D-class Submarines of the Royal Navy

At the dawn of the 20th century, the submarine was firmly establishing itself within the world’s navies and the Royal Navy began to seriously look at its future applications. In 1905, a committee was set up to finalise the specifications for the next class of British submarine which would be significantly larger than the C-class boats which were then just entering service. While the C-class and the classes before it were short ranged vessels primarily operated in the coastal and harbour protection role, the new class would be the first British submarines designed for a more offensive role requiring greater endurance to conduct patrols at sea.

royal navy c class submarine world war 1 one

C-class submarine

The resulting D-class submarine was one of the most influential designs in the history of the submarine service incorporating numerous innovations that would be carried on in later classes. It was obvious from the very start that the new class of submarine was going to be significantly bigger than the types then being fielded in order to carry sufficient fuel and provisions for its longer ranged mission. They would also have to take greater consideration in to crew comfort and accommodation than previous classes. This saw the new design eventually swell to over twice the displacement of the C-class coming in at 483 tons on the surface and 595 submerged.

The shape of the new sub would also be came radically different compared to the C-class with the fitting of ballast tanks mounted externally along the pressure hull, a feature that would continue until the Oberon-class launched in 1960. These had the advantage of offering a significant increase in reserve buoyancy that made the submarine easier to manoeuvre and safer to operate in unsettled waters. It also freed up considerably more space inside the pressure hull for fuel and supplies. Another feature included in the design aimed at increasing stability was the fitting of hydroplanes on the forward half of the hull as well as the rear. These had been introduced on the C-class but unlike the earlier type they were positioned so that they remained submerged even when the submarine was cruising on the surface while the aft hydroplane was much further forward due to the unusual shape of the external ballast tanks. The angle of rise and dive angles were set at 50 degrees with the forward hydroplane and 70 degrees in the rear.

Perhaps the biggest departure for British submarine design that the D-class undertook was the adoption of a diesel-fuelled engine for cruising on the surface. This offered numerous advantages over the previous petrol-powered types including importantly for its envisioned mission, greater economy. It was also considerably safer since it was found that explosive fumes often built up in the pumps when using petrol engines. The French Navy had launched the world’s first diesel-powered submarine, the Aigrette, the same year the D-class committee met, proving the concept worked although there were some misgivings especially concerning reliability. The two diesel engines were 600hp units developed by Vickers and each drove their own propellers making the D-class the first British twin-screw submarine type. For propulsion underwater the diesels were cut off and power was provided by a 410kw electric motor.

The D-class had a comparatively impressive range of around 2,500 nautical miles making it a truly ocean-going warship while it could cruise at an economical 5 knots submerged for 45 nautical miles. The committee had demanded that the submarines be capable of around 13 knots on the surface and while it was reported that some of the class could on occasion exceed this figure they generally didn’t travel faster than 11 knots. They were designed for a top speed of 10 knots submerged but the actual speed was closer to 9 although it was rare for them to operate at such speeds due to the significant drain on the batteries this would incur.

Primary armament consisted of two forward 18-inch torpedoes mounted in tubes located vertically on top of one another and with a single reload available for each. The tubes were covered by a one-piece external cap designed to be rotated through 90 degrees to reveal them when it came time to fire. The size of the D-class led some on the design committee to raise concerns that it would not be manoeuvrable enough to escape attack by an enemy vessel and so provision was made for an aft torpedo tube that could be used to launch a torpedo at a pursuing attacker. Unlike the earlier coastal types which could signal the shore with lamps or semaphore, the sea-going nature of the D-class made wireless a requirement from the start and as such it was the first British submarine to be designed with the capability. The aerial was mounted in the coning tower and was extended when riding on the surface but unfortunately was quite short ranged.

