During decade leading up to the "Great War", navies around the world were experimenting and developing submarines with varying degrees of success. The technical aspects in the development of this type of naval weapon were not the only challenges faced. Just exactly how to incorporate what many admirals thought was merely a toy or a cowardly and underhanded weapon into naval doctrines was an equally difficult hurdle. One of those admirals that disliked submarines was ironically Alfred von Tirpitz. He was a "big gun" advocate and he did not wish to divert monies from Germany’s battleship building program. In 1901 he stated "We have no money to waste on experimental vessels. We leave such luxuries to wealthier states like France and England." However, by 1905 Tirpitz did relent somewhat and agreed to allocate a small amount of money to build one Unterseeboot. U-1 was completed in 1907 and while her sea trials were deemed successful she was recommended for only coastal patrols. Apparently Tirpitz was impressed enough with the U-1 that he allocated additional funds for 14 kerosene/battery powered submarines. Later on, German builders switched to diesel engines but only after all the other naval powers did.

Germany’s relatively late entry into the submarine arms race actually worked towards their advantage. When war broke out in 1914, Germany ranked 5th in the world (behind Britain, France, Russia and the United States) with 24 submarines and 15 more under construction. The wait-and-see attitude enabled Germany to learn from the successes and failures of others resulting in more modern submarine fleet. Initially, Germany’s Naval Staff relegated the submarine to defensive duties to protect against the expected Grand Fleet’s close blockade of High Seas Fleet. However Jackie Fisher recognized the U-boat as a real threat against Royal Navy ships enforcing such a blockade and was one of the factors in the Admiralty’s decision to adopt a distant blockade strategy. This decision now deprived Germany from using U-boats to harass and inflict damage on the blockading fleet. The Naval Staff switched plans and sent out a flotilla of submarines based in Heligoland to sweep for British ships in the North Sea.

Most of these submarines failed to encounter and inflict damage on any enemy warships. U-13 disappeared and believed the victim of a German mine in the Heligoland Bight. U-15 did encounter a British warship, HMS Birmingham, which rammed and sank her. It seemed that Tirpitz’s lack of confidence in the submarine as an effect weapon was justified. Yet it was two stunning successes that proved the viability of the submarine in an offensive role. On September 5, 1914 U-21 sank the light-cruiser HMS Pathfinder off of the First of Forth estuary. Seven days later, U-9, one of the 14 kerosene fueled submarines, sank HMS Aboukir, Houge and Cressy all within 90 minutes. These early successes for the German submarine fleet would have a deep impact on Admiral John Jellicoe and his concern for the safety of the Grand Fleet would hinder future deployments.

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Type UB-I Submarines - The German invasion and occupation of Belgium in September 1914 gave the Imperial German Navy a forward base of operations in the ports of Zeebrugge and Ostend. It also became clear that a new design for a small coastal submarine was needed to operate in the shallow waters of English Channel. Measuring about 92 feet long (28 meters) and displacing little more than 150 tons, the tiny UB I class had two bow tubes and the capacity for 4 torpedoes. A small 7.92mm tripod mounted machine gun was the only other armament. These submarines were powered by a 60 hp diesel engine and a 120 hp electric motor driving a single screw. Maximum diving depth was 164 feet (50 meters) and surfaced cruising range of 1,600 nautical miles (45 nautical miles submerged). The UB I was so small that they were nicknamed "Tadpoles" by the German Navy. They also must have been dreadfully cramped for a crew of one officer and 13 sailors. The Type UB I submarines were prefabricated in Germany into 5 components for transportation by rail to Bruges where they were assembled and again transported by rail to either Channel port. In total, 17 Type UB I boats were commissioned with 8 ordered from Germaniawerft in Kiel and 9 from A.G. Weser in Bremen. They were fairly successful in that they sank 154 ships for a total of 145,355 tons. The most successful of the class was UB-10 which sank 37 ships for a total of 23,614 tons including the British destroyer HMS Lassoo on August 13, 1916. Eleven subs were lost during the war and two (including one that was eventually sunk) were transferred to the Austro-Hungarian Navy.

