky to be alive and not dead from suffocation. Two of the crew later died from exposure to toxic fumes while sealed in the vessel.

The maiden voyage, though, in February 1917 – at least the return journey of it – was perhaps the most horrendous, and quite possibly the start of several strange sightings over the coming year. As members of the crew were loading torpedoes for the upcoming patrol, one of the warheads exploded. The second officer, Lieutenant Richter, was killed in the blast, along with eight other crew members. Needless to say, the submarine had to return back to the dockyard for extensive repairs.

Strange Sightings Begin Almost Immediately

The strange happenings, it would seem, began almost straight away following the explosion. As the UB65 was being brought back to the dock, for example, one of the seamen involved claimed he had seen the recently killed Second Officer “standing on the prow (with) his arms folded”.

In the days leading up to the UB65 going back into the water, several sightings were reported of Lieutenant Richter by the crew. According to one report in the book The World’s Greatest Ghosts by Roger Boar and Nigel Blundell, a crewman was so unnerved by what he had seen he went crashing into the wardroom to inform the captain, who would question whether the crewman was drunk.

When he responded that another crew member had also seen “the dead officer walk up the gangplank”, the captain, along with several other officers, followed the crewman to find the other witness, who was discovered cowering against the conning tower, visibly distressed. He would claim that he had seen the dead officer walk toward him before he stopped and stood with his arms folded. The ghostly apparition then simply disappeared.

Picture of the UB65 submarine

Many deaths are connected to the UB65

Another one of the crew for the upcoming first patrol following repairs – named Petersen – claimed to have seen the dead Second Officer also. He was seemingly so alarmed and unnerved by the sighting that he deserted the submarine the day before she was due to set out to sea.

The captain, not wanting his crew to become preoccupied with such tales, played down the incident, and even sent a rumor out through the crew that the whole thing had been a “practical joke”. However, the crew knew better. For the rest of the year, several sightings were reported of Lieutenant Richter. And the respective crews were far from pleased to have to serve on the UB65, and were often distracted by apparent sightings of the ghost.

It is, though, an account from January 1918 that the captain himself would witness. And it is there we will turn our attention to next.

“It’s The Ghost!”

According to the account, one cold, January evening in 1918, while in the English Channel, a lookout on the conning tower was taking one last look at the outside environment before the submarine dove beneath the waves. However, when he did so, he spotted a person stood on the heaving deck below him.

All the hatches – except the one on the conning tower – were firmly battened down into position, making the lookout question not only who this strange man was, but how had he even got to the heaving deck in the first place. Whoever he was, he decided he had to warn him the submarine was about to dive and that he was in danger of being killed.

However, just as he was about to call out, the mysterious man turned around to face him. The lookout immediately recognized the man as the one-time second officer of the UB65.

He immediately called out to the captain, “It’s the ghost!”

When the captain arrived at the top of the conning tower moments later, he too saw the figure and recognized him as Lieutenant Richter. Then, as both of the men looked on, the man simply melted away and disappeared.

The men sealed shut the hatch on the conning tower, each amazed and shocked at what they had witnessed. However, this incident was far from the only one on board the UB65. Sightings would continue into 1918.

Picture of the UB65 submarine

There were many apparent ghostly sightings on the UB65

In February, for example, following their docking at Bruges after a patrol of the Dover Straits, British aircraft launched a surprise attack on the UB65. During the assault, a piece of flying shrapnel decapitated the captain, leaving his headless corpse on the deck of the vessel. According to some reports, that same evening, several crew and officers witnessed the famous Second Officer stood over the canvas shroud of the dead captain.

During its time in Bruges, the German military would order an “exorcism” of the vessel in the hopes of quashing the increasing fear of the strange appearances that were sweeping through the respective crews.

By May 1918, however, with the UB65 off the coast of Spain, several more sightings of Lieutenant Richter were reported. One crewman claimed to have seen a ghostly apparition walk into the torpedo room. However, when he failed the come out a short time later the crewman looked inside the room to find nobody there. We might recall that, at least according to the legends, Lieutenant Richter died in an explosion in the torpedo room.

One particularly grim account, told by the previously mentioned Boar and Blundell, is that of a crewman who worked in the torpedo room complaining that the spirit of Lieutenant Richter would “not leave him alone”. He would eventually go mad over the incidents and threw himself from the submarine and into the icy waters.

