Almost two years into the Great War, the battlefields of France and Belgium were literally running red with blood. Hundreds of thousands of young men were dying, an entire generation consigned to the mud and mayhem of trench warfare along the Western Front. The conflagration was so evenly matched that victories were measured in mere yards.
Neither side could muster the reserves for that one decisive thrust to punch through the other's defenses, and the war developed into a grotesque stalemate - except that in this case, the pawns were the young men of England, Germany and France.
The only breakthrough in the war, it seemed, might come at sea where, by the summer of 1916, the Kaiser's navy, led by the wolf packs of U-boat submarines, was beginning to take a heavy toll on British shipping. Hundreds of thousands of tons were consigned to the bottom of the seas by the fast-moving U-boats. Particularly hard hit was the British merchant fleet, which carried supplies vital to the war effort in Europe.
The Kaiser and his navy warlords were convinced that this was the way to break the back of the British bulldog and so, with the war two years old, Germany was devoting much of its total war effort to producing more and more submarines to press the attack. That year, among the many U-boats which came down the assembly line ready for British blood was UB65, which would go down in naval lore as the host to at least one ghost, and the scene of many disturbing and tragic occurrences. Indeed, UB65 became so infamous, that even as the war raged on, its panic-stricken crew grew increasingly reluctant to sail on her.
Even before she was launched, the `Iron Coffin' as she became known, seemed to attract disaster. She was built to join a fleet of submarines prowling off the Flemish coastline, gorging on the slow, heavily laden ships crossing back and forward across the English Channel. But it seemed that everything that could go wrong during construction, did.
A HORRIFYING END
Not even seven days into her construction, as the hull was being laid, the first tragedy struck. As workers poured over the site, a giant girder hovering overhead on chains suddenly broke free, plunging into the hull. A hapless worker was horribly crushed under its massive weight, and lay there, in agony, for over an hour while frantic mates tried to rescue him. Tragically, he died just as the huge weight was finally lifted off him. An inquiry into the accident found there had been no faults in the chains used to hoist the girder, and officials were mystified as to what could have caused it to snap free. Less than two months later, there was a second, more alarming tragedy. Three engineers who were assigned to the U-boats engine room to test the submarine's dry cell batteries, were overcome by deadly chloride fumes. They died before anyone could rescue them and drag them into the fresh air. No-one ever determined why the batteries ever leaked the toxic fumes.
Thankfully, there were no more mysterious incidents during the remaining construction and shortly afterwards UB65 set sail for sea trials. But whatever dogged the boat seemed to follow it out of port because it quickly ran into a fierce Channel storm, and one hapless sailor was washed overboard to his death when the vessel came up to test her stability on the surface during rough seas.
After the man went overboard, the captain ordered the U-boat to dive. As she did, a ballast tank sprang a leak, flooding the dry-cell batteries in sea water and filling the engine room with the same deadly gas that had already claimed three lives while the boat was still on the slipway. After 12 nerve-racking hours the crew final managed to get the ship to surface, where they flung open the hatches and breathed clean air. Amazingly, no-one was killed and the bedevilled craft limped back to Germany for repairs.
After several days, the U-boat was again readied for sea and her first on-line patrol. But as a battery of torpedoes was being placed on board, a warhead suddenly exploded, killing the second officer and badly wounding several others. Yet again, an inquiry was conducted, but no explanation for the explosion was ever found. In the meantime, the second officer was buried, and another round of repairs made to the jinxed vessel. Her jittery crew, already worried about the U-boat's growing reputation for being accursed, were given a few days' much-needed shore leave to calm their shattered nerves before setting out on their first active patrol.
A GHASTLY APPARITION
The U-Boat 65 was forced to limp back to harbour after another mysterious disaster. The submarine was bedevilled by tragedy and death.
Yet just moments before she was set to leave port, another bizarre incident occurred - this time, a panicked sailor swore he had seen the apparition of the dead second officer. "Herr Kapitan!" he blurted. "The dead officer is on board!" The captain, of course, refused to take the report seriously, believing the sailor had had too much to drink during his shore leave. However, even the stoic skipper was a little taken aback when a second member of his crew also claimed to have seen the ghost of the second officer coming casually up the gangplank! The seaman was sobbing from fear when he told the captain that the apparition had walked aboard, strolled up to the bow, then looked out at the inviting sea. He then vanished into thin air.
That two crew members had reported seeing the dead officer gave the captain some reason for pause, but nevertheless he knew his duty lay at sea and in sinking British ships. UB65 had some early successes on its maiden voyage, sinking three Allied merchant ships in quick succession. However, the rumors of the unwanted ghost had spread through the crew like wildfire, and their celebration over any direct hits was tempered by their belief that their vessel was haunted.
Indeed, there was almost full-scale panic after UB65 recorded its second kill, when startled sailors in the engine room saw the dead officer observing the instrument panel as he had done in the trial voyage. By the time the submarine returned to base, rumors of its ghostly visitor were already spreading
throughout the entire U-boat armada. The captain did his best to dispel the talk, claiming it was all poppycock, fearing that the ghost tales would only further erode the morale of the 34-man crew. But in their hearts, the men of UB65 knew something was terribly amiss with their craft.
Then in January, 1918 as the war dragged ever closer to its inevitable conclusion, even the captain could no longer dismiss the sightings as the rantings of some foolhardy seamen - for he, too, saw the apparition! It came as the U-boat was prowling in the Channel off Portland Bill. Because the weather was so foul and the seas extremely rough, the captain ordered the craft to surface. After breaking the surface, a lookout stationed on the starboard side was scanning the stormy horizon. He turned to look to port, when suddenly he spotted an officer standing on the deck, which heaved under the growing fury of the waves. At firs, the crew man thought the officer foolhardy for taking such a risk, but then realised that all the hatches were still battened down. bar the one from which he himself had climbed onto the deck. He knew no-one could have come up through there without him immediately spotting him.
