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G9 - A Peculiar Tragedy

These three medals are from the most peculiar of Barrow tragedies and are a reminder of how dangerous the life of a submariner can be.

They were awarded to Royal Navy Stoker H.W.T Underwood. He drowned with all but one of his crewmates on September 16 in 1917 when the Barrow-built submarine G9 was sunk by a British destroyer in a double friendly fire incident.

The submarine had been launched at Barrow on June 15 in 1916 and was 187ft long. It weighed in at 700 tons and was powered by 1,600hp Vickers diesel engines to produce 15.5knots on the surface and 10 knots underwater on battery power. This class of submarine fired the latest design of 21inch torpedo.

Its captain, Lt-Cmdr the Hon Byron Cary, 30, was on the bridge in the dark, in heavy seas and with information that a German U-boat was in the area. He called for full speed, had the bow tubes made ready and ordered two torpedoes to be fired. He never lived to explain what he had seen to prompt this action.

His target turned out to be the friendly destroyer Pasley - although it didn't stay friendly for long. One torpedo whizzed past the ship while the other struck its target but failed to explode. The destroyer went on the attack and rammed G9. Only Stoker William Drake managed to jump clear before the submarine sank within 30 seconds. There had been a brief few seconds before the collision when lookouts on Pasley realised that the submarine was British - but too late to do anything about it.

The crew of G9
The crew of G9

The G9 survivor said after the event: "The boat heeled over to starboard and then there was a big rush of air up through the conning tower. I saw one man get up through the conning tower, and so I followed him. When I was half-way through the lower lid, somebody in the control room gave the order to close it and it caught me in the stomach. I got through the door and right on to the bridge." He reported seeing only two other men get clear of the submarine before it vanished below the surface.

Pasley's captain, Cmdr Ramsey was in the ship's chart house when the dud torpedo struck his ship and rushed to the bridge as the destroyer lined up the submarine ready to ram. He heard a crew member shout "She's one of ours" but was unable to avoid the collision. The damage to Pasley was minor and the destroyer was able to resume his convoy duties to the Shetland Islands.



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