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Affray (P421)

Built By: Cammell Laird (Mersey)
Build Group: A 2
Fate: Lost on 16th April 1951 through flooding caused by fractured snorkel in Hurd Deep, off Alderney

Roll of Honour

O Allen  Lieutenant (E)
J Alston  Lieutenant (E)
T Andrews  Sargent Royal Marine
G Ashley  Leading Stoker
J Barlow  Leading Steward
D Bartrup  Electrical Mechanician 1st Class
D Beddoes  Steward
D Bennington  Engine Room Artificer 2nd Class
W Bilton  Lieutenant (E)
J Blackburn  Lieutenant DSC
O Bridges  Stoker
A Burberry  Acting Chief Petty Officer Stoker
R Cardno  Stoker
M Cole-Adams  Lieutenant (E)
A Cook  Leading Seaman
J Cooper  Petty Officer
R Curry  Stoker
F Denny  A/Elec
F Drury  Stoker
D Foster  Lieutenant
A Frew  Sub-Lieutenant
A Garwood  Sub-Lieutenant
H Gittins  Telegraphist
B Gostling  Stoker
W Green  Leading Seaman
J Greenwood  Lieutenant
W Harkness  Petty Officer
R Hiles  Stoker
A Hooper  Marine Royal Marine
E Horwell  Electrical Mechanician 1st Class
R Howard-Johnson  Sub-Lieutenant
A Irven  Telegraphist
D Jarvis  Marine Royal Marine
W Kirkwood  Lieutenant
R Lansberry  Lieutenant RNVR
G Larter  Stoker
G Leakey  Able Seaman
N Lees  Engine Room Artificer 3rd Class
W Lewis  Stoker
W Linton  Sub-Lieutenant
W Longstaff  Sub-Lieutenant
C Mackenzie  Sub-Lieutenant
R Mackenzie-Edwards  Sub-Lieutenant
J McKenzie  Chief Engine Room Artificer
J Miller  Leading Stoker
H Nickalls  Sub-Lieutenant
R North  Sub-Lieutenant
P Pane  Able Seaman
G Parker  Engine Room Artificer 2nd Class
D Pearson  Acting Petty Officer
A Ramplin  Stoker
R reston  Sub-Lieutenant
A Rewcastle  Sub-Lieutenant
J Rutter  A/RE
F Shaw  Lieutenant (E)
E Shergold  Corporal Royal Marine
F Smith  Cook
J Smith  Stoker
A Stewart  Able Seaman
J Strachan  Sub-Lieutenant
M Taylor  Engine Room Artificer 3rd Class
N Temple  Stoker
J Thirkettle  Acting Petty Officer Stoker
J Treleaven  Lieutenant (E)
V Trimby  Acting Leading Stoker
R Tugman  Sub-Lieutenant
R Vincent  Steward
A Welch  Lieutenant (E)
R Whitbread  Chief Petty Officer Telegraphist
F Woods  Petty Officer Telegraphist
B Worsfold  Leading Telegraphist


Disaster Beneath the Waves

HMS Affray was the last RN submarine to be lost at sea. At the time of her sinking, rumours about the cause of her loss circulated widely. Many were discounted once her final resting place had been found and the Official Inquiry's report had been published. However, speculation persists to this day as to the reasons why she sank.

HMS Affray was laid down at Cammell Laird Birkenhead yard on 16th January 1944 and launched on 12th April 1945. After being commissioned on 12th November, she was allocated to the 3rd Submarine Squadron, based on the submarine depot ship HMS Montclare at Rothesay, before joining Amphion Astute, Auriga and Aurochs with HMS Adamant in the British Pacific Fleet.

HMS Affray

On 11th March 1949 she paid off to transfer to the 5th Submarine Squadron Reserve but stayed in operation at Portland until 2nd August to recommission for passage to Devonport. During refit there, all non-snort boats were retrofitted with a hinged air induction/exhaust emission snort mast which could be raised and lowered from the control room. Once vertical, it was self-locking and drew air into the boat at periscope depth to enable the diesels to be run for battery charging or propulsion. After this refit, she went to the South - West exercise ground before leaving for the Mediterranean in early November. It was recorded during deep dives Affray "leaked like a sieve" and that the Admiralty diesels "constantly gave us cause for concern, leaking oil and frequently falling down", presumably referring to the pistons.

