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Origins Of The Amphion Class Submarine

Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto
Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto

Admiral Yamamoto, Commander-in-Chief of the Combined Japanese Fleet from the start of the war until April 1943 when he was killed in an air attack:

In the first six months of the war with the United States, I will run wild and win victory after victory. After that, I have no expectation of success."

The Battle of Midway, June 3, 1942, brought the Pacific naval forces of Japan and the United States to approximate parity and marked a turning point of the military struggle between the two countries.

Encyclopedia Britannica and other sources.


I joined the Royal Navy Submarine Service in 1949 and served in the electrical branch on HMS Artemis, HMS Truncheon, HMS Tiptoe and HMS Amphion, leaving the RN in 1955 to come to New Zealand.

In my retirement years I have written about technical and other matters involving submarines, but didn't pursue until recently, any particular inquiry into why the Royal Navy Amphion Class submarine was designed and ordered in 1942 when it seemed unlikely any would be completed before WW2 in Europe was over (1945) and even if a few had been commissioned, they would not have added value to the Royal Navy in Europe in the days after D-Day. Most well-known authors seem to accept this and state the popular view that the Amphion Class were intended to engage in the war against the Japanese in the Pacific.Thus these notes, are not an article, but are collection submarine detail and items of history, intended to challenge this long accepted piece of submarine history by means of what might be described as circumstantial evidence. I have made the choice to write in the first person as this is very much a personal view of the history.

I also question the decision to build the Amphion Class, in terms of dockyard capacity, that probably reduced the number of the proven Group 3 T Class built without producing an Amphion Class submarine for service in WW2. Had the Atom Bomb not been dropped and there had been an assault on the Japanese mainland with the war continuing until the end of, say 1947, at best there may been 6 or so Amphion Class in full commission with training complete ready for service. In any case one can reasonably assume that as in the D-Day period, the role of the allied submarine in the assault on Japan would have been relatively small, with the USN submarine fleet approaching 200 ships available with more on order and the RN T Class and S Class submarines successfully dealing with the supply ships of the isolated Japanese Army in places such as Malaya, that I generally refer to as the Far East as opposed to the Pacfic Islands that were the focus of the US campaign to eventually reach the mainland of Japan.



Part 1

Part 2

Thoughts on various aspects of the 1942 planning, design and construction of the Amphion Class submarine for the Royal Navy.

Part 1.

1. Royal Navy Submarine Class Comparison

In this intial section I compare the British submarines involved in the WW2 with the Amphion Class, particularly drawing the readers attention to the similarity of weapons and operating equipment. Elswhere om this site the reader will find a list of the T Class and a list of the S Class. The small U Class and V Class did not serve in the Far East submarine campaign, but later two V Class were there, used as excercise targets.

It is notable that using the modern term "weapon platform" to describe the Royal Navy submarines built in WW2 - the S Class, T Class, U Class and Amphion Class, that they were all fitted with same main weapon - the Mk VIII torpedo, a reliable, largely 'Point and Aim' missile - the number of re-loadable forward tubes was 6, except in the Amphion Class where number was resricted to 4 to achieve the cylindrical hull required to reach depths of 700ft, where the previous design the T Class riveted was 300 ft and the T Class welded was 350 ft. The Amphion Class however, had the advantage of two reloadable tubes in the stern as had been the case in the so-called 'China Boats' of 1928/1930, the Long Range Patrol submarines such as the Oberon Class. In addition, external non-reloadable tubes were fitted on Amphion Class, T Class and S Class at various times, the Amphion Class had 2 forward/2 astern, while the T Class had three pointing astern and two forward. Some S Class were fitted with one reloadable stern tube The number of reloadable torpedoes stored varied with 6 in the T Class and S Class, with the Amphion Class 10 having inboard storage fore and aft. Generally speaking the main attacking forward torpedoes were similar in number, however there is no doubt stern tubes were of great advantage in attacking a group of escorted merchant ships, hence the fitting of the aft pointing external tubes in WW2. But in the Far East, where the RN patrolled, larger merchant ship and warship targets in large groups were rather sparse compared to the Meditereanean campaign with convoys such as those supplying Rommel's desert army.

The rest of the equipment, such as TCS (Fruit Machine), the 129/138 ASDIC sets and the Radar sets were the same and more or less remained so until the mid-fifties when the various conversion programmes of the fifties commenced, and in this regard I want to point out a number of S Class were modernised in the mid-fifties with the gun tower removed etc and gave good service into the next decade, HMS Sidon sadly sinking due to an explosion while loading an HTP torpedo for trials. (note- I am not referring to the HMS Seraph and her sisters that were drastically streamlined, Seraph first in 1944 to give escorts the experience of a fast submarine.) This proved to be the way of the future after the war leaving the Amphion Class rather out of date.

And as we all know, the SSN Conqueror used Mk VIII torpedoes rather than the more modern torpedoes she also carried, to sink the Argentine cruiser Belgrano in the Falklands war 1982.

As all the WW2 accounts relate, the single forward deck mounted gun played a major role, particular in sinking coastal shipping supplying the Axis armies, even destroying trains. The Amphion Class had a forward shielded 4 inch while T Class though fitted with a similar 4 inch gun, had a less enclosing shield. The S Class, had in earlier built boats, 3 inch un-shielded deck guns, while later builds had 4 inch with a similar gun platform to the T Class. All three submarines had a gun tower with a hatch at the top and one at the hull level giving quick and relatively easy access to the magazine below. Later in the war the T Class and S Class were fitted with a 'Bandstand' AA gun platform on the after part of the connineg tower, to mount a 20mm Oerlikon cannon. From various accounts, this weapon proved quite useful in despatching small enemy vessels. In the immediate post war period, all the 'Bandstands' were were removed. The first Amphion Class were commisioned with the 'Bandstand' and gun still fitted. Though not relevant to main topic, I have recently come across photographs of the early Amphion Class still fitted with the Bandstand and the hinged snort mast, until then I had assumed the 'Bandstands' were removed before the snort masts and the associated pipes were fitted - obviously one can make sensible assumptions about naval history that turn out to be incorrect.

