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Ray Berry - Me and Submarines

A few weeks ago, I was given some pictures of old submarines. One of the pictures started bells ringing, which prompted me to help our editor out with a short article, which may or may not interest some of you, and tell something about my service.

Like many thousands of youths at the outset of WWII, I waited for my eighteenth birthday with some trepidation. Call-up papers would arrive, as they did in November 1940! My request for service in the Royal Navy was granted. I knew a lot who made the preference known who didn't get the service they wanted, so maybe I was just lucky.

I was to report to HMS Raleigh, Torpoint, for basic training. Following this, the next stop was the gunnery school HMS Drake (Gus Barracks). There I learned about guns, director tops, and many new drills, eventually qualifying as an OD Gun Layer 3rd Class and I felt pretty chuffed about it. But what happened next shook me a bit.

I volunteered for DEMS (Defensively Equipped Merchant Ships) but for some reason was drafted to Fort Blockhouse 'for submarine training'. Blockhouse being overloaded at the time, I was sent to Blyth, Northumberland to Dolphin II (and later named HMS Elfin) and there learned how submarines worked, and something about how to work them. I must say I was intrigued and found the subject very interesting. Then came the days at sea in a training boat H49, a 1918 vintage boat.


What has all this to do with some photo's I was given? Well, one of the pictures was of L26. My Class of Submarine Gunners was sent to Scotland to do shoots from this very boat, vintage 1919. It was then talking to one of the 'sea-daddies' that I thought about submarines in the first world war. They must have been even more temperamental and more crude than this one, a real hazard. At every evolution, we were making mistakes all the time but luckily survived thanks to the patient and capable crew.

A question I have often been asked since I was demobbed is: "Were there really steam driven submarines"? The answer is yes. Between the wars the Admiralty regarded the submarine as an integral part of the fleet, the K CLass boats were designed with this in mind. They were powered by steam turbines for surface running and could steam at an incredible twenty-four knots on the surface, and so were able to keep up with the fleet. Standard electric motors provided submerged propulsion. But the complexities of sealing the funnel, dousing the fires, and getting rid of surplus steam before diving was to prove the idea a failure. Many K CLass boats were involved in disastrous accidents and incidents. A book entitled "The Battle of May Island" tells of the worst that befell them.

Next came four M CLass, along with new ideas. They were built into discarded K CLass hulls which had been strengthened. M1 sported a twelve-inch gun and was thought to be a submarine monitor. But the loading of the gun could only take place after surfacing. Since this took some three minutes, the boat was very vulnerable. M2 had the gun removed and a small hangar put on. This was to house a Parnall 'Peto' seaplane. Again, this proved to be a flop. M2 was lost 'with all hands' off Portland in 1932.


Progress was made with later new Classes of subs. The O Class, P Class, and R Class were successful, but proved too large and cumbersome for the last war, the same as the River CLass. Even so, they did great work getting submarine warfare underway.

Anyway, I was sent to Gib and there joined an S CLass boat, P211, later to become Safari. After several patrols and cargo runs into Malta, I was to report sick at Malta and was left there while Safari went her way. My service with the famous Fighting Tenth (10th Flotilla) based there was full of peaks and troughs.

The U Class, I served with two of these great little boats, but too many were not returning. After 15 patrols in 19 months I was, eventually, sent home. I married my Geordie sweetheart whilst standing by a V Class boat at Walker Naval Yard. That was in June 1944. So, on my demob in January 1946, my navy days ended. But in 1952 I joined SOCA and by the end of 1959 my Navy Days started again when I joined the then Newcastle and Gateshead Branch RNA. There were times in the Med that I didn't enjoy at all, but since then my Navy days have always been a pleasure.



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Admiral Sir Claud Barrington Barry KBE CB DSOGeorge Fagan Bradshaw