Suddenly, the crew man got a full look at the officer - and his face went white as the blood drained from it. There standing in front of him was the second officer, who had been buried with full honours back at home base. When he finally summoned the courage to move, the terrified seaman screamed to his shipmates that the ghost was on the boat. Below deck, the crew were close to all-out panic, and the captain had to act immediately lest a hysterical sailor put all their lives in jeopardy. He raced up the ladder, fully expecting to see nothing save a panicked crew man, when he, too, saw his dead comrade, his face a grotesque distortion. Seconds later, the ghost vanished, as if blown into the raging swell by the strong winds.
By the time the U-boat returned to port, navy authorities were already waiting. They were determined to get to the bottom of the mystery, fearing that the morale of the crew was so low that another disaster was just waiting to happen. With intense secrecy, each and every man assigned to UB65 was interviewed by a panel of high-ranking officers.
The reader must remember that U-boat crews were among the most reliable and hardiest in the navy. They were subjected to long periods of confinement deep below the ocean surface, and had to withstand hours of nerve-racking pursuit by Allied destroyers. It was a fact that a submariner had only a 50-50 chance of ever returning from his mission, and that on a man-for-man basis, the U-boat force suffered the highest casualties of the war. So when these brave, innately fearless men, told navy officials that they were terrified of returning to their craft because of ghosts, then their story could not simply be dismissed as irrational rantings. And it wasn't. Although the Kaiser's sea lords could never admit to having a haunted ship - one could imagine the widespread effect on morale that would have on their other crews - they found the stories about the ghost of the dead second officer too convincing to simply laugh off or dismiss as the talk of overwrought sailors. Instead, they decided to break up the crew of UB65, sending some to other submarines and others to destroyers.
But that still left the problem of what to do with the vessel itself. Eventually, the U-boat was decommissioned at the port of Bruges, in Belgium, and a Lutheran pastor was asked to perform the ancient Christian rite of exorcism! In surely what must be one of the most incredible wartime scenes ever, a Belgian civilian was taken on board while German officers watched with a mixture of fascination and dread. Once the exorcism was completed, everyone breathed a sigh of relief.
A new crew and captain were assigned to the `cleansed' ship, and it was business as usual for the next few weeks. The new skipper, a stern disciplinarian who scoffed at the stories of dead men walking the ship, warned his crew that he would not tolerate any renewed tales of ghosts or goblins. For the next two missions, it appeared as if everything was back to normal. There had been no sightings and no inexplicable accidents. But in May 1918, the ghost appeared again.
During the long voyage, in which UB65 was ordered to patrol the sea lanes off the Spanish coast as well as the English Channel, the dead officer was seen no fewer than three times. One of those who saw the ghost was the petty officer, who swore to God that he saw the man walk though a solid iron bulkhead and pass into the engine room! Another man, a torpedo handler, claimed the ghost visited him several times at night. The terrified soul became so disoriented that when the submarine surfaced to recharge its batteries, he leaped off the deck to his death in the seas.
On its final voyage - during July 1918, just four months before the Armistice was signed and peace returned to a ravaged Europe - the UB65 was spotted by an American submarine resting like a sitting duck on the surface. No one knows why. It was 10 July. The American sailors, who couldn't believe their good fortune, quickly armed their torpedoes and prepared to fire. But just before they did, the U-65 suddenly exploded, sending the remains of metal and men spewing out over a wide range of ocean.
Within seconds, all that remained of the submarine and her crew was a heavy oil slick and scattered debris. No-one aboard the American submarine ever gave the order to fire, and the crew swears no-one launched a torpedo. What happened? To this day, no-one knows. But it seemed a fitting, if bloody, end to the story of the haunted ship, which took its most enigmatic secret with it to its watery grave.
Acc/Top Speed: 2/11 (1/7 submerged);
Toughness: 20; Crew: 18
Notes: Heavy Armor, maximum depth 160 feet, range 1,650 miles (80 miles submerged)
Jinxed: All crew aboard the vessel gain the Bad luck hindrance.
Haunted: The host of spirits inhabiting the submarine can act channel themselves into the superstructure of the ship, as if they had the Haunted: vehicular animation edge.
Vehicular Animation: The spirit enters the machinery of a vehicle and imbues it with supernatural energy. All crewmen add +2 to any vehicular actions (including firing its weapons), and attacks against it suffer a −2 penalty. This occurs one round after combat rounds begin and lasts until the War Master declares the game is no longer in rounds. The ability covers an entire vehicle, even an entire ship and all its crew, if directed. This exhausts the spirits, which can take no other action for 24 hours.
• 2 torpedo tubes forward (2 C/06 torpedoes each), 2 torpedo tubes aft (1 C/06 torpedo each)
• 105mm deck gun (300 rounds)
Spectral Crew mate
Attributes: Agility d6, Smarts d6, Spirit d10, Strength d6, Vigor d6
Skills: Fighting d6, Intimidation d12+2, Notice d12, Taunt d10, Stealth d12+4, Throwing d12
Pace: 6; Parry: 5; Toughness: 5
Gear: Thrown objects (Str+d4).
• Ethereal: Ghosts are immaterial and can only be harmed by magical attacks.
• Fear –2: Ghosts cause Fear checks at –2 when they let themselves be seen.