The key virtues of the Amphion Class compared to the T Class and S Class modified for the Far East, were twice the operating depth and greater surface speed, with reloadable stern tubes. Regarding surface speed in my experience the super chargers were rarely used in Amphion Class as they took too much fuel. It is a well, in discussing the relative ranges of the RN submarines in the Far East, to recall the Cube Law, that to double the speed of a ship, requires eight times the power (fuel). And though not my field, I always understood that in my period the fuel bill was always a consideration - particularly in the early years after the war when the nation was in serious fainancial difficulties.

An issue I have seen never mentioned in submarine literature, is the significant increase in the surface silhouette of the Amphion Class - after the First of Class Trials it was found necessary to raise the height of the periscope standards to stop periscope vibration and add the bow buoyancy tank for improved stability in heavy seas. The difference in height of the standards can be seen when comparing the rare, early unaltered images of Amphion and Astute, with the many later Amphion Class photographs - the increase is over 3 feet. The bow buoyancy tank was removed during the streamline programme of the late-fifties (resumably the removal of the external torpedo tubes made this possible), however the very tall fin suggests the high periscope standards remained.

Amphion fin
Amphion fin

NOTE. The USN found greater operating depth desirable in their campaign against the Japanese and reviewed existing designs and as a consequence did go deeper when under attack. However notably no T Class were lost in the Far East and in the circumstances of the S Class boat losses, increased maximum depth would have been of no value.

2. The RN Submarines In WW2

This is a brief identification of the numbers and types of British submarines relevant to these notes on the origin of the Amphion Class.

Royal Navy

Elsewhere on this site is a separate list of all the 53 T Class submarines, some served in the war in the Far East, some didn't. Note the 4 T Class cancelled, stated to be replaced by Amphion Class - an unconfirmed source? Also note HMS Trusty was despatched to Singapore and HMS Truant to Java, Netherlands East Indies, not long after the initial attacks by the Japanese, being the only RN submarines in the Far East that time.

There is alsoa list of all the S Class (61 ships) - a significant number served in the war in the Far East. Note the S Class cancelled and dates.

Other RN Submarines in service in WW2

U Class class (48 ships) - of which none served in the Far East. The V Class (18 ships), an improved U Class, two only served as training submarines in Australia. I have recently noted that in 1945 HMS Vox was involved in a Commando documentary in Australia.

Then there were the 18 Long Range patrol submarines - the first HMS Oberon. After construction she was followed the similar, but separately built groups divided into classes. 19 submarines were built before the war (one sank before the war in collision). Notably with a diving depth of 500ft. The same as the Amphion Class.

HMS Porpoise 1944 (Mine Layer) and HMS Rorqual 1945 served in the Far East. HMS Porpoise (mine layer) was lost in the Malacca Straits after being attacked by aircraft.

Of the large three River Class (3 ships) built before the war, two served in WW2 in the Far East.The large HMS Clyde completed 36 operational war patrols in Far East and the equally large


In January 1944 HMS Severn was assigned to the Eastern Fleet, joining 2nd Submarine Flotilla at Trincomalee in 16 July 1944. There she took part in interception patrols in the Indian Ocean. This continued until the 24 Dec 1944 when she was decommissoned in Trincomalee due to poor condition (I note she had previously served well in the European theatre.)

HMS Rover, Rainbow Class, returned to the Far East later in the war, after a period in the European Theatre. however a rather complicated career of no great significance in this article

All these submarines were designed and a significant number constructed before WW2 including all the Porpoise Class and River Class. The U Class was a drastic conversion of a pre-war training submarine without weapons. S Class and T Class were to see later modifications, generally inspired by war experience.

Rorqual, the only submarine of the class to survive World War II, She was taken out of service in 1946
Rorqual, the only submarine of the class to survive World War II, She was taken out of service in 1946

As already mentioned, for service in the Far East, the S Class and T Class received additional external welded fuel tanks(already discussed) and improvements to the ventilation systems.

A note regarding this important matter of ventilation, on the surface the submarine is drawing a substantial air flow down the conning tower for the diesel engines that helps to keep the submarine cool, however when submerged, the drain by the ventilation machinery on the batteries may not be acceptable, yet the recently charged batteries under the accommodation space often created discomfort before they cooled down.

All is not what it seems. An experienced friend commented:

that in the Indonesian Confrontation, on an Amphion Class, the ventilation was not allowed to run when in submerged silent routine while searching for lengthy periods with sonar 186.

NOTE. 186 sonar was quite a modern array with transducers in a row on the ballast tank - fitted to the modern P Class & O Class. But also to the, then aging Amphion Class still serving the nation in what might said to be the role intended, but not fully imagined in 1942. When I served on the lead ship Amphion 1953-1955 she was pretty much as-built

3. US Navy submarines in WW2

Various US submarines were in service in the Pacific in 1942, when the decision to build the RN Amphion Class was made. The Gar Class carried out patrols in 1941 as did all the Sargo, Salmon and Tambour classes. (28 ships). The first of modern class USS Gato, went on her first patrol in April 1942 the rest of this class of 77 were not far behind with the huge US industrial machine gathering speed. Something Japanese Admiral Yamamoto had anticipated, an opinion rejected by his army colleagues. So is it not reasonable to assume that the British Admirals were as aware as Admiral Yamamoto of the capacity and drive of the US arms industry?

Featured Reading

I recently noted a relevant paragraph in the book by Admiral IJ Galantin USN (ret), Submarine Admiral, page 124. He was the WW2 Captain USS Halibut.

We attained a building rate of nine boats per month with construction times as short as seven months.But as our submarine campaign wound down, such a pace was not needed.As early as July 1944 a series of cancellations began. All told the construction of ninty-six boats was cancelled.