History of SMS UB-4 - SMS UB-4 was constructed at Germaniawerft in Kiel and commissioned on March 23, 1915. In April, she joined the U-Bootflottille Flandern with Karl Groß as her commanding officer. UB-4 is credited with the Flandern Flotilla’s first victim. The 5,940 ton British steamer Harpalyce was engaged in Belgian Relief work and enroute from Rotterdam to Norfolk, Virginia. She was steaming under a safe conduct pass from German authorities in ballast and was clearly identified with white patches with "Belgian Relief" in black letters on the hull. Without warning on April 10, 1915, she was torpedoed and sank so quickly that there was no time to get the lifeboats away. Of her crew of 44, 15 perished. On April 17, UB-4 sank the Greek steamer Ellispontos and on July 29 the Belgian steamer Princesse Marie Jose.

On August 14, UB-4 intercepted the British fishing smack Bona Fide and reportedly sank her with a scuttling charge. The next day, Leutenant zur See Groß, with UB-4 on the surface, spotted another British smack, the Inverlyon. He ordered a course to intercept the defenseless fishing vessel with the probable intention of having a boarding party plant another explosive charge. UB-4 drew within 30 yards of the Inverlyon with Groß up on the conning tower directing the sub and shouting orders to the fishing crew to abandon ship. At that point, Ernest Jehan, Royal Navy Gunner and commanding officer of His Majesty’s Armed Smack Inverlyon issued the order to open fire. The white ensign was raised and the tarp covering the Q-Ship’s 3-pounder gun was removed with three shots immediately ringing out in rapid succession. The first and third shots penetrated the sides of the conning tower and the second shot struck the top of the tower sending Groß into the water. The stricken submarine was now drifting past the Inverlyon’s stern and once it was clear of the ship, an additional six shots were fired at close-range scoring devastating hits. UB-4 sank with all hands, victim of the Royal Navy’s first offensive anti-submarine weapon – the Q-Ship. (References: Castles of Steel by Robert K. Massie, Random House, Inc., New York, NY, 2003; U-boats of the Kaiser’s Navy by Gordon Williamson, Osprey Publishing, Oxford, UK, 2002; "The Gunner and the U-Boat" by J. David Perkins, The World War I Document Archive, http://www.gwpda.org/; and U-Boat.Net, http://www.uboat.net/ )

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U-Boat Laboratorium UB-I - U-Boat Laboratorium is a new resin ship kit producer based in Russia which specializes in pre-dreadnought and World War I naval subjects. U-Boat Lab is owned by Eduard Zhuravlev, who like most resin kit producers, creates the master patterns, designs the photo-etch and writes the instructions. The UB-I kit is his first release and it is a very good debut effort. The kit is very straight-forward and comprised of few resin parts complimented well with photo-etch detail parts. The largest resin part is the full hull complete with conning tower. These submarines were small and in 1/350 scale this is a tiny model measuring a little over 3 inches long. This makes it comparable in size to the White Ensign Models Narrow Seas line of kit. Looking at photos of UB-I subs and comparing the kit to some resin crew figures I am struck at how cramped they must have been with a crew of 14! The there is an excellent amount of detail included this part, with limber holes, doors and hatches. The other resin parts include a pair of torpedo tube covers that need to be removed from a casting wafer and a model stand. While the model stand is a nice option, I decided to mount my model with some brass rod and used the stand to hold the model during assembly. The resin is light and not very dense but sturdy enough. I noticed this when I drilled a hole into the keel to accommodate the brass rod.

The photo-etch come on two small frets and provide numerous parts. The first fret contains railings for the deck and conning tower, aerial rigging, the tripod gun mount, and conning tower grab rails. The second fret provides a relief-etched name plate, diving planes and rudders, ladder, antenna mast, staff, rudder control rods, the machine gun, steering wheel and propeller. The photo-etch is good and adds a lot of detail to this model. Two sections of brass rod are provided for the periscope and as alternative to the photo-etch mast. I found the rod flimsy and decided to substitute it with some brass rod and wire from my own supply. The railings provided have individual stanchion ends which are not my preference (I find working with railings with a bottom running edge easier to work with) but since these are very small sections of railing I could easily overlook that point and deal with them. The kit instructions are provided on three pages. The first page contains a good concise history of this class of sub, some general painting instructions and a table of specifications. The second page provides a complete set of diagrams with port and starboard profiles, a plan view and forward and aft perspectives as well. The diagrams are annotated with reference numbers to show the location of the various photo-etch and resin parts. At the bottom of the page the parts are displayed with their reference numbers and they are further broken down a keyed description of each. I found the diagrams clear, easy to follow and facilitated my assembly. The final page provides paint schemes and brief histories for four subs. Photos and close-up drawings of the eyes and mouths or nostrils that some of these subs wore on the bow are provided. These are considered almost whimsical if it were not that these subs were constructed such a deadly purpose. It was looking over this page that I decided to give modeling UB-4 with her camouflage scheme a try.