D-class submarine Royal Navy World War One WWI

So many innovations were being incorporated in to this new design that the committee demanded that the construction of the first-of-class be undertaken by Vickers at Barrow-in-Furness under a veil of total secrecy. The building where HMS D1 was laid down on May 14th 1907 was therefore heavily guarded and all workers sworn to secrecy. The naval race with the Kaiser’s Germany was now in full swing and Germany was building their own submarines starting with the SM U-1 based on the Karp-class designed by Spaniard Raimondo Lorenzo d’Equevilley Montjustin for the Imperial Russian Navy. While inferior to the D-class, the U-1 was an impressive start for the Germans when it was compared to the previous British classes. Further east, the Russians began construction of the Akula as HMS D1 neared completion in 1907 but both these designs were still inferior to the British sub.

D-class submarine royal navy world war one 1 I (1)D1 was launched at Barrow-in-Furness on May 16th 1918, a year and two days after she was laid down, in a secret ceremony where the only invited guests were a handful of officers from the depot ship HMS Mercury. The submarine was formally commissioned in to the Royal Navy in September 1909 by which time work had started on HMS D2 and HMS D3 at Barrow. On May 3rd 1910, D1 received a new commander in Lieutenant Noel F. Laurence (later Admiral Laurence) who commanded the submarine through that year’s annual naval exercise. The exercise was the chance to get some invaluable experience of the new type engaged in operations similar to what it might experience in war. After loading supplies and fuel in Portsmouth, D1 slipped out of harbour and transited to its operating area off the west coast of Scotland completely undetected by the British Home Fleet. The submarine then conducted a three-day patrol simulating two attacks on British cruisers before putting back to port. Key to remaining undetected was D1’s battery capacity which allowed it to remain submerged during the bulk of daylight hours (in winter the D-class was found that it could remain submerged throughout the fewer daylight hours.)

This highly successful exercise was unfortunately marred by repeated troubles with the revolutionary diesel engines. The fact that D1 had two diesel engines meaning there was always a spare to fall back on was viewed as positively as possible by its supporters but it was clear Vickers had to address this problem if the D-class was to be a success. Despite grand ambitions for a fleet of 18 D-class vessels, the orders was scaled back to ten to allow Vickers time to remedy the reliability issues with the diesels so that these could be implemented on the recently laid down D4, D5, D6, D7 and D8. The latter two vessels in the class were constructed at Chatham Royal Dockyard in Kent and were followed by HMS D9 and D10.  During this time, the D-class would find itself receiving yet another first when D4 was completed with a 12-pounder quick firing deck gun and while this would not be fitted to any other members of the class, deck guns would remain on British designs until after World War II.

As experience on HMS D1 and D2 filtered back, a series of recommendations for improvements were submitted and began to be incorporated in HMS D9 and D10. These improvements became so extensive and included greater armament, increased displacement and improved engines that they became a new class entirely. As such D9 and D10 became the first of the new E-class submarines which would serve with great distinction during the Great War however they would also scupper plans for anymore D-class boats. HMS D6 would be the final D-class to be commissioned (April 19th 1912) while D8 was built to a marginally different configuration incorporating redesigned hydroplanes that were all set at 50 degrees for changing depth as opposed to the 50/70 split in the previous vessels. Along with the E-class fleet, the eight D-class boats formed the backbone of the Royal Navy’s patrol submarine force upon the outbreak of war in August 1914.

D-class submarine royal navy world war one 1 I (3)On August 28th 1914, the Royal Navy met the German Navy in their first major engagement of the war at the First Battle of the Heligoland Bight. The battle took place in the south-eastern North Sea after a British force attacked German patrols off the north-west German coast. Although entirely a surface action, British submarines did play their part and among them was HMS D2 and D8 who were tasked with patrolling the mouth to the River Ems in north-west Germany to block any German reinforcements that may attempt to enter the battle.