US Submarine Data

'Salmon' class (6 ships), Tambour class (6 ships) 'Gar' class, improved Tambour class (6 ships), 'Sargo' class (10 ships) basically all pre-war ships designs mainly completed before the attack on Pearl harbour.

The three Fleet Submarine classes that follow, formed the main USN Submarine Force in service during the war with Japan

Gato Class (77 ships). First of class 'Gato' went on first war patrol, April – June 1942

Balao Class (120 ships). Improved Gato Class, the 'Balao' began to enter service in mid-1943, as the many failures of the Mark 14 torpedo to explode were being solved and took a heavy toll on Japanese war and merchant ships.

Tench Class. Improved Balao Class. 10 of the 29 Tench Class submarines were completed in time to conduct war patrols in World War II, entering service beginning in late 1944. They had ballast tanks converted to fuel tanks that increased their range from 11,000 nautical miles to 16,000 nautical miles.They were also fitted with direct electric propulsion motors, unlike the sonar noisy geared motors of the Gato and Baloa, apparently some of these earlier classes were similarly modified.

Note, the range of the Royal Navy Far East G3 T Class, 11,100 miles.

So to summarise, the most numerous USN submarines in service in WW2 were the Gato Class (77 ships), Balao Class (120 ships) and Tench Class (29 ships), orders for 50 of this latter class were cancelled at the end of the war.

Compared to Royal Navy submarines in service, apart from the three River Class, all these classes were faster on the surface, in the order of 20 plus knots, while submerged, much the same as RN submarines.

The proposed Royal Navy Amphion Class was about 2 knots slower on the surface and about the same submerged. The USN Fleet submarine had a significant array of guns that seem to vary in number as the war progressed, the Gato Class had a main 3 inch gun, while the Balao Class had a 4 inch. They were fitted with 10 × 21-inch (533 mm) torpedo tube 6 forward, 4 aft, 24 torpedoes. A more powerfully armed submarine than the RN Amphion Class class, in term of torpedoes. My observation is that the USN torpedo firing control was also more sophisticated than the RN system and a salvo was based on firing in sequence. (Ref: Torpedo Fire Control Manual.)

I recall us being alongside the USS Grouper (SS-214) in Scotland 1951 and going aboard.The accomodation was superior to RN submarines, including the Amphion Class. Obviously not a major factor in operationally comparing classes, but left a good impression.

Fleet Type submarines commissioned during the war years were:

Year Number
1942 39
1943 50
1944 80
1945 32 (prior to the end of the war)
Total 201
  • Electric Boat Company delivered 74 fleet type submarines during WW II.
  • Portsmouth Naval Shipyard built 79 fleet boats between 1941 and 1945. The first required 469 building days. This was reduced to 173 days in 1944.
  • Mare Island - 16 submarines were commissioned at Mare Island during World War II. Four of these, Trigger, Wahoo, Tullibee and Tang were lost.
  • Manitowoc - 27 submarines built at Manitowoc were placed in commission before the war ended.

I have noted the difference of 4 in the totals of the two sources above, but assume this is simply the result of the precise dates used for counting etc

I reasonably assume that the Admiralty knew of these remarkable figures, either directly or by Naval Intelligence, making the 1942 Amphion Class decision even more of a puzzle. The main source of my USN statistics is the reliable US Pacific Submarines In World War II by William P Gruner

4. Dutch Navy

I have chosen not to include in detail, the worthy Far East Dutch submarine Service in this discussion about the origins of the Amphion Class as I lack complete archival detail' but I refer interested readers to British and Allied Submarine Operations in World War II. Usefully it also covers, the submarine background of the year 1942 when the decision to build the Amphion Class was made.

5. Research Into Oprerations In The Far East

As readers will note, to aid my research into the RN submarine activities in the Far East, I have relied on a book published on the web by the Royal Navy Submarine Museum Friends. British and Allied Submarine Operations in World War II. I should comment that George Malcolmson, formerly archivist of the RNSM, now of the RN Museum has been a most helpful source of submarine history in the writing of my earlier articles, tells me there is little in the RNSM archives about its Amphion Class origins. The RNSM has made available on the web, Admiral Hezlet's words of experience and wisdom and has been of great value as the reader will see.

British and Allied Submarine Operations in World War II by Vice Admiral Sir Arthur Hezlet KBE CB DSO* DSC In particular Chapter XXV "The Build Up of British Submarines in the Far East: January - September 1944. Though I found this extract from CHAPTER XXII "The Far East to the end of 1943", the last line is quite significant.

The subject of offensive operations in the area was discussed at the Quebec Conference in mid-August and it had been decided to appoint a Supreme Commander for South East Asia. The only concrete result was the despatch of six submarines from the Mediterranean, and at the end of the month the Admiralty directed that all new boats of the T and S-classes should be sent east. At the same time the C-in-C Eastern Fleet moved forward from Kilindini to Colombo. These moves promised that the nightmare period, in which our only defence against the Imperial Japanese Navy was the pressure of the Americans in the Pacific, might be coming to an end. The arrival of the submarine reinforcements meant that at least a continuous patrol could be established with some hope of detecting any offensive moves by the Japanese into the Indian Ocean.

Note. I was unfamiliar with Kilindini Harbour, it is a large, natural deep-water inlet extending inland from Mombasa, Kenya.

It should be noted the the Admiral was a famous British submarine Captain in WW2, particular in the Far East, HMS Trenchant. His most significant action during the war was on 8 June 1945, when he sank the Japanese cruiser Ashigara at a range of 4,000 yards with five out of eight torpedoes fired. The action in the Bangka Straits earned HMS Trenchant's commander a second DSO and the US Legion of Merit, and the ship the battle honour "Malaya 1944-45". The Ashigara had been carrying some 1,600 Japanese Army troops and materiel. Compentent captains could achieve success in this campaign just as well with a T Class as an Amphion Class !

