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1911 - 1924: E Class

The results of experience gained with D1, the prototype diesel-driven submarine, were incorporated in the design of the famous E Class submarines, which did such outstanding work during the First World War

The boats were considerably larger than the D Class, to accommodate the introduction of broadside torpedo tubes. a major change in the design. Six of the later E boats were fitted as minelayers. This meant that the broadside torpedo tubes were omitted and 20 mines were carried in vertical tubes in the saddle tanks. The mines were released by a mechanism operated from inboard.


The E Class were the first British boats to be fitted with internal watertight bulkheads. These internal bulkheads strengthened the pressure hull and, as events during the war proved, the B Class were eventually designated as being capable of diving to a depth of 200 feet.

Fifty-six E Class were built between February 1911 and August 1917. Of the first twenty-six, 20 were built and completed at Barrow between January 1913 and January 1916, including two built at Beardmore's at Dalmuir and fitted out by Vickers, and six were built at Chatham. The remaining 30 were divided between twelve other shipyards who were entering the field of submarine construction for the first time, including Armstrong Whitworth at Newcastle, Cammell Laird at Birkenhead and Scotts on the Clyde.

A further two boats of this class, AE1 and AE2, were built at Barrow for the Royal Australian Navy and these sailed to the Antipodes under their own power. One of these actually accomplished 30 000 miles before a complete refit of her propelling machinery was thought to be desirable.

Boats ordered before the war took 20 to 30 months to complete, but, E19, ordered in November 1914, was built, equipped and handed over in the record time of eight months, setting the pace for several later boats. This achievement was aided by the fact that the class were fitted with engines being built at the time by Vickers for the newly-ordered G Class submarines.


At the outbreak of the First World War nine of the new E Class submarines had been delivered, and six were used in the Heligoland Bight, first for reconnaissance patrols only and subsequently with a free hand.

The first offensive success by a British submarine was scored by E9, commanded by Lieutenant Commander Max Horton, who had 'stood by' his boat during her construction at Barrow. On 13th September, 1914, Horton sighted the German cruiser Hela near Heligoland, closed to 600 yards and fired two torpedoes, one of which struck amidships. Hela sank and E9 was hunted for the remainder of the day but successfully escaped. During her next patrol in the Bight, E9 sank the destroyer S116.

E19 in Devonshire Dock
E19 in Devonshire Dock
Lieutenant Commander Geoffrey Saxon White VC
Lieutenant Commander Geoffrey Saxon White VC
Lieutenant Commander Martin Eric Nasmith VC
Lieutenant Commander Martin Eric Nasmith VC

These first successes were followed by many courageous exploits. Particularly important were the operations carried out in the enemy waters of the Baltic and the Sea of Marmara where our submarines operated with devastating effect during the early years of the war. So much so, that E11's "career of destruction" earned her commander, Lt Cdr Martin Eric Nasmith, the Victoria Cross.

The commander of E14, Lt Cdr Geoffrey Saxon White, was also awarded (posthumously) the Victoria Cross for his bravery in the Dardanelles in January 1918.

Very rarely did German and British submarines come into direct action but, in October 1914, when U27 and E3 met off the German coast, the latter was cut in two by a torpedo and was lost with all hands.

Throughout the war the E Class served with conspicuous success; but they also suffered very severely, more than half their number being lost.

As with the D Class, the E boats had twin screws. Their diesels developed 1600 hp which gave a surface speed, in service, of 14 knots. The submerged speed was 9.5 knots, produced by 840 hp electric motors. The radius of action of the E Class was 3000 miles on the surface at 10 knots and up to 65 miles submerged at approximately 5 knots.

E20 was fitted with a 6 inch gun
E20 was fitted with a 6 inch gun

Although a large class, building over a number of years, the characteristics between the various groups within the class did not alter appreciably. Changes in form, dimensions and displacement were not sufficient to make any marked difference in speed and endurance.

However, as a result of war experience, large guards were fitted around the hydroplanes - the appendages restricting the class to a surface speed of 14 knots and a submerged speed of 9 knots. With extensive superstructure, combined with a navigating bridge built over the conning tower, the class were a big advance as sea boats and were easy to navigate even in the roughest weather.



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1907 - 1919: D Class1912 - 1919: V (early) Class