Nearly two months later, D8 was sent to shadow the German hospital ship Ophelia which was reportedly looking for survivors from German torpedo boats destroyed in an engagement with HMS Undaunted. The British had become suspicious of the hospital ship because of the amount of radio communication it was making with the German Admiralty and when her crew spotted the British submarine’s periscope they quickly changed course and headed for home even though they were protected under the articles of war which both sides respected in the early months. The M-class destroyer HMS Meteor was sent to inspect the ship under international law and observed her commanding officer throwing secret documents overboard as it approached. The British decided to seize the vessel as a war prize believing it had been spying on British warships thus invalidating its hospital ship status. The British renamed the ship SS Huntley and used it for transporting fuel from Portishead to Boulogne before it was sunk by UB-10 on December 21st 1915.

The class would suffer its first combat loss on November 3rd 1914. D5 was sailing near South Cross Buoy off Great Yarmouth in pursuit of German Admiral Franz von Hipper’s battlecruisers that had raided Yarmouth the day before when it struck a mine laid by the SMS Stralsund. There were only five survivors including Lieutenant Commander Godfrey Herbert who had been in command. Almost three weeks later on November 23rd 1914, D2’s commanding officer Lieutenant Commander Arthur Jameson was washed overboard while the submarine was charging its batteries on the surface. The submarine was then put under the command of Lieutenant Commander Clement Head but his captaincy would be shortlived for on November 25th, just two days after Jameson’s death, D2 was spotted by a German patrol boat on the surface off Borkum which proceeded to ram the British vessel. The submarine quickly sank taking Head and his entire crew of 25 with it.

Along with the E-class fleet, the D-class spent much of the early war years patrolling the Heligoland Bight as part of the British effort to contain the German Navy in port. On June 15th 1915, HMS D4 under the command of Lieutenant Commander John R. G. Moncreiffe stumbled across the unfortunate German netlayer Bielefeld that had ran aground and was being assisted by a German destroyer. Seizing the opportunity, Moncreiffe attacked the destroyer with a single torpedo which unfortunately missed and alerted the Germans to D4’s presence. The destroyer powered up and went in pursuit of the submarine in the extremely shallow water attempting to ram its coning tower that was only just below the surface. Luckily for Moncreiffe and his crew, he eventually managed to evade the destroyer and return to the position of the Bielefeld where they sank the German ship before escaping out to sea.

On August 13th 1917, D6 under the command of Commander William Richardson took part in an effort to lure out German U-boats using a decoy sailing vessel, HMS Prize so-named because she was actually a German topsail schooner captured in the English Channel mere hours after the war began. During the patrol, the two British vessels encountered the U-Boat UB-48 which exchanged gunfire with Prize before disappearing. Later that night close to midnight, D6 was on the surface when they observed Prize explode from a torpedo hit from UB-48 which had returned under the cover of darkness before escaping again. Prize sank with all hands.

D-class submarine royal navy world war one 1 I (3)

On September 12th 1917, D7 under the command of Lieutenant Oswald E. Hallifax was cruising off the coast of Northern Ireland when he and his men spotted the German U-boat U-45. U-45’s war up to that point had been a successful one having sunk 45,622 tons of allied shipping. Hallifax dispatched a torpedo at the U-boat which struck the rear of U-45 as its crew attempted to dive to safety. U-45 sank killing all but two of its crew who were rescued by D7 and taken prisoner.

HMS D3 2

The crew of HMS D3 

Tragedy was narrowly averted on February 10th 1918 when D7 was mistakenly depth charged by the M-class destroyer HMS Pelican. Now under the command of Lieutenant George Tweedy, D7 managed to surface and show her flag to the Pelican before any serious damage was done. Not as lucky however was D3 which on March 12th 1918, found itself the focus of attention from French airship AT-0 off Fecamp in the English Channel which mistook the identification rockets the British crew released for being German. The French airship dropped a series of bombs on the British submarine which sent it under the waves. Survivors of the attack managed to escape the doomed submarine and it was only when the French airmen heard them speaking English did they realise their mistake. Efforts to rescue the men proved to be in vain and they had drowned by the time help arrived.