Featured Reading

Paul Kemp in his soundly researched book, 'The T Class Submarine' gives a detailed description of the extra fuel tanks fitted for the Far East; the S Class submarines were similarly modified. I delberately place this detailed extract on the fuel tanks, at the beginning as they made possible the operation of the T Class (and S Class) in the Far East. Together with the fuel barge always available at Exmouth, located in the far North West of Australia 845 nautical miles from Fremantle. Apparently a very small port, the location of a WW2 USN facility. Occasionally boats from Trincomalee refueled at Exmouth. These days, a cruise ship stop-over.

Extract from Pages 21/22 Kemp's book 'The T Class Submarine', Additional fuel tanks for the Far East.

More importantly fuel could be carried in the external ballast tanks thus increasing endurance. Since all Group Three boats were destined for the Far East where the distances were enormous this was of critical importance. No 3 and 5 ballast tanks were selected for this purpose, thus increasing the oil fuel stowage from 135 tons to 215 tons which increased endurance to 11,000 nautical miles.The extra fuel reduced the reserve of buoyancy from 20 to 11%, but only Tudor, reported any stability problems. The partly welded boats retained riveted construction for their external fuel tanks, but before proceding to the Far East were taken in hand to have the tanks welded up so as to leave no tell-tale leaks. However in order to prevent small leaks due to the working of the structure, or from punctures caused by small-arms fire, a sub-pressure installation was fitted.This enabled a small suction pump of up to 2psi below sea pressure, to be brought on in a leaking tank, which was quite effective in preventing leaks from cracks as wide 1/3 inch and 8 to 12 inches long.

Vice Admiral Sir Arthur Hazlett again, Quote from Chap 22.

These types of T-boat had, however, been specially modified for the Far East and were now capable of staying out for six weeks. Their range had been extended from the 6900 miles of the early T-class by carrying an extra 80 tons of fuel in their main ballast tanks giving them 11,100 miles. Their habitability was enormously improved by air conditioning and a distiller increased their fresh water supply. Nevertheless patrols of three weeks were considered enough for operations from Ceylon in the Malacca Strait. Unquote

Finally the complete history of the RN submarines in the Far East and the Pacific is given in Sir Arthur's Chapter XXX The Malacca Strait: October 1944 - March 1945

Interim Comment

I believe all the foregoing demonstrates the capabilities of the Royal Navy T Class and S Class for use in the Far East and ocasionally the main Pacific war, alongside the substantial USN Fleet that was ever increasing with significant numbers of improved submarines. All this taking place when the decision was made to proceed with the lengthy construction programme of the Amphion Class submarine in 1942.

In my review of the history, there was certainly nothing to suggest that the existing Royal Navy T Class and S Class submarines were not successful in carrying out the designated role of British and Dutch submarines in the campaign against the relatively small supply vessels of the Japanese Army occupying the Dutch and British colonies. With a savage land campaign in Burma, to prevent the Japanese invading India and later in the South China sea.

6. Stalemate

At this point I reached something of stalemate, though I have been able to cast serious doubts on the accepted reason Amphion Class ordered in 1942, I have still been unable to find even a hint in any official archival data that tells us what those in command like the Controller of the Navy, the DNC and Prime Minister Churchill, actually had in mind when they ordered the planning and construction of the Amphion Class, but at the same time instructing there should no interference with the existing submarine construction programme.

Then seeking information on the T Class, I took a look at the first chapter of Paul J Kemp's book 'The T class Submarine' where he goes into great detail about the origin of the Royal Navy T Class submarine, that tended to confirm the rather vague idea I had, that the Amphion Class was in fact intended to restore, as soon as the war ended, the pre- war presence with submarines of modern construction, the 4th submarine flotilla in Hong Kong. The construction and performance of the original 1928 designs of the pre-war 4th Flotilla are described in great detail in BR 3043 Chapter 14: Overseas Patrol Types, Oberon Class, Odin Class, Parthian Class and Rainbow Class. I suggest the Amphion Class was a modern version of these submarines.

I am not going to repeat the well researched detail that Kemp gives about the pre-war state of the RN Submarine service, but it is sufficient to say in 1934 a replacement was needed for the O Class, and a decision about the design had to made before the 1935 London Treaty Conference. Kemp's description of the differences in opinion on design is well worth reading. Again Kemp's book puts names and faces to the people who were making the decisions in this period. The decision for a replacement was of course the T Class, that fell short of being the ideal replacement entirely due to Treaty restrictions. However this didn't make the T Class a poor submarine, it was simply thought not to be the ideal replacement in the Far East.

7. Review Of The History Of Royal Navy Submarines And Depot Ships In The Far East Before WW2, In Particular The 4th Submarine Flotilla

The first submarines to be stationed at Hong Kong were of the WW1 L Class, a flotilla with a depot ship HMS Titania. Between 1919 and 1929, 13 L Class submarines were stationed there.

HMS Medway served on the China Station before the start of the Second World War. She had taken over from HMS Titania in 1929/30 as the submarine depot ship for the 4th Submarine Flotilla. HMS Medway sailed to Hong Kong with six Odin Class.

They were: HMS Odin (N84), HMS Olympus (N35), HMS Osiris (N67), HMS Orpheus (N46),HMS Oswald (N580),HMS Otus (N92).

The submarines in the flotilla was increased in Jan 1931, with the four P Class, similar to the O Class.

HMS Perseus (N36), HMS Pandora (42),HMS Poseidon (N99) and HMS Proteus (N29), bringing the flotilla to 10 submarines.

HMS Rainbow (N16), HMS Regent (N41), HMS Regulus (N88), HMS Rover (N62) were also assigned to the 4th Squadron in the Far East.

HMS Medway was under refit at Singapore from September 1939 through February 1940. Upon completion of the refit, Medway sailed for Hong Kong where she remained until she departed for Alexandria on 2 April 1940. She arrived there on 3 May and thereafter supported the 1st Submarine Flotilla, which operated in the Eastern Mediterranean. From 1940 all the submarines departed to the war in Europe and bore the burden of the early part the European and Mediterranean campaigns.

