It’s often said that war is hell, but what’s hell without at least the occasional demon? Perhaps that’s why some of the most plausibility-straining monster sightings in history have been set against the backdrop of a world gone mad with violence and death.
10. The U-28 Sea Crocodile
During World War I, the British steamer Iberian was cruising off the coast of Ireland when it was attacked by the German submarine U-28 (pictured above right). The Iberian tried to flee, but U-28 pursued, firing shells and torpedoes. After taking two direct hits, the Iberian tipped up and sank with her bow in the air.
The sinking would be all but forgotten today if not for an article the U-28‘s captain, Baron von Forstner, wrote for a German newspaper in 1933. In the Baron’s account, he stood on the submarine’s conning tower and watched the steamer sink. About 25 seconds after it disappeared beneath the surface, there was a large explosion, possibly caused by the ship’s boiler detonating. The blast threw a mysterious sea creature clear out of the water. “The animal was about 20 meters [65 ft] long and crocodile-like in shape, with pairs of strong front and hind legs adapted for swimming, and a long head that tapered towards the nose.” According to the Baron, the creature was visible for about “10 to 15 seconds at a distance of about 150 to 100 meters (500–300 ft) in bright sunshine.”
The Belgian zoologist Bernard Heuvelmans, who coined the term “cryptozoology” and produced an influential book on sea serpents, considered the U-28 sighting one of the four most reliable in history. The incident was especially interesting since the explosion flung the animal all the way out of the water, allowing the Baron to see its entire body. Based on his description, Heuvelmans speculated that the creature might have been a surviving species of Thalattosuchia, a genus of giant sea crocodiles from the time of the dinosaurs.
Despite Heuvelmans’ assesment, skeptics suggest that the Baron might have made the whole story up. According to his account, seven other crew members witnessed the creature. Unfortunately, six died during the war, presumably when the U-28 was sunk in 1917 (the most common story is that another sinking ship exploded, hurling a burning truck straight onto the submarine). The only surviving witness was the sub’s cook, Robert Maas, who never wrote about the incident, leaving the story to rely on von Forstner’s account alone. Additionally, the 61 survivors of the Iberianapparently didn’t see the creature. In fairness, they might have been a little busy at the time.