What’s the U-534 Project all about then?

German submarine U-534 was sunk at the end of WW2 and raised from the seabed in 1993, remarkably well-preserved. She eventually formed the ‘U-Boat Story’ attraction in Birkenhead, England, but that museum has now closed and the sub has passed into our care.

After 48 years of salt water and 30-years of salt air, the sub is certainly no longer in showroom condition. Which is why we’re planning to restore her and build a major new visitor attraction telling the story of these infamous ‘iron coffins’.

HTFAUB is your behind-the-scenes look at the engineering, planning and politics that goes into. There will be lots of content going into the nitty-gritty of restoration and conservation, so enthusiasts will particularly love it, but anyone with an interest in museums or history may find the project worth following.

Who’s behind this project?

Big Heritage CIC, an award-winning social enterprise with a great track record for creating fun, engaging heritage attractions. If you haven’t heard of us, you might have heard of Western Approaches HQ, Sick To Death or the Dewa Roman Discovery Centre?

Western Approaches is the Liverpool bunker where the Battle of The Atlantic was masterminded, and we’ve transformed it from a hidden gem to one of Liverpool’s best-known visitor attractions. With U-Boat Story across the river, we can finally tell the story of this pivotal battle from both sides. The combined experience will honour not just the Allied sailors and support staff who faced the U-boat menace with heads held high, but the brave German submariners unfortunate enough to be caught on the wrong side of history.

Where will the U-boat be moved to?

She’s going nowhere! U-534 will remain in place at the Woodside Ferry Terminal, which itself will be undergoing a major rebuild. Moving the boat has been deemed too risky and our museum is designed to be the centrepiece of the area’s big regeneration project (sorry retail and housing schemes, you just can’t compete with a U-boat).

Are you going to put the sub back in one piece?

Back in 2008 the U-boat faced the scrapyard unless money was found to move and display it, and unfortunately the only feasible plan for the former owner was to cut 534 into 4 sections. I guess cutting it into segments beats cutting it into tin cans…

We’re as gutted as you that it happened, but we can’t turn back time. The structural strain from 5 decades on the seabed (and another 3 in the salty Scouse air) means that even if it were possible to reunite the sections of the boat, there’s no way we could ever safely let the general public loose inside such a confined space.

As lovely as it would be to see the boat whole again, the time-capsule interior is the real treasure. So if we can’t undo the choices of the past, we can at least make them work to our advantage. Our architects are looking at the possibility of re-aligning the sections but it’s unlikely our funding can cover this complicated operation without huge compromises in other areas.

Does this mean we’ll still have to peer inside through thick glass windows?

Definitely not! The big advantage of keeping her in sections is that we’ve got access points where we can safely allow members of the public to walk into the boat. The other 3 surviving U-boats have been carefully restored, but the inside of U-534 shows how she was found on the seabed after her final patrol. Finally, you can live out your Shadow Divers scuba fantasies on dry land!

Even the areas we can’t make safe for visitors will get a much better view, since we should no longer need glass panels blocking your view.

What other exhibits can we look forward to?

We’re working with the community to find out what they really want to see from this museum. We can’t reveal any details about specific museum exhibits yet; not because it’s secret but because we simply don’t know – it’s all in the planning stages! However you can take part by sharing your ideas on our Placed consultation site. There may be a few nice surprises in the works too…

Suffice to say we expect the new attraction to be substantially bigger and more interactive than the original U-Boat Story. For enthusiasts we may also be able to offer behind-the-scenes tours etc too.

When will you be opening to the public?

We don’t want to commit to anything publicly when there’s so much to do, but it’d certainly be nice to have something to show the world for the 80th Anniversary of the Battle Of The Atlantic. We’ll let you Google that date if you don’t know already. Building the entire museum will take several years.

How much is the project going to cost?

Um…a lot.