Interestingly, I recently noted a significant comment by Vice Admiral Sir Arthur Hezlet KBE CB DSO* DSC in his book, that is quite contrary to that apparently held by the Admiralty before WW2 in regard to a permanent submarine flotilla in Hong Kong/Singapore and my speculation about the decision to build the Amphion Class in 1942. It illustrates how important strategic naval policies can radically alter after extensive war experience.

One is, in any case, forced to the conclusion that even comparatively large submarine forces used defensively in this way are not able to defend an area against a well-planned invasion. The submarine is essentially a weapon of attrition which achieves its results over a long period and, although possibly the only type of warship capable of operating in the face of superior air and surface forces, cannot be effective as a barrier which will defend an area. It is probable that the British submarines which had been removed from the Far East before the Japanese attack, were better used where they had been sent, that is in the Mediterranean.


I believe I have now presented sufficient reliable information, to fully describe the overall operations of the RN submarines in the Far East and their numbers. Also accurate numbers and types of the USN submarine Fleet for the war period to enable the reader to appreciate the building capacity and and ships in service of the USN Submarine Service. I make no apologies for what somtimes appears to be duplication, this is due to several sources being used, each offering something unique, but often with the same data.

8. Expanding On THe War In The Far East

Italy declared war June 10th 1940, the Afrika Corps arrived in North Africa mid-1940 and it must conceded that attacking Rommels supply ships was vital and Japan did not commence it's attack on the British Empire until December 8, 1941.

Described above, in the Far East earlier in the war with Japan in 1941, the Dutch Navy did have a number of submarines when the Japanese attacked and were able to inflict damage on the troop ships heading to Malaya. I have wondered in the past if the British made a mistake in not, at the least, leaving part of the 4th submarine flotilla in the Far East; when in 1940 they were aware of the aggressive intentions of the Japanese. A few more submarines might have significantly reduced the number of Japanese troop landing in Malaya? Interesting, but perhaps beyond the scope of this article about the origins of the Amphion Class and as I quote above, Admiral Hezlett did not hold that view about the submarine in the defensive role. However clearly his predecessors making decisions in high command before and during WW2 obviously did seem to think there was an important defensive role for the submarine?

Paul Kemp in his book 'The T class Submarine', chapter 7, War 1939-1945: Submarines or Gunboats? - gives a good description of the T Class operating in the Far East. Like all Kemp's works, it is well researched with a good range of photographs and tables. It has been a most valuable resource.

As Kemp tells us below, no further T Class submarines were ordered after 1942, but this left a significant number still to be constructed as earlier orders were not cancelled, the same applies to the S Class, U Class & V Class. When one consders the large number of submarines under construction, it would surely be extremely optimistic to expect the British shipyards to speedily produce a significant number of Amphion Class submarine to take part in a major Pacific campaigns early enough in the war to be effective. Improved, indeed novel production methods were developed, but this would require additional skilled workers who would have to become accustomed to the new methods.

Paul Kemp in 'The T Class Submarine' gives a detailed description of the RN Submarine Service in 1942, shown below:

T Class programme post 1942.

No further T boats were ordered after the 1942 programme because the Amphion Class was so well advanced. By May 1945 the T-boat construction programme was nearly complete with only nine boats still in builders hands. Of these Token (Portsmouth DY), Tabard (Scotts), Thermopylae (Chatham DY), and Teredo (Vickers) were completed, while Thor, Tiara (Portsmouth) DY), Theban, Threat (Vickers) and Talent [ii] (Scotts) were cancelled on 29 October 1945.

Group One: Triton, Thetis, Triumph, Trident, Tribune, Thistle, Taku, Tarpon, Triad, Truant, Tuna, Tigris, Tetrarch, Talisman and Torbay

Group Two: Thrasher, Thorn, Trusty, Turbulent, Tempest, Traveller and Trooper

Group Three: P311, Trespasser, Taurus, Tactician, Truculent , Templar, Tally-Ho, Tantalus, Tradewind, Trenchant, Thule, Tudor, Tireless, Token, Telemachus, Zwaardvis, Terrapin, Thorough, Tiptoe, Trump, Taciturn, Tapir, Tijgerhaai, Talent , Totem, Truncheon, Turpin, Thermopylae, Teredo and Tabard.

Turning again to the USN; as I have already stated, surely an RN Intelligence review in 1942 would have revealed to the Admiralty, the high rate of planned production of the USN Fleet Submarines (designed and built for the Pacific) as detailed in SUBMARINE DATA above and the reluctance of certain people high places in Washington DC (in particular Admiral King CNO-USN) to allow RN ships to join the USN in the Pacific that to them was a war of revenge for the surprise attack on the USN Naval Base at Pearl Harbour with the loss and disablement of a signicant number of US battle ships.The USN made plain its determination to vigorously pursue the war in the Pacific until they forced the Japanese surrender in Tokyo Bay, which of course they did. The political and practical diffculties attending the eventual entry into this war of the very impressive number of modern RN capital ships and escorts of the British Pacific Fleet, has been described in many excellent books. Notably when the T Class & S Class submarine later joined the the USN submarines in Fremantle, they were under American command.

I conclude on submarines by emphasing I have differentiated between the USN naval campaign in the Pacific against the Japanese Fleet and the naval activities the Royal Navy in the area operating in the Far East (incuding the Indian Ocean) where later in the war there were RN T Class & S Class submarines operating from Trincomalee and later alongside US submarine based in Fremantle.

These classes of RN submarines had a successful role in destroying in particular, the smaller vessels supplying the Japanese army fighting in Burma and occupying the Malay Penisula, along with Duch East Indies (Indonesia). All former colonies of the Dutch and Britsh. It would have proven extremely diffilcult for the US, with the surrender of Rommel in the Mediteranean, to object to the increasing numbers of British submarines operating out of the British Colony of Ceylon against the supply lines of the Japanese Army occupying and fighting in colonies such as Indonesia, Malaya and Burma. Then the USN appears to have relaxed with RN submarines moving to the USN Submarine Base at Fremantle, under US Command with notably, some patrols into the South China Sea by British submarines.