D4 would add another U-boat to the D-class’ list of victims on May 12th 1918 when under the command of Lieutenant Claud Barry, it attacked and sank UB-72 in the English Channel south of Weymouth. The U-boat had been in service with the Germans for just eight months but accounted for sinking over 10,000 tons of allied shipping. Only three of the crew survived the sinking.

A month later on June 24th 1918, the D-class fleet would suffer its last wartime loss when D6 was attacked by UB-73 with a torpedo from a range of just 80 meters. UB-73’s torpedo passed under D6 and exploded throwing a column of water 30-40 feet into the air. At first it appeared D6 was unscathed but approximately half a minute later the front of the British submarine pitched down abruptly and it sank soon afterwards. Only two of D6’s crew survived the sinking and were taken prisoner by the Germans. When these men were questioned over the sinking after the war, the British Admiralty determined that the torpedo must have employed a magnetic pistol; a device used to trigger the warhead by detecting the magnetic field around a metal object such as a ship. UB-73 would survive the war to be surrendered to the French.

As 1918 drew on, the surviving four D-class vessels were becoming increasingly obsolete compared to the newer types then being fielded by the Royal Navy. When it was decided to conduct experiments in to new ways to detect a submerged submarine such as with piezoelectric hydrophones dipped in to the sea from airships (a precursor to modern ASW helicopters), the 10-year old D1 was chosen to be deliberately sunk off Dartmouth harbour. The submarine was sunk to a depth of 25 fathoms (150 feet) on October 23rd 1918 for the trials.

The remaining three submarines were briefly retained by the Royal Navy after the war but seldom went to sea or even had a permanent crew assigned. D4, D7 and D8 were then decommissioned in 1919 before being sold for scrap in December 1921 to H. Pounds based in Portsmouth. Despite their problematic birth, the D-class can be considered a success in their own right. However, their contribution to the development of British submarines and their operation cannot be overstated and would prove the genesis from which nearly every major British submarine class was derived until the nuclear age.

 

 

 

 

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Italian diver claims to have found lost Royal Navy submarine

HMS P311 T-class submarine.jpg

An Italian diver has claimed to have discovered the wreck of HMS P311, a British T-class submarine lost during World War II, off the coast of Sardinia. The diver, Massimo Bondone, stumbled upon the wreck laying at a depth of 262ft off the island of Tavolara.

HMS P311, under the command of Commander Richard “Deadeye Dick” Cayley, disappeared sometime between December 30th 1942 and January 8th 1943 having been part of an operation to attack two Italian cruisers anchored at La Maddalena in Sardinia. It has long been suspected the sub was lost to an Italian mine. The vessel was due to be given the name HMS Tutankhamun after a directive by Churchill that all British submarines were to have names to distinguish them from German U-boats in the eyes of the British public but was lost before the renaming ceremony could take place.

The Royal Navy told the BBC that they are investigating the claim by Bondone.

A U-Boat in the Royal Navy (Part 3)

< A U-Boat in the Royal Navy (Part 1)
< A U-Boat in the Royal Navy (Part 2)

HMS Graph

Part 3 – HMS Graph is born.

Few vessels were ever tested as thoroughly as the captured U-570. Efforts were made to make her fully submersible again so as to fully evaluate the performance of the Type VII U-Boat. At the same time moulds were taken of the hull to test different shaped explosive charges for new depth charge designs. Just when the repair work was ready to go ahead Winston Churchill stepped in and began an effort to convince the Admiralty to hand the vessel over to the Americans. Churchill’s motives for this was that firstly the neutral Americans had the infrastructure to complete the repairs while Britain could barely spare a bolt it was so geared for war. He also believed that by handing over the vessel he would be further drawing the US into the Battle of the Atlantic and perhaps even the war itself.