A Most Mysterious End

For all the bad luck and strange happenings the UB65 experienced, it did manage to avoid the Allied attacks for the majority of its service. That was until 10th July 1918 when the U-boat’s life came to an explosive end, literally.

There are, as we might imagine, several slightly different versions of the final mission of the UB65. The most often told version – and perhaps the most accurate – was that the UB65 was spotted by an American submarine somewhere off the coast of Ireland traveling on the surface of the water. They quickly got themselves into position and were about to launch a torpedo on the German U-boat. However, before they could, a “tremendous, almost unbelievable” explosion came from inside the UB65 causing it to drop to the bottom of the water.

Picture of a German U-boat

Was the UB65 really haunted

Another account tells of an American destroyer spotting the U-boat seemingly drifting and appearing to have been abandoned. Even stranger, a “ghostly figure” was reported by several of the American sailors as having appeared on the deck of the vessel. Suddenly, a huge explosion ripped the UB65 apart, sending it to the bottom of the seabed. However, before it disappeared, the ghostly figure was again seen standing on the wreckage.

Regardless of which version is told, the sheer force and power of the explosion is something that many who witnessed it claimed there was something unnatural about it. Particularly given the circumstances that the infamous (in the German ranks) Second Officer met his death. Incidentally, following the sinking, the Second Officer was not seen again on any other vessel.

We should note, though, there are plenty of explanations offered as to why the UB65 exploded as it did.

A Genuine Haunting Tale Or A Case Of Urban Myth?

So, was the UB65 haunted as the legends persist over a hundred years after it sunk to the bottom of the English Channel in 1918? Or might the accounts be nothing more than paranoia that has morphed into urban legend over the years?

It is important to note that we should not get the UB65 mixed up with the U65 (something done by some researchers), which was a completely different German U-boat, even though it operated at the same time.

The UB65 was a very real vessel. And the strange accounts that happened, both during the construction and the test runs, were also very real. Whether the reports of the dead Second Officer are also real or not, is perhaps open to debate. Perhaps the fact that many rumors swirled among the ranks of the German navy should alert us to the fact that, at the very least, the crewmen believed some of their ranks were seeing something a little out of the ordinary.

If we turn our attention to the almighty explosion that caused the end of the UB65, there have been several explanations offered. Perhaps the most likely is that something very similar to the explosion on the test runs that killed the famous Second Officer occurred. That the huge explosion happened, however, is beyond doubt, as dictated in the war records of the United States. Furthermore, the wreckage was discovered in the early 2000s and remains, with protected status, on the bottom of the seabed.

While there is undoubtedly an element of slightly changed retellings of the sightings onboard the UB65, and a definite attempt to place some kind of supernatural element to the U-boat’s end, the alleged paranormal accounts on the German submarine are ones that continue to fascinate researchers today, and most likely unnerve at least some of those who serve on such vessels in our contemporary era.

The short video below looks at the UB65 haunting a little further.

Other Ghostly Tales From The Ocean Waves

While the apparent jinxed or cursed UB65 submarine is an intriguing set of accounts, they are far from the only ones that tell of spooky happenings on the ocean waves.

For example, in 1959, a decade and a half after the end of the Second World War, two boats on the water off the coast of Devon noticed a ship seemingly in difficultly on the stormy waters. As they approached, they noticed that the ship was flying the Cross of Lorraine, signaling it was part of the Free French forces. The two boats continued on toward the ship before a sudden wave temporarily obscured their view. However, when the waters settled again a second or two later, the French ship had seemingly vanished.

Several years before was the mysterious discovery of the abandoned yacht the MV Joyita, a case we have examined in-depth before. However, one little-known detail of that case was an apparent mysterious dark ship, seemingly of a by-gone age, that was witnessed following the yacht as it ventured out on its ill-fated journey.

We might also note the apparent sighting of the ghost of Grace Darling, who was a national hero of sorts following a daring rescue mission with her father when they rescued nine survivors of the wrecked Forfarshire in 1838, four years before her death of consumption. In 1976 two lighthouse keepers claimed to have each seen her ghost in different places at Longstone Lighthouse on the Farne Islands.