Whilst these note are about submarine in the Far East, in the background is always the much bigger issue of the substantial British Pacific Fleet with its modern carriers and battleships, but as I already said, several good books have dealt with this important naval and political topic.



This seems a convenient point to mention that HMS Spearhead, HMS Selene and HMS Stygian were all three engaged in towing XE craft (midget submarines) to their targets and then recovering them. The XE craft cut Japanese communication cables and in one concerted attack badly damaged the Japanese cruiser 'Takao' in Singapore harbour. The submarines are reported to have been operating out of Subic Bay 1945. Little directly to do with the main topic, the Amphion Class, but these brave men and the S Class submarines involved, are worthy of a mention.

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There are a number of biographies regarding British T Class and S Class submarines successfully operating in the Far East in WW2. This book gives a clear picture of these operations, 'One of our submarines' by the Captain of the Submarine 'Storm', Lt Cmdr Edward Young RNVR. DSO, DSC & Bar. Notably the first RNVR officer to command a submarine.

The Appendix gives more detail of the RN submarine depot ships HMS Maidstone and HMS Wolfe later arriving in the Far East, and a summary of the final RN submarine statistics.

Part 2

1. Global Politics And The 1942 A Class Submarine

In Part 1 have presented a reasonably sound naval arguement that the Amphion Class submarine of the Royal Navy, was not designed for the war in the Pacific with the Japanese Empire, but I need to provide an alternative motive. The only document I have, directly related to the origins of the Amphion Class, is contained in an Admiralty document by the Naval Construction Department.

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It has been transcribed and edited by D K Brown and published by Conway Maritime Press. See Pages 33/36. 'The Design and Construction of British Warships 1939-1945' Vol 2, that while interesting gives no idea why a decision was made to design and build a fleet of Amphion Class submarines in 1942. I had been my intention to attach copies of these pages, but on reflection the content on the reasons for building the Amphion Class was so thin, it wasn't justified, however here is the extract that does give some officially sourced information about the origins of the Amphion Class:

In a personal minute to the Board of Admiralty dated 14 June 1941 the Prime Minister (Mr Winston Churchill) called for a new submarine programme to meet the turn of events which war had taken. Numbers and speed of construction primary factors were to be the as the vessels would be required principally for short range work to resist invasion and impose blockade. However this first call for a war design submarine led eventually to the A class, general purpose submarine capable of high surface speed and long endurance at home or abroad.

From the date, it can be inferred that the Prime Minister was referring to the intelligence he had received about the imminent German invasion of Russia, 22 June 1941.

On June 22, 1941 the Prime Minister spoke to the people on the radio or wireless as we called it those days and a text copy of the recorded speech is available on the web. Clearly Churchchill thought that Hitler would have no great difficulty in conquering the USSR and the Prime Minister fully expected that having achieved this goal, Hitler would return to plan a second attempt at an invasion of Britain, the first attempt having been cancelled by the RAF defeating the Luftwaffe and taking command of the air over the English Channel.

In regard to invasion,various designs to meet the Prime Minister's intial invasion concerns were considered, that in the end were discarded in favour of the existing S Class submarine. As I have already said, I found the contents rather unsatisfactory in terms of the origins of the Amphion Class The senior person in these discussion appear to be the Controller of the Navy, these two admirals were the Controllers over the period of interest. Clearly they were men of significant seniority.From appointment dates it seems likely the particular Controller of interest was Wake-Walker, but I give the details of the possible holders of the post at the time of Amphion Class decision.

In March 1939, shortly before the outset of the Second World War, Fraser was appointed Third Sea Lord and Controller of the Navy. Promoted to vice admiral on 8 May 1940, he was promoted in Order of the British Empire to be a Knight Commander in the 1941 Birthday Honours and became Second-in-Command, Home Fleet and Flag Officer, 2nd Battle Squadron in June 1942

For his part in the destruction of Bismarck, Wake-Walker was appointed a Commander of the Order of the British Empire. in April 1942 he was promoted to vice-admiral and was appointed Third Sea Lord and Controller of the Navy. His main task was the creation of the huge fleet of landing craft needed to carry out the amphibious landings that began with "Operation Torch", and ended on D-Day. In 1943 Wake-Walker was appointed a Knight Commander of the Order of the Bath. On 8 May 1945 he was promoted to full admiral, and in September 1945 was appointed Commander-in-Chief in the Mediterranean.

Turning to Prime Minister Churchill's fears, stated in his broadcast, about an easy victory for Hitler in Russia : they were, as history records, not to be realised and in the future as the losses incurred by Hitler's forces quickly grew, the unthinkable possibility became apparent - that the Nazi could perhaps at best just stave off a complete rout - that was to come in the future after many bitter battles, all so unexpected to the Western Allies, in particular Prime Minister Churchill. In these unforeseen circumstances we can justifiably speculate that Churchill's mind turned away from prospects of another attempt by Hilter to invade Britain, to other matters.

The end of the war must have seemed to be a long way away in 1942, but two important things had happened to inspire some optimism, the US had just decisively defeated the Japanese Fleet at the Battle of Midway and Japan's' ultimate defeat had become inevitable. Then following after Hitler's declaration of war on the US in 1941, in 1942 President Roosevelt committed a large part of the land and air forces of the US to the war in Europe, with an invasion of Europe envisaged in 1943.

No doubt one way or another, Prime Minister Churchill heard of these intentions and would be justifiably optimistic, however he wisely persauded the US that it would take until 1944 to properly prepare for what became D-Day, the cynics suggested he had the failure at Gallipolli in mind.

I acknowledge that things were not going too well in Burma in 1942, but at least the Japanese had been thwarted in their intention to break through to India and 1943 saw the Japanse being pushed back. In the Middle East Rommel was defeated at El Alamein and the Allies (including the US) landed in North West Africa. The Battle of the Atlantic, the longest battle in WW2, where serious Merchant ship losses were still being incurred, the tide was turning in favour of the Allies with new weapons like Hedgehog etc.