The Admiralty successfully resisted his efforts although they did allow almost unrestricted access to the US Navy intelligence officers who arrived to inspect the vessel. Churchill’s interest in the vessel was not lost however and he then proposed that the vessel be given to the Yugoslavians to operate in the Mediterranean. This second plan died a quick death for many reasons, some technical and some political, but above all the lack of a skilled Yugoslavian crew who could man it meant the idea had to be dropped. Finally, Churchill conceded to the Admiralty’s desire to repair and test the vessel itself with the ultimate intention of putting the vessel in to frontline service against the Germans.

With that in mind a new name was needed as “HMS U-570” was not going to be looked upon favourably by anyone. To help identify her she received the pennant number “P715” which was painted on the sail but a name beginning with “G” to signify she was of German origin was needed. Just how the name HMS Graph was selected is disputed with some believing it is a play on the German word Graf meaning Count. Given its spelling however the real explanation is probably that it reflected the extent of the testing carried out that used literally miles of graph paper. Either way, HMS Graph was born.

HMS Graph interior

RN officer at U-570/HMS Graph’s chart table

Trials were conducted under the command of Lieutenant Commander E.D. Norman and between September 1941 and June 1942 every aspect of the vessel’s performance was examined. The trials proved just how good German submarine design really was compared to the Allies. It seemed that the Germans had a better understanding of keeping a submarine undetected than the Americans or British did with features such as rubber padded floors in the machine room that suppressed the vibration of the electric motors when operating submerged. This made detecting the vessel by hydrophone very difficult and impressed the Allies so much that they immediately copied the system in their own vessels. One of the most secretive projects that involved the Graph was the copying of the control room’s layout. This was then used to train specialist boarding parties who would (in theory) be able to fight their way in and capture more U-Boats.

By Mid-1942 the Admiralty was satisfied that it had learned all it could from the U-Boat and therefore felt willing to put it in the frontline. HMS Graph was placed under the command of Lieutenant Peter Marriott who had served under Norman during the trial phase and had thus became well acquainted with the vessel. On October 8th 1942, the former German U-Boat set sail under the Royal Navy ensign to wage its war against its former master.

HMS Graph transited south to patrol the west coast of France to attack any U-Boats or German surface raiders attempting to break out in to the Atlantic to intercept the convoys between Britain and North America. Just like their German counterparts, British submarine crews had to contend with harassment from the air which for the British meant keeping a watchful eye for the German Focke-Wulf Fw200 Condor. This large four engined aircraft had built an enviable reputation for successfully tracking convoys and directing U-Boats to their position. It was also able to attack submarines with bombs and depth charges.

The Fw200 Condor provided the U-Boats with vital intelligence

The Fw200 Condor provided the U-Boats with vital intelligence

On the afternoon of 21 October 1942 HMS Graph was operating 60 miles off Cape Ortegal when her lookouts atop the sail spotted the menacing shape of a four engined maritime patrol aircraft. The vessel immediately went to diving stations with the lookouts rushing down below frantically closing the hatches behind them. Soon the vessel was slipping beneath the protection of the waves but as it did the hydrophone operator detected a contact in the local vicinity. Weighing up all the information he had such as the location of where Allied submarines would be operating Marriott assumed, quite correctly, they had detected a U-Boat.

Marriott set about stalking his prey. After nearly a quarter of an hour of following the contact which was travelling on the surface he raised his periscope and spied the distinctive tail of U-333. Marriott plotted a firing solution and when he was satisfied he gave the order to fire a spread of four torpedoes. Several tense minutes passed. Then the hydrophone operator reported loud explosions as the torpedoes detonated followed by what appeared to be the sound of bulkheads failing. The crew of the Graph cheered as they celebrated their victory and a few days later returned to port to claim their kill which for Marriott meant receiving the Distinguished Service Order for his courage and skill.

