German WWI U-boat found off Belgium with 23 bodies inside

A sunken World War 1 submarine

REUTERS HANDOUT CHILLS Divers discovered a fully intact German submarine in the North Sea

An virtually intact World War One German submarine containing the bodies of its 23 crew members has been found off the Belgian coast.

The Associated Press reports that the German Type UB II submarine was discovered by Tomas Termote, a diver and marine archaeologist. It is believed to be near the Ostende Port according to Flemish media reports.

The submarine, a UB-II class vessel, is 27 metres long and had a 23-man crew.

Termote's investigation of the sub revealed impact damage at the front, suggesting the vessel ran into a mine with its upper deck.

"The submarine is very intact, everything is still closed - that's what he (Termote) saw during his first visit this summer", Mees said. The bow sustained most damage, but the hatches are still in the closed position, the conning tower is intact, and the periscopes are visible.

Video images show the submarine encrusted with barnacles and seaweed.

A further dive is planned soon to clean some of the outside and check its identification number, Mees said.

German authorities could then check it against their record and contact the families of the deceased. It's unlikely the Germans will want to retrieve the bodies, and as pointed out by Termote, the wreck's condition would make it impossible to refloat. He believes the area should be protected and designated a "sea grave for the soldiers".

"Of the 11 downed U-Boats in Belgian waters, this one is the best preserved example", a spokesman for the province of West Flanders said.

Around 18 German U-boats were stationed with the Flanders Flotilla in Bruges between 1915 and 1918.

During the global conflict, subs were used to disrupt merchant shipping in the area to free Germany and its allies from the stifling naval blockade set up by its enemies.

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