In January 1951 Affray was transferred to a Reserve Group 'G' at Portsmouth but on 17th March she was brought out of Reserve and Lt John Blackburn DSC was appointed CO with the task of bringing Affray and the new ship's company up to operational status.


During docking in early April 1951, No 1 battery tank suffered a severe oil leak, repairs to which were anticipated to keep the boat in dock for some days. However, to everyone's astonishment visiting 'Brass' were overheard to insist that "This (A) boat sails on Monday". The 112 battery cells, each weighing 1/2 ton, were replaced without even ascertaining the cause of the oil leak and Affray undocked in the late afternoon on 10th April, then moved to HMS Dolphin for bunkering and storing.

In the early afternoon of Monday 16th April, Lt Blackburn mustered the Ships Company and told them Affray was to undertake Exercise Training Spring. This called for her to proceed west and spend several days on a simulated war patrol. At an unspecified time she would land and recover a small party of Royal Marine Commandos in two foldboats at night on any suitable Cornish beach. The exercise would continue until the morning of 23rd April, after which she would return to Portsmouth for docking and essential defect repairs, including the battery tank leak.

Her orders also included making a daily surface reports between 0900 and 1000 and to signal her position to Air Officer Commanding 19th Group RAF by 0900 daily. Some of the submarine crew was then detailed to collect their kit as they were to be landed for the duration of the exercise to provide additional space for the trainees. It is also recorded that another CO had refused to undertake this patrol, considering it too dangerous, with an ill prepared crew, to snort at night in busy shipping lanes.

After embarking a Marine Sergeant, 2 Marine Corporals, 7-Engineer Lts 13-Sub-Lts, Commander Engineer and Instructor Lt, HMS Affray slipped away from HMS Dolphin at 1615 on 16th April 1951. With 75 aboard, she was 30 miles south of the Isle of Wight at 2115 when her CO signalled his position at 50'10" north, 01'45" west and diving. On the morning of 17th April AOC 19TH Group RAF received no signal and submarine missing procedures were put in hand.

An hour later, no report had been received by the Admiralty so the Navy's submarine rescue procedures were implemented. Shore stations called Affray all day, whilst HMS Agincourt led a fleet of search vessels which eventually involved 24 from four nations. The Portland Second Training Flotilla, comprising of HMS Tintagel Castle, Flint Castle, Hedingham Castle and ASDIC trials vessel Helmsdale left Portland, as did the submarines Scorcher, Scythian, Sirdar and Auriga flying large white flags to distinguish them from their missing sister.

As Affray had been expected to surface some 20 miles SE of Start Point, the search was initially concentrated there. A number of faint hull tappings and distorted signals were picked up on hydrophones but the location of the sources, using cross bearings, proved fruitless. On 18th April, Ambush reported picking up code letter tappings representing "We are trapped on the bottom" but the source could not be traced. The following day, Scorcher was despatched to investigate a large oil slick near the Casquettes, 7 miles west of Alderney, but nothing was found. That evening, with little hope of saving life, the intensive search was called off. On 21st April, all A boats were confined to harbour pending investigation into the loss of Affray.


Following the loss of the Affray, the longest and largest search in naval history began. A flotilla of warships systematically searched the seabed over 1500 square miles. HMS Loch Insh was designated Leader and organised the search, in which sister ship Loch Alvie, ocean minesweepers HMS Mariner, HMS Marvel, HMS Pluto and HMS Wave, destroyer HMS Zambesi and survey ship HMS Cook were involved.

The submarine Sirdar sat on the bottom for over five hours south of Portland Bill to enable the searchers to identify a target in a similar situation. With hundreds of uncharted wrecks and divers able to go down only at slack water, progress was very slow until the Admiralty enlisted the aid of an underwater TV camera aboard HMS Reclaim.

Towards the middle of June, the search leader (an ex-submariner) shifted further south, calculating that Affray's CO might try to skirt the busy shopping lanes by taking the old wartime route closer to Alderney. Loch Insh herself picked up a contact and after making several cross runs over the target, those on board were convinced they had a submarine. HMS Reclaim was despatched to that position and lowered a camera 258ft, which picked out a brass handrail before scanning the bridge to reveal the name Affray.

HMS Affray had been found lying on an even keel near the edge of the Hurd Deep on a bearing 228 degrees and 67 miles from St Catherine's lighthouse on the Isle of Wight. She had travelled 37 miles SW of her reported position and was close to the area where the oil slick had been reported.

