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There’s a submarine in that yard

George Cruickshank, top, a windguard, while John Webber works on a waveguard on the U-boat replica they are building in Cruickshank’s yard. - Andrew Leong
George Cruickshank, top, a windguard, while John Webber works on a waveguard on the U-boat replica they are building in Cruickshank’s yard.
— image credit: Andrew Leong

It started off with a off-hand remark between friends.

A year later George Cruickshank, owner of Duncan’s Battle of Atlantic Museum, has a full-size bridge and conning tower from a replica WWII U889 German submarine in his yard.

Last September, Cruickshank’s friend and fellow collector of submarine artifacts, John Webber came up with the idea to reconstruct part of the submarine. Webber recalled the brief conversation that led to their major undertaking.

“I said to George we should build a U889. If you build the foundation, I’ll build the submarine. Next thing I know George built the foundation. I stuck with my word.”

Cruickshank poured the foundation in the front yard of his home, which is also the location of the museum. Thankfully, his wife is supportive.

“She said it was something she’s always wanted was to have a submarine in her front yard.”

With the foundation in place, Webber, a Colwood resident who trained as an engineering draftsman, set to drawing detailed diagrams of the WWII U-boat. Webber traveled around the world looking for existing plans for the type-9 submarine but found few. Almost all u-boat drawings were destroyed by the Germans at the end of the war.

“I had one general drawing, which I got from a U-boat officer, but there were no detailed drawings. There were a few details in the drawing I had: the diameter of the periscope and the distance between periscope and overall height. Everything else I did by photo analysis and scaling from photos.”

Webber spent eight months researching and drafting 40 colour diagrams. In May, the pair began building the bridge and tower using Webber’s specifications and the result is a nearly complete project ready for museum visitors to climb aboard and immerse themselves in a rich part of Canadian naval history.

During the war, these German submarines were stationed in the Atlantic Ocean with the task of sinking merchant ships transporting supplies from North America to Britain — supplies which supported Britons in the war. Canadian and American navies protected the merchant ships against their German adversaries.

Cruickshank explained why he finds the Battle of the Atlantic such a fascinating subject.

“It lasted for the whole six years of the war. At first the Germans had no opposition. The battle became important to Winston Churchill because if they lost supplies, the British would starve. By 1943, the Allies had developed enough anti-submarine technology to turn the battle in their favour. As the Americans entered the war, and built more ships, the Germans lost more than they won.”

Cruickshank said it was this turning point that enable the Allies to invade Germany when they did.

Webber notes the Canadian significance of the U889 vessel.

“This particular U-boat was surrendered by the Germans and commissioned to the Canadian Navy in May 1945, mainly for trials to test how things worked. In 1946, the submarine was given to the US Navy for evaluation, who then sank it off the coast of Maine.”

Webber even discovered something humorous along the way.

“The official U889 badge showed a bulldog representing the British on top of an official German Nazi eagle. If you look closely, the Canadians replaced the eagle with a turkey.”

Visits to the U-boat at The Battle of the Atlantic museum are by appointment only. Find contact information, copies of Webber’s drawings and pictures of the project here.

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