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Model Construction - The model is a fairly straight-forward build. I gave the hull a good look and found some minor casting pinholes that I was able to fill in and sand smooth. Since the resin is white they are hard to see at first but I noticed the first couple while I was drilling the hole in the keel for the brass rod I chose to mount the model on. I used the supplied stand as a holder during construction. I removed the torpedo tube covers from the casting film and sanded any jagged edges and glued them into place. I next removed the conning tower railing from the fret and bent it into the correct shape. The other etched parts I kept on the fret to paint first and then use. One thing to look out for, which I discovered almost too late, is to make sure that the "arms" (for lack of the correct term) extend aft to which the rudder and stern diving planes are attached are not broken off. The casting is very fine and this section is fairly delicate and on my kit they must have either broken off at some point, tough I didn’t find any pieces in the bag the hull was packed inside the box. When I tried to attach the rudder I noticed that it was too close to the propeller and I realized what had happened. I cut down some plastic strip into tiny bits (it took several attempts after losing some) to extend these ends to position the rudder and planes correctly. Also I had to remove the cast on propeller nose from the hull to fit the etched part on. There is a small cut in the prop’s ring to, I guess, fit over the cast on rod in between the nose and the hull. I say guess because how to fit the propeller is not made clear other than where it is. I also found the etched control rods a little too short. Now that could be my fault since I had to mend this part of the kit and I may have extended them a little too far back. Nonetheless, I used wire bent into the same shape as a substitute. I used some brass rod and wire to construct a periscope. Other than that little hiccup with aft section of the kit, assembly was very easy. Just take extra care with the tripod when you bend the legs into position as they are extremely thin.

Painting and Finishing - The instructions state that these subs were generally painted an overall medium gray color at least when they were delivered. I came across photos of a couple of large scale static and r/c models of the class where the modelers painted them in a two-tone scheme that looked similar to that used on German capital ships – Hellgrau 50 for the upper part of the hull and conning tower and Dunkelgrau 51 for the bottom section of the hull. I did not see any photos of these subs showed evidence of anti-fouling red or any boot-topping. The horizontal surfaces were painted black and the wavy camouflage pattern a dark gray. I used White Ensign Models Colourcoats Hellgrau 50 and Dunkelgrau 51 for hull and Dunkelgrau 2 for the camouflage pattern and Testors Model Masters Aircraft Interior Black (which is more an off-black) for the horizontal surfaces. Now I admit I could be wrong with the colors used but I made an educated guess and I had these paints at the ready so I went with this. To paint the camouflage I carefully marked off the pattern as best I could with a sharp pencil and filled it in by hand brushing. This is such a small model that it was actually more difficult to do than it looks. I ever so carefully painted the "smile" on the bow with Dunkelgrau 2 and used some decals I had for "eyes". I used some .005 steel music wire dipped in Blacken It for the additional rigging. An airbrushed coat of Dullcote was done to complete the model.

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Conclusion - This model was a fun build and, with the exception of the issue I pointed out, a fairly easy build for an experienced modeler. Some of the photo-etch parts are very delicate, such as the tripod mounting and the conning tower grab rails, and may be a little difficult to deal with if you haven’t worked too much with photo-etch. I personally like ships from this era and I would recommend it to anyone who enjoys modeling submarines and/or World War I subjects. I look forward to future offerings from U-Boat Laboratorium. I obtained my kit from Eugene Drots, who is the North American distributor for U-Boat Laboratorium kits and can be contacted via email at either rramzay@yahoo.com or evgen_drots@yahoo.com. You can check out the other kits U-Boat Laboratorium has at their website http://u-boat-laboratorium.com/ .