Depiction of a haunted ship

What makes the world’s waters so haunted?

There is also the case of the alleged phantom schooner, the Lady Lovibond, which ran aground on the Goodwin Sands and ultimately sank on 13th February 1748. All those onboard – the wedding guests of Captain Simon Peel and his bride – were killed. Even more intriguing, are the legends that the crash was the result of the jealous rage of the first mate of Peel and his bride’s relationship.

Interestingly, the ship appeared every 50 years in the same spot it met its watery end, each time with multiple witnesses. In 1948, however, on the 200th anniversary of the disaster, the mysterious ship failed to do so. Many wondered if the extremely poor visibility simply masked its presence.

It is also often contemplated how many other aquatic disasters in this region might be a result of the apparent phantom ship appearing out of nowhere on the waters of the southeastern coast of the United Kingdom.

In short, there is an abundance of such tales of ghostly and strange activity connected to the waters of the world. Some, though, stand out from the rest.

The Highly Mysterious Tales Of The Flying Dutchman

Perhaps one of the most famous allegedly haunted ships is the Flying Dutchman, a moniker bestowed upon Dutch sailor, Captain Hendrick van der Decken, whose vessel went missing – presumably sunk – in 1641 on the way back from Far East Indies to Amsterdam. Van der Decken had taken the journey in order to obtain valuable commodities to be sold back in Holland – such things as materials, dyes, and spices.

Once they had crammed as much of this merchandise onto the ship as they could, they set sail back to Holland, going around the Cape of Good Hope in South Africa. However, shortly after doing so, a sudden, violent storm rolled in, causing his crew to request they turn around. However, Captain van der Decken refused, ordering them instead to press on into the storm. As they did so, the high winds began to shred the sails while water from the waves crashed against the ship aned spilled onto the deck.

Exactly what happened after this is not fully known. It is almost certain that the ship broke apart and sank. However, some versions tell of a mutiny that led the captain to kill and toss one of the crewmates overboard in an attempt to restore order. Others state that the Devil himself dared the captain to sail into the storm, bringing a curse on himself as he did so that he would roam the seas for evermore.

The Flying Dutchman

The Flying Dutchman

There have been many recorded sightings of this alleged mysterious back-from-the-dead sailor and his ghost ship. One of these sightings was recorded on 11th July 1881 by Prince George of the United Kingdom who would soon become King George V, while onboard the Inconstant off the Australian coast. He would write that:

At 4 am the Flying Dutchman crossed our bows. She emitted a strange, phosphorescent light as of a phantom ship all aglow, in the midst of which light the masts, spars, and sails of a brig 200 yards distant stood out in a strong relief as she came up on the port bow, where the officer watched from the bridge saw her, as did the quarterdeck midshipman, who was sent forward at once to the forecastle, but on arriving there no vestige nor any sign whatever of any material ship neither near or right away to the horizon, the night being clear and the sea calm!

Just what Prince George or over a dozen other sailors might have seen is perhaps open to interpretation. However, this account is but one of many of the seemingly phantom ship said to lead some boats into troubled waters or leading them drastically off-course.

Many of the sightings occur in and around the Cape of Good Hope – thought widely to be where the Dutch sailor and his crew met their end. And many of the sightings – relatively speaking – are in more recent times.

In 1939, for example, over 100 sunbathers and beachgoers on Glencairn Beach suddenly saw a fully rigged ship – much like that of Flying Dutchman – that came sailing across the bay. Even though there was no wind to speak of, its sails appeared full. The shocked crowds looked at the ship as it made its way out to sea. Then, however, it simply vanished right before their eyes.

Only three years later in 1942, Cape Town residents were relaxing on their rooftop terrace. Suddenly they saw a ship, hundreds of years old, heading toward Table Bay. They continued to watch it for almost a quarter of an hour before it disappeared behind another island.

Further legends state that should a person catch sight of The Flying Dutchman, they will be immediately cursed and should expect to die a terrible and agonizing death shortly thereafter. If we recall the sightings recorded by Prince George in 1881, it is also recorded that later that day, the crew member who first spotted the strange ship fell from the mast-top and died as a result. Only several weeks later the Admiral of the Fleet also died suddenly.

The short video below looks at the legends of the Flying Dutchman a little further.

