German U-boats were among the most feared weapons of World War I. And when one (U-118) washed ashore in Britain like a beached whale, people from all around flocked to take a look.
U-118 was launched on Feb. 23, 1918, surrendered exactly one year later, and then landed–unassisted–in Hastings a few months later after the tow line taking it to France broke. The French ship towing U-118 tried to shoot it to pieces after it drifted ashore, but it remained generally intact and the submarine’s proximity to the Queens hotel stymied further shots. And it stayed generally intact for months on the beach of Hastings.
The submarine was an instant hit. Thousands of people swarmed the seafront. The enterprising town clerk started charging people a fee to be allowed on board, the proceeds of which went toward a parade for returning soldiers the following year. Despite it’s popularity as a tourist attraction, it was still a death machine that had left many families without fathers. Children slammed the sub with rocks throughout the night, which led residents to demand that it be broken up. Slowly, over a period of two months, U-118 was broken up and taken away piece by piece until the reminder of the horrors of The Great War was removed from the beach.