Divers could find no evidence of collision or damage to the hull, casing or bridge and it was noted that the search periscope and ANF radar mast were extended, indicating she was at periscope depth when she foundered. The hatches were all tight shut and the two emergency buoys were still located within the casing, although the after one could not have been released as the pair of hinged wooden gratings retaining it had been wired shut. It was realised that no attempt to escape had been made.

Subsequent dives revealed that the two sets of hydroplanes were at 'hard to rise' and the pointers on the bridge telegraphs showed both engines were at stop. But the most disturbing discovery was that the 28ft long galvanised snort induction mast had fractured about 3ft above the casing. Except for a sliver of metal retaining the two sections of the mast, the break was so clean that defective material was suspected.


On the 1st July the mast was lifted by HMS Reclaim for analysis and comparison by Admiralty scientists with two other masts from sister boats. No damage was found at the head of Affray's mast and the float valve was operating correctly, indicating it had not been struck by a passing surface ship. However it was found that the materials used were susceptible to brittle fracture and poor welding was evident.

Further research on rapid propagation of cracks suggested that, not only did a crack need a starting point, such has a faulty weld, but also an exciting force to set it off. Therefore, the mast should have stood up to normal operations, but might have fractured under a severe shock or an explosion. No external evidence of either of these forces was found, but could not be ruled out

The Admiralty was keen to see if the shut off valve at the bottom of the snort induction mast line had been operated. HMS Reclaim returned to the wreck with X-ray equipment and, after clearing part of the casing, radioactive isotopes were used to see through the hull. One isotope was accidentally dropped and the operation was abandoned in view of the radiation danger.

By then Affray had taken on a list to port. The cause of Affray's loss is officially attributed to the sheered snort mast, which allowed water to flood throughout the 10in aperture, due to failure to shut the induction valve within the pressure hull. Few submariners believe this, however as the operation is a routine one and could be undertaken by almost anyone on-board.

Beginning with HMS Andrew in 1949, the Navy started a programme to replace the masts on all A class submarines.

Several witnesses at the subsequent Board of Inquiry are convinced that their evidence had not been accurately recorded and some answers in the report seem not to relate to the questions asked. It is even alleged that the report has been doctored.

To understand the Admiralty's actions, one has to go back 50 years to a nation at war in Korea, a Cold War threat so great that war with the USSR was anticipated by Service Chiefs, and a population already shaken by the loss of life a year or so earlier when HM Submarine Truculent was run down in the Thames Estuary.


The Admiralty's priority was to convince it's own sailors that British submarines were safe, and also to convey to world leaders, and the general public, that RN submarines were highly effective weapons systems, tasked by efficient leaders and crewed by highly trained experts.

The RN played down their knowledge of Affray's known defects prior to sailing. Questions of negligence in sending the boat to sea were ignored, as were certain aspects of the first search and even recommendations of Court-martial. The Navy believed it best if the incident were forgotten.

What is clear is that Affray was not run down by a passing ship, nor involved in some cold war conspiracy, was not overloaded and not off course. The fractured snort mast must be considered a red herring, the break occurring as she hit the bottom with some force. It seems that Lt Blackburn, an experienced submarine officer who had had as his mentor the legendary Ben Bryant as CO in HMS Safari in the Mediterranean during the war, was diligently carrying out his orders as safely as the hazardous operation would allow.

With Affray tooling along at periscope depth, most likely snorting, some situation within the boat started a train of events which once rolling, no one was able to stop.

Affray Riddle

Sports divers using new deep water techniques have reached the wreck of the Affray, the Royal Navy submarine in which 75 sailors lost their lives almost 50 years ago in a disaster that remains shrouded in mystery.

The divers were the first to see the wreck, which lies at about 270ft in one of the deepest parts of the Channel, since members of Royal Navy underwater recovery units in the early fifties.

Aware that the site remains the last resting-place of the crew, the team of 11 divers, led by Christina Campbell and Innes McCartney, took nothing from the site other than video footage. The video has been requested by Royal Navy experts anxious to solve the mystery behind the cause of the worst British submarine accident since the Second World War.


I was one of the first pair to go down the guide rope lowered onto the side," Mr. McCartney said. "It really was the most impressive sight to go down to that depth where there is no ambient light only to turn on a lamp and see the unmistakable shape of the submarine.