What Happened Onboard The Ourang Medan?

Without a doubt, one of the strangest and most unnerving accounts of strange goings-on at sea is that of the Dutch ship the S.S. Ourang Medan. And like the accounts of the UB65, there appears to be a mixture of truth and urban legend.

According to the account, at some point in February 1948, several vessels in and around the Straits of Malacca near the Dutch East Indies (modern Indonesia) began picking up distress signals from the Dutch vessel in Morse Code. It stated:

We float. All officers including the captain, dead in chartroom and on the bridge. Probably whole of crew dead!

Several moments later, another message was picked up that simply said, “I die!” (some sources claim it said, “Now I am close to death!”).

One of the ships – the Silver Star – made its way toward the destination of the Dutch boat, arriving there approximately three hours after first hearing the distress calls. One of the crewmen would later state that “sharks were surging around the hull” in the waters below. He would elaborate that it was as if they knew “there was death aboard!”

When crewmen of the Silver Star did board the Dutch freighter, they discovered dead bodies laying in various areas of the ship. Even the corpse of the dog was discovered, its face frozen into a vicious snarl.

What was even more disturbing, though, was the posture and positioning of many of the bodies. Many were seemingly looking up at the sky at the time of their death. And what’s more, whatever they were looking at must have frightened them severely judging by the look of terror seemingly frozen onto their faces and in their eyes. Some of the dead even had their arms pointed upwards at some unknown terror in the sky.

There were no obvious signs of injuries discovered on any of the crew meaning the actual cause of death perplexed those who made the grim finds.

Perhaps more alarming, however, was a sudden fire that broke out as the crewmen were making attempts to tow the ship back to land. Knowing they wouldn’t be able to tackle the blaze, they quickly made their way back to their own vessel and cut the towline. Moments later, the stricken ship exploded.

The official investigation into the death of the crew onboard ruled it was a case of “death by misadventure”. However, ultimately, the mystery of just what caused the deaths of all of those on board remains unsolved.

The short video below looks at this grimly intriguing encounter a little further.

The Ghostly Swimmers Of The S.S. Watertown

Two decades before the mystifying Ourang Medan incident, another strange case of apparitions at sea is recorded. And this one appears to have photographic evidence to corroborate it.

On 1st December 1929 (some sources point to different dates such as 1924 or 1927), onboard the oil tanker Watertown on its way to Panama from California, James Courtney and Michael Meehan were overcome by toxic fumes while working below the deck. The following day, each was buried at sea.

The work they were performing – scrubbing out an empty cargo tank – was often given as a punishment for causing unrest or some other minor indiscretion (although there was nothing recorded anywhere to suggest this was the case). When their bodies were discovered several hours later, Courtney was found laying over Meehan, suggesting that Meehan had become unwell first and his shipmate was attempting to carry or drag him to the access ladder before he himself collapsed.

At a little after 1 pm, the ship’s doctor – Dr. Hereward Carrington – would pronounce each man dead, a result of asphyxiation.

However, only three days after the weighted bodies began their journey to the seabed, a crewman reported that he had witnessed the two men swimming in the water on the port side of the ship. The sailor would later state that “they remained in the water for about 10 seconds, and then faded”. Dr. Carrington’s own notes state that several further sightings of the two men were recorded over the following days, almost as if they were “keeping pace” with the ship. What’s more, everyone on board the ship, including the captain, witnessed the strange appearances and all confirmed they were definitely Courtney and Meehan.

When they docked in New Orleans several days later, Captain Keith Tracy would report both the deaths of the two sailors and the strange appearances that all on board had witnessed to his employers, the Cities Service Corporation. As we might expect, Tracy was subject to several jokes and jibes, before essentially being told to purchase a camera and capture photographs of the two dead sailors as proof if they appeared on the next part of the journey.

He did, and they did.

Once on the open waters, the two sailors did indeed appear beside the Watertown, again in the port side. Tracy took six photographs in total before packing the camera away so he could have the photographs developed once they docked in New York. The sightings of the two dead men continued, though, throughout much of the journey. However, they would begin to become less and less often until they seemingly stopped altogether.

