DESPITE the predictions of howling gales and stormy weather hitting the Mersey yesterday, one of the most unusual removal jobs successfully got under way.
The fate of the historic submarine U534 had hung in the balance after the closure of the Historic Warships collection, until Merseytravel bought it up.
The organisation wants to use it as the basis for a novel visitor attraction at Woodside ferry terminal in Birkenhead, to complement the Spaceport in Seacombe and the Beatles Story at the Pier Head.
But first the submarine had to be moved from Birkenhead docks – all 900 tonnes of it – leading to one of the most unusual engineering operations those involved have ever experienced.
And before it could even be moved, the submarine was sliced using a wire – described by the engineers involved as like a thick cheese cutter – into five sections which will eventually have their open ends glazed to allow visitors to the attraction to see into them.
Four of those sections were then transported to the dock side in preparation for the move which began early yesterday.
Merseytravel chief executive Neil Scales said he was feeling “immense relief” to see the first and heaviest section of the U-Boat lifted by the Mersey Mammoth floating crane and start its journey to Woodside and a new home in the £2.5m visitor attraction.
He added: “We have the high tides now, which go back an hour or so each day, and hopefully by the end of the week, we’ll have all five pieces at Woodside in place.”
The mobile platform used to position each section of the submarine rotates them into the exact position for final display.
Within an hour of leaving the docks yesterday, the Mammoth had steamed out into the Mersey, past the 12 Quays ferry terminal to Woodside where a crowd of onlookers watched the 240 tonne section lifted on to the waiting remote controlled trailer used to position it.
The U-534 was one of the last U-boats to be sunk by the Allies in 1945, around two days before the end of the war in Europe, and is believed to be one of just four left in existence.
It was never involved in active combat but carried out meteorological operations as well as being used for training, and was raised in 1993, eventually coming to Birkenhead, where it was part of the historic warship collection.
Project manager Roger Hall said there had been a “few ups and downs” early yesterday, but overall the operation had been “generally very successful”.
He added: “The lifting operation and moving it here will last through the week. We will be moving a section a day, and this was the heaviest section today at about 240 tonnes.
“We have the Mammoth booked for the rest of the week and it will move one load per day.”