She is a most magnificent sight, towering almost 30ft clear of the seabed and looking as formidable as she did in her heyday. She remains a significant and salutary reminder of our naval heritage

By not tampering with the wreck or removing any artefacts the divers did not contravene the Protection of Military Remains Act which was drawn up after the Falklands War to protect sites including naval wrecks.

Numerous Royal Navy submarines and U-boats lost in shallower parts of the Channel are often visited by divers but it was only with special gas mixtures including helium that the Affray could be reached. Martin Rowden, an experienced wreck diver from Australia, said the danger increases exponentially at depths greater than 100ft with a considerable risk at the depth of the Affray.

Mr McCartney said the submarine was intact on the sea bed and the right way up with only a slight lean to port. The wooden letters of her nameplate have long since decomposed but the shape of her 281ft hull was unmistakable.

The loss of the Affray caused a sensation when it was reported missing on April 17, 1951, a day after sailing from Portsmouth. As well as its normal crew of 61, it carried two classes of submarine officers under training and a small party of Royal Marines. After failing to transmit a routine report, the Royal Navy began its procedure for dealing with lost submarines and for several anxious days hopes remained that Affray could be found and the submariners recovered.

There were stories of tapping noises and Morse messages being picked up by the searching vessels but, as the days went by and more and more ships took part in the search, hopes began to fade.

As the weeks passed rumours circulated of the Amphion Class submarine being stolen by the Russians and the press reported almost daily as the search of thousands of square miles of seabed continued.

After two months the submarine was eventually found 37 miles from its last reported diving position. The loss of life represented one of the worst in the history of Royal Navy submarines and the Admiralty was anxious to establish the cause. Remote-controlled television cameras were used for the first time and they found damage to the snort mast, used when submerged, to draw in air for the diesel engines to run.

The mast appeared to have snapped, allowing water to flood into the submarine but mystery remained as to the cause of the break. Experts recovered part of the mast and carried out tests metallurgical faults but theories about possible collisions or onboard explosions remained. Mr. McCartney's divers could shed little light on the issue, although they could confirm there was no other damage to the hull and all hatches and torpedo tubes remained sealed.

Perhaps the only way to establish exactly what happened would be to raise the Affray but with no other A-class boats in service there is no military logic to carrying out a salvage as nothing could be learnt to protect other vessels.

Mr. McCartney plans to lead another expedition to find the M1, one of the earliest Royal Navy submarines, which mounted a vast 14-inch gun on its hull.

Reproduced with kind permission from
Submariners News


16-01-1944 : Laid Down
12-04-1945 : Launched
02-05-1946 : Completed
16-04-1951 : HMS Affray left Portsmouth to take part in Exercise Training Spring with a training class of young officers aboard, her orders being to make a daily report between 9am and 10am each morning and to land a party of Royal Marines on any suitable beach in the patrol area during the night.

On the morning of the 17th Affray failed to report her position as required and rescue vessels were immediately put on alert as repeated attempts to call up the submarine failed. It was known that she had intended to dive 30 miles south of the Isle of Wight, so the search was concentrated off the island but the exact position of Affray was unknown. A number of vessels involved in the search reported faint Asdic signals and the submarine Ambush decoded a message stating, WE ARE TRAPPED ON THE BOTTOM but the Affray still could not be found.

On the evening of the 19th the Admiralty regretfully called off the search. While the search for survivors was now fruitless the search for the Affray was to continue.

In the middle of June, after nine weeks of searching, an underwater camera focused on the submarine's nameplate. Her final position proved to be 37 miles from her known diving position. She was lying on an even keel on the edge of a series of underwater chasms known as Hurdís Deep in the English Channel. Divers could find no evidence of collision damage but noted that her radar aerial and periscope were raised, indicating that she must have been submerged when she foundered. Both hydroplanes were in the rise position indicating that attempts to raise the submarine must have been in operation before being finally defeated by the incoming water.

A reason for the disaster was however soon found when the snort mast was examined. A clean break was discovered 3 feet above the deck leading to the conclusion that metal fatigue had caused the loss, allowing water into the boat through a 10-inch hole. This was confirmed by tests carried out on the recovered mast at Portsmouth, all assertions as to a collision being quashed. Exactly what caused the snorkel to shear at the time it did will in all likelihood never be known.


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