However while all these now well known plans and actions were taking place, another secret matter must have been preying on Prime Minister Churcill's mind in early 1942, the post war threat to the British Empire by America and would probably be amongst matters that arose in closed Cabinet discussions and we can reasonably assume would include the post war future of Hong Kong and the Royal Navy. We can also assume there would be numerous ongoing meetings/communications with Controller of the Navy and the DNC, implied by the brief notes on Page 33 British Warships, that arrived at the specification for the Amphion Class with no hint as to the foreseen purpose. Eventually the construction programme commenced with First of Class Amphion laid down in November 1943. It would seem plain today that any UK public knowledge of the ambitions of President of the USA, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, much admired by the British, to dismantle the British Empire would be have disasterous effects on the Allied Alliance at a most critical time, and therefore any plans by the Prime Minister and his cabinet to thwart the Presiadent would of the greatest secrecy - even today. I will cover the intentions of President Roosevelt in my final section.

That concludes my perception of the state of affairs in 1942 and the background in the making of the decision to build the Amphion Class submarine.

Authors Note: Since writing this article I have come across this paragraph from the book WORLD WAR TO COLD WAR by David Evans, that contains significant archived words by Prime Minister Churchill that I believe adds to my "evidence" as outlined above:

Similarly, Britain's emphasis on South-East Asia reflected her interest in recovering lost territory in Burma, Malaya, and above all Singapore, which Churchill described in 1944 as 'the supreme British objective in the whole of the Indian and Far Eastern theatres'.15 His 1944 advocacy of major operations in Italy and in South-East Asia also owed something to a desire to assert Britain's independence and military prowess.

15 Churchill to Chiefs of Staff, 12 Sept. 1944, Prime Minister's Operational Correspondence, PREM 3, 160/6 (TNA).

2. Hong Kong (And Singapore), The Royal Navy And Post War The Future

Located as I am in NZ, I was unable to search the archives for precise archival data of the high level discussions leading to the decison to build the Amphion Class or even a reference to them What did motivate the British Government to delibrately build a submarine fleet for use in the period immediately after WW2? Was it the replacement of the pre-war 4th Submarine Flotilla in Hong Kong as part of a naval presence, details in SUBMARINES above

This meant the extensive use of the web and after many sessions I came to the conclusion that the likely answer to my question did lie as I had first supposed with Hong Kong, influenced by the general position of the USA in China prior to the widespread commencement of war by the Japanese against the USA with the attack on Pearl Harbour December 7, 1941 and the invasion of the various colonies of the British, Dutch and French.

There many references to the British Government being determined that its forces should take the surrender of the Japanese surrender in Hong Kong, but I cannot obtain the official documents, however it is notable that the garrision at the time of the attack and occupation, were Canadian forces, who were treated very badly during the occupation. When the Japanese government sued for peace, the surrender of Hong Kong was appropriately taken by Canadian forces and so the "Empire" returned to Hong Kong, no doubt this would have displeased Roosevelt, but for his death before the end of the war and the rise of vice-Presdident Trueman to office.

In any case I believe the combination of the shock of the devaststion wrought by the two atom bombs and the rise of the Soviet Empire ,would have pushed into the background any previous intentions of the US to take over Hong Kong, as part of his ambitions to democratize all the colonies of the British Empire. But how could Churchill and his senior naval officers have forseen all this in 1942 when Roosevelt was President with the stated intentions to dismantle the British Empire or in US thinking, spread democracy?

I suggest the determination of the British people, as exhibited by Victorian Romantics like Churchill, to retain the Empire had also diminished, but never the less the Royal Navy did return to Hong Kong after the war and the eventually completed and impressive, brand new Amphion Class submarines arrived at Hong Kong as I am suggesting was planned in 1942. None of this should seen a slight on Churchill, if am right, he was simply a man acting in his time for the future. And I for one, looking back when I was a lad in WW2, am grateful we had him as leader and a great one.

Apart from submarines, Hong Kong had been important to the Royal Navy for a long time and would surely remain so in the minds of those in power in Great Britain in 1942? It was in 1841, that China ceded the island to the British, and in 1842 the Treaty of Nanking was signed, formally ending the First Opium War. In 1898, Britain was granted an additional 99 years of rule over Hong Kong under the Second Convention of Peking. Hence it was a possession of Great Britain in the true sense of the word and this was looked on with displeasure by the US who had their own expansive plans for China until Mao Zedong October 1, 1949, took over. A very different China from that of 1939.

3. Atlantic Charter of 1942

Warm words in this famous document actually affirm Franklin D Roosevelt's strong private words to Prime Minister Churchill that he intended to dismantle the British Empire whenever the opportunity occurred and naturally Churchill was very disturbed by this and similar conversations. Franklin D Roosevelt's son actually describes these converations in a book As He Saw It.

Here I planned to refer to and quote from several reputable articles on the general topic of the US antagonism towards the British Empire in the period around WW2, but the complications of copyright force me to respectfully ask the reader to accept my view that in 1942 Prime Minister Churchill was caught in something of a cleft stick in that he admired Franklin D Roosevelt and needed American support, but had to face the fact that the US would be taking every opportunity to dismantle the Empire as the war moved to an end, with Allies victorious on all fronts, but with Britain economically weakened and substantially in debt to the USA.

The above topic may be found discussed on the web and one suggestion is, Roosevelt's 'Grand Strategy' to Rid the World of British Colonialism: 1941-1945 by Lawrence K Freeman Printed in The American Almanac, July 14, 1997.

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Also I noted historian William Roger Louis declared: The British post-war colonial vision died at Yalta - William Roger Louis, Imperialism at Bay, 1941-1945. The US and the Decolonization of the British Empire (New York: Oxford University Press, 1978). 12. Op. cit., Xiang.