When they did finally arrive in New York, Tracy would immediately have the pictures developed. Much to his dismay, the first five pictures showed nothing but the foam and waves of the sea. The sixth one, though, clearly showed the two men’s heads sticking out of the water. The pictures were investigated for attempts at a hoax, but they passed all such tests and the pictures were declared genuine and authentic. You can see that picture below.

Picture claiming to show two ghosts in the water

Does this picture show the faces of two dead sailors

The account would stay mostly within the ranks of the Cities Services Company for the better part of a decade. However, eventually, it came to the attention of investigators and journalists, and an investigation was carried out and reported on in the shipping industry magazine, the East Coast Journal.

In short, given that the picture claiming to show the two dead sailors was taken in the 1920s, it would have been a lot more difficult to fake such a photograph. It could very well be one of those rare pictures that really does show there is some kind of existence on the other side.

The Spirit Of The Iron Mountain

Although it isn’t on the high seas, an apparent spirit of a distressed woman is said to haunt the Mississippi River, at least the part that runs through Vicksburg, Mississippi.

The first recorded case of such activity occurred on the afternoon of 28th May 1875, when around 50 students, who were picnicking on the riverbank suddenly heard the sounds of a woman screaming. They would report the incident to the police, who after performing a search of the surrounding area, claimed the screams must have been some kind of prank.

Since that afternoon, though, multiple reports have been made of a woman’s screams coming from the area. Furthermore, many of those reports claim the woman speaks aloud, stating, “Help me in the name of God, the men are hurting me” (this is normally spoken in French). Despite the interest of paranormal investigators, and occasional investigations by local law enforcement, the origins of the voice, as well as what the words might mean, remain unknown.

Some of the locals, however, especially in the fishing and riverbank communities, believe that they know what the woman’s screams represent.

The Iron Mountain riverboat

The Iron Mountain riverboat

According to most versions, the haunting screams originate from an incident that took place in June 1874 – just short of a year before people began hearing them. One particular day, the riverboat, Iron Mountain, set sail from Vicksburg on its way to New Orleans. Onboard were 57 passengers and the boat was towing several barges.

However, at some point shortly after setting off, as the riverboat turned around a bend in the river, she simply appeared to vanish into thin air. The barges were found floating in the water a short time later, the towline having clearly been cut loose. This is something that might be done in an emergency. However, no such emergency was reported. And what’s more, no sign of the boat ever surfaced.

Interestingly, records show that several of the female passengers that day were indeed French. As to what happened to those on board, many researchers suggest they could have fallen victim to pirates who roamed the Mississippi in the years following the carnage of the Civil War. There certainly would have been a bounty of products and money on the boat. Might these have been the men who the distressed and chilling voice referred?

What Makes The World’s Waters So Mysterious?

If a property can be haunted, then, it would appear much can be said for a boat or submarine, essentially any structure of any kind.

Perhaps particularly in the UB65 case, the sheer number of negative energies caused by the deaths of the workmen during its construction maybe set the perfect conditions within the confines of the submarine for the ghost of the Second Officer to remain on board and continue to appear to members of the crew.

We might also consider that large chunks of the water remain unexplored, particularly beneath the waves. Might some unknown element or force of nature that resides there be responsible for the many strange and chilling tales of not only disappearing boats and ships but of such vessels from a bygone age reappearing out of nowhere, sometimes causing crashes of boats in our modern world?

Or perhaps the majority of such accounts are a twisting of genuine horrific events into urban myths and legends as they have been retold over the decades and centuries. In the absence of obvious, logical explanations, for example, the collective human mind often turns to speculation, which is no bad thing, generally speaking.

Whatever the reasons for the plethora of strange tales on the oceans, seas, and rivers of the world, they look set to continue happening, as well as continuing to fascinate and perplex researchers for the foreseeable future.

The short video below looks at some of the best accounts of ghostly activity on the waters of the world.

Marcus Lowth

Marcus Lowth is a writer with a love for UFOs, aliens, and the Ancient Astronaut Theory, to the paranormal, general conspiracies, and unsolved mysteries. He has been writing and researching with over 20 years of experience.

Marcus has been Editor-in-Chief for several years due to his excellent knowledge in these fields. Marcus also regularly appears as an expert on radio talk shows including Troubled Minds and Unexplained Radio discussing these topics.

Read Marcus' full bio.

You can contact Marcus via email.

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