U-333

U-333

Alas, history would steal the claim away from the Graph. Records obtained post war showed that U-333’s own lookouts spotted the torpedo tracks early enough for her to take evasive action. The U-Boat’s captain, Peter-Erich Cremer, later said that after the torpedoes passed by then detonated harmlessly in the distance. As for the sounds heard afterwards that the Graph mistook for collapsing bulkheads he believes that damage already inflicted on the U-Boat by a British escort ship that had rammed the U-333 on the surface could account for this. At the time it was detected by HMS Graph, U-333 was limping back to its base following the collision.

Unaware of this fact however, HMS Graph departed Holy Loch again on the 19th November 1942 hoping to repeat the “success” of the previous patrol. Marriott and his men thought the opportunity was presenting itself when they received a signal that an Italian transport ship, the Cortellazzo, had entered the area and it was to be sunk with the highest priority. Unknown to Marriott, British intelligence had discovered that the Cortellazzo was carrying over 2,000 tons of advanced machinery destined for Japan to help them improve their own equipment to use against the Allies in the Pacific. Later in the war these journeys were actually undertaken by U-Boats as surface vessels became increasingly vulnerable. Equipment given to the Japanese by the Germans this way included jet and radar technology the latter of which was fitted to the battleship Yamato. Marriott set up a search pattern but his efforts were to prove fruitless as the Cortellazzo slipped by undetected by the Graph only to be intercepted by HMS Redoubt, a destroyer-escort which sank the vessel after ordering her crew off and then rescuing them. The frustrated crew of HMS Graph returned to port on the 8th December 1942.

Any hope of a Christmas at home were dashed however when the crew were ordered to set sail again on Christmas Eve 1942 for a third patrol. This time they were operating with a British wolfpack of four submarines heading north for the Norwegian coast to intercept German warships and submarines attempting to interfere with convoys to Russia as well as North America. Upon arriving on station the wolfpack received word that the German heavy cruiser Admiral Hipper was expected to make a break for its port in Norway.

Admiral Hipper

Admiral Hipper

 The Admiral Hipper was one of the German Kriegsmarine’s main surface combatants and a very real threat to the convoys. However, on the 31st December the Admiral Hipper along with another cruiser and six destroyers attacked the convoy JW 51B heading north for Russia. In what became known as the Battle of the Barents Sea the German force faced disaster in the face of a potent British escort force who used superior tactics to circumvent the German’s superior firepower. The Germans lost one cruiser and one destroyer with the remaining force, including Admiral Hipper, being made to scatter and retreat. Unknown to British intelligence or the crew of the Graph Hitler had been so infuriated by the disaster that it effectively meant the end of any real attempt to attack convoys by surface vessels and priority was soon given to the U-Boats. Nevertheless, at 1am on the 1st January 1943 Marriott spied the menacing silhouette of the Admiral Hipper and prepared his attack. Frustration would once again curse the Graph as Marriott realized the Admiral Hipper was too far off and travelling too fast for any chance of a successful attack.

Unable to pursue, the Graph lost contact but as though fortune was smiling on them they suddenly ran in to two of the German destroyers that had taken part in the attack. While Admiral Hipper was relying on her great speed for protection the two destroyers were relying on their manoeuvrability and were zig-zagging; a common tactic to make a ship difficult to attack with a torpedo. At 4:23am, Marriott ordered the Graph to close within 7,000 yards of the two ships and prepared a spread of four torpedoes in a wide pattern in order to counter the defensive pattern the destroyers were taking. The torpedoes fired and after a few moments a loud explosion was heard through the hydrophones indicating a hit. The Graph then retreated from the area fearing depth charge attack from whichever destroyer hadn’t been hit. History would prove cruel twice to the crew of the Graph as again post war records proved that all four torpedoes missed their targets and the explosion must have been caused by a torpedo hitting rocks or malfunctioning.