The British Press did not miss the implications of the Atlantic Charter with one well known daily running the headline 'The Atlantic Charter, It Means Dark Races as Well-Coloured people as well as white, will share the benefits'.

It has been a long time since WW2 and memories fade, but The Wikipedia entry for Indian Army during World War II in my view, represents in part, the meaning of Empire in Churchill's mind

4. Further Notes About Hong Kong

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I came across this web reference 'The Great Power Struggle in East Asia, 1944–50 Britain, America and Post-War Rivalry' by Christopher Baxter. Part of the Global Conflict and Security since 1945 book series (GCON). nd then there is Hong Kong. Empire and the American Alliance by Andrew Whitfield who researched the book in the UK, Hong Kong and the USA. He now lives in London and works for the British government inWhitehall.

These and many other articles and books about the American/British relationships prior to WW2, tend to support my view that in 1942, the British Cabinet would have grave concerns about the post-war attitude of the American Government towards the British Empire.

As I have already commented, but I think bears repeating, Roosevelt's death and Truman's taking office as the President apparently diminished the previously US interest in dismantling the British Empire, compounded by the Atom Bomb and emergence of the Soviet Union as a world power and rise in NATO

However I reiterate this whole article is all about 1942 when the Royal Navy decided to design and build the Amphion Class submarine and Franklin D Roosevelt was President.

5. The End of the War - 1945

The Amphion, the First of Class did not enter service until 1946, with the rest of the class coming into service at later dates. However before the Amphion Class submarines became available and did indeed go to Hong Kong to join the depot ship HMS Adamant, she had been 'showing the Flag' in various ports in the Far East and Australia as John Eade advises:

HMS Adamant with the destroyer HMS Penn and HM submarines Talent, Tally-Ho, Tireless, and Truncheon sailed on Friday, July 5th 1946, for a visit to the Pacific Islands Japan and finally Hong Kong. Visits were made to Banaba Island, Kiribati, Fiji, the Caroline's, the Mariana's, Kure in Japan, then on to Hong Kong. After leaving Hong Kong Tally-Ho and Talent returned to UK, arriving home by Christmas 1946. In 1950, Adamant returned to England, where she served as flagship of the Senior Officer, Reserve Fleet, Portsmouth.

6. Post 1946. The Cold War

Royal Navy Organisation and Ship Deployments 1947-2013 by Dr Graham Watson, retired from History Dept, Cardiff University.

According to this very reliable source in 1948 this was the submarine situation in Hong Kong

I include the link to this page ask the reader to note the significant presence of the surface fleet of the Royal Navy in Hong Kong. Surely not all because of the tensions growing over Korea, yet to erupt in 1950?

Postscript - A Personal Comment

I usually write about submarines and their machinery and sometimes the people, but in the case of origin of the Amphion Class submarine it is different. For many years I have found it hard to believe the commonly held view, that the Amphion Class was approved in 1942 to go to the Pacific and engage the Japanese Navy in the manner of the USN submarines. This despite the burden of this novel, time consuming design and the actual construction of the Amphion Class placed on the shipyards already heavily committed to the outstanding orders for T Class and S Class, the constant needs of the surface Navy, with eventually the many items for D-Day in 1944, such as the design and construction of landing craft and the Mulberry Harbours.

I may shake a commonly held view, but equally satisfying from a naval history point of view, would be the actual confidential documents of 1942 emerging from the archives that contradict what I have written.

Whatever else can be said about these submarines, the Royal Navy got good, extended value. My time in them as a young man in the early Cold War, has many cheerful memories. And the Amphion Class submarines did return to Hong Kong and were engaged very much as a naval 'presence' in the Indonesian conflict in 1962-66. Streamlined and the 'as-built' shielded gun mounting removed in the Fifties, the simple deck guns were retro-fitted for this campaign. The only war campaign these submarines were ever engaged in.

However by the time the war was over and the Cold War emerging, the thinking about the role of the submarine in war was changing with the snort a standard feature. The new O Class & P Class and their different propulsion power configurations, were more suited to snorting in the Cold War. But this is historically misleading, as had the scenario immediately after the war been, as I am am suggesting was foreseen in 1942, then the Amphion Class would have been ideal for the role in Hong Kong envisaged in those post war circumstances.

Peter Hulme, November 5/12/2018


This is a brief description of British submarine and submarine depot ship deployment in 1944.

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The British Empire and the Second World War by Ashley Jackson, quote from page 304:

Submarines patrolled the Maldives and to the Seycelles in search of German vessels. These submarines and all others in eastern waters were moved in March 1940 as tension mounted in the Mediterranean, so that when the Japan entered the war there was only one British submarine east of Suez. In 1941 Dutch submarines escaping from the Dutch East Indies went to Ceylon, where they came under Eastern Fleet command. More British submarines arrived as well. HMS Adamant arrived as a depot ship, and what was known as the 4th Submarine Flotilla was moved from Colombo to Trincomalee. In March 1944 a second depot ship, HMS Maidstone, arrived and the force was split to form a second flotilla. With the arrival of the depot ship HMS Wolfe in August 1944, Maidstone sailed with her flotilla of submarines of ten submarines to Fremantle, Australia, to operate under the Americans in the South China Sea. These Ceylon based submarines were transferred to Australia as tasks in the Indian Ocean region decreased and it was thought that there were too many submarines for the limited number of targets off the coasts of Burma, Malaya and Sumatra. Nevertheless, in September 1944 twenty-six submarines remained based on Ceylon. Ceylon's submarines laid 490 mines and patrolled of enemy coastlines in an extensive minelaying campaign from the spring of 1944, concentrating on the Malacca Strait and the Thai and Burmese coasts. The aim was to force Japanese shipping away from the coast and into the deeper water where it could be attacked. Submarine patrols from Trincomalee were extended to the Malacca Strait, the western coast of Burma and both coasts of Sumatra.

Steam SubmarinesSnorting in the Royal Navy, 1945 onwards