HMS Graph returned to port on the 13th January. Her engineering log showed that she was beginning to look in poor shape as a number of breakdowns from a lack of spare parts was beginning to blight the vessel. It was therefore decided to take her off the frontlines to spend her last days as a target for air and surface battery crews to train their weapons on. Shortly after decommissioning in February 1944 she was taken undertow for scrapping on the River Clyde but during gale force winds her tow rope snapped and she was blown aground near Coul Point, Scotland. She was never recovered and broken up for scrap in situ over the following 20 years but some of it remains even today.

The legacy of U-570/HMS Graph lays in revealing to the Allies how much more sophisticated the German submarines were and how they could improve their detection methods. This went a long way to helping the Allies finally defeat the Germans in the Battle of the Atlantic.

The Silent Service’s First Ever Kill

HMS E9 1

Underhand, unfair and damned un-English

(Admiral Sir Arthur Wilson VC speaking about submarines in 1901 )

There is a myth that the Royal Navy was bitterly opposed to the use of submarines as it flew in the face of the chivalrous nature of the Royal Navy officer who still believed in the Victorian ideals of gallantry and honour even in wartime. The fact of the matter is that while there were indeed a cadre of higher up officers who started their careers on wooden sailing ships who shared Wilson’s view there was a growing number of younger officers who saw the potential of the submarine in warfare. Fortunately for the Royal Navy they persisted in their beliefs citing the growing international submarine forces and in 1901 the Submarine Service was founded.

Submarine service

The new arm of the Royal Navy struggled to shake off the dirty view of their role and were often labelled as pirates by the officers aboard the powerful battleships of the British Grand Fleet. When war broke out the cutting edge of British submarine technology was the E-class with HMS E1 (the first Royal Navy submarines didn’t have names like today) being launched in 1912. Essentially an improved D-class the type served in the North Sea, Baltic and Turkish theatres of war.

Even by the outbreak of war in 1914 the submarine was still a primitive piece of kit and the E-class represented a typical submarine of the period. Armament comprised of four 18-inch torpedo tubes with one forward, one aft and two mounted on the beam; this reflected contemporary destroyer designs since the Admiralty was still perfecting the concept of the submarine. On the surface they could travel at a speed of some 15 knots while submerged the type could reach 9.5 knots; impressive figures for a submarine of the period. Equally impressive was its underwater endurance with a time of 13 hours if the engines were run economically enough. As was typical of early operations however the submarine stayed on the surface for most of the time only submerging to attack or to escape attack itself.

The First World War was almost two months old when the Submarine Service was finally blooded in combat. Immediately upon the outbreak of war the Submarine Service was primarily used to protect the British Expeditionary Force crossing the English Channel. Despite the odd encounter the British submarines failed to destroy any German ships but their presence alone dissuaded them from attempting to run the Channel and attack the troops going to France. Then on the morning of the 13th September 1914 the German cruiser SMS Hela was spotted by the crew of HMS E9 under command of Lieutenant Commander Max Horton (who later became an Admiral) conducting training southwest of Helgoland, a German island in the North Sea. At the time of sighting the cruiser, E9 was on the surface and so immediately submerged. Horton fired two torpedoes at his quarry at a range of 600 yards both of which struck the Hela amidship. The German cruiser took half an hour to sink watched from afar by Horton through his periscope. Despite the speed at which the ship sank all but two of her crew were rescued by German vessels.

SMS Hela

SMS Hela

The crew of HMS E9 returned to their port a short time after but whereas a battleship would have received a pompous return after their successful foray at sea the submariners expected nothing of the sort. They were after all nothing more than pirates in the eyes of many in the Admiralty and therefore they flew a Jolly Roger flag as they re-entered port to signal this. It has since become the proud tradition of Royal Navy submariners to fly this flag after a successful sinking and was continued up until 1982 when HMS Conqueror returned home from the Falklands having sunk the ARA Belgrano – the last of many surface vessels to date that have fallen prey to the RN Submarine force and it began with HMS E9 in 1914.

conqueror_2366371a