RN Submarines scuttled or captured in WWII
I have used "Beneath the Waves" by A S Evans, Published by William Kimber & Company Limited, London in 1986, as a comprehensive source, cross checked with other sources to compile descriptions of the events in WWII that led to the loss of Royal Navy Submarines in actions where the submarines were sunk, usually by scuttling, with the captains and crew taken prisoner. Included are two variations - in one case the submarine was captured and in another the captain was killed in action. The full descriptions in the book are in the main taken from first hand descriptions by the captains and crew members.
I was moved to prepare this list of submarine incidents to enable comparison to the fate of HMS Oswald in 1940 and the Court Martial of her captain in 1946, where he was found guilty on three charges. Details in the book that are not related to the direct circumstances of each loss, are largely omitted.
After completing my article on the loss of Oswald based almost entirely on the archived evidence given at the Inquiries and Court Martial, made available to me by David Barnes; I was disturbed by the third charge, "Failing to engage the enemy when HMS Oswald was unable to dive". I am inclined to think that framed in this manner, there was no defence for the captain to draw on except his intention of saving his crew from futile action that would have resulted in death and injury for no sound purpose. Other than that, the only comment I can make is - why the defence did not use these other incidents, to challenge the third charge?
I respectfully refer all submariners past and present to the thoughts of Admiral McGeoch, quoted in the section on
Northern European / Norwegian theatre of operations.
Mediterranean theatre of operation.
- 1st Aug 1940. HMS Oswald
- 30th July 1941.HMS Cachalot
- 13th Feb 1942.HMS Tempest
- 21st April 1943.HMS Splendid
- 23 April 1943. HMS Sahib
- 14th Aug 1943.HMS Saracen
Note: - The Roll of Honour has listed the names of crew lost from each boat.
Lt Cmdr Alan Spencer Jackson
7 January 1940. According to the Captain, HMS Unidine's ASDIC and Hydrophones were in a very poor state and failed completely as the action commenced. Unidine started the action by firing at one of the trawlers, range 2000 yards. The torpedo missed by about 1 to 2 metres astern.
The Captain "Nothing worthy of report occurred while in areas 'E' and 'B' until 7 January 1940, when the weather conditions were flat calm and visibility varying between a few hundred yards and maximum, owing to fog. At about 0940 when in a position very approximately 20 miles WSW of Heligoland, on a course of 275 degrees, and eastbound trawler was sighted on the starboard bow. I turned to starboard to attack, but could not get round quickly enough and the trawler disappeared in the fog"
About ten minutes later, approximately 0950, two trawlers (mine sweepers) were sighted to the southward, steering to the eastward, at a range at a range of approximately 2000 yards. I turned and carried out an attack, firing one torpedo on a 90 degree track at the leading trawler.The torpedo missed by 1 or 2 metres astern.
The speed had been estimated at 12 knots, but later the Captain was advised by the German Coxswain the actual vessel speed was 14 knots.
The Captain "The sea was so calm I thought it inadvisable to show the periscope again for some time, so I turned to a westerly course with all auxiliary machinery shut down"
The Captain continues "About four minutes after firing there was a moderately loud explosion. I endeavoured to explain this as being the torpedo hitting the bottom but it was followed by a second explosion which was obviously a depth charge. A short time later there occurred three more explosions, apparently nearer. The ASDIC being completely out of action (earlier it was explained the ASDIC dome was flooded earlier in the patrol) and the hydroplanes almost useless, I was unable to form any picture of what was happening on the surface. The depth of the water was 12-14 fathoms. Bearing in mind the experience of Spearfish, I proceeded at a depth of 40 to 50 feet as slowly as possible and turning to northward."
He continues "a period of complete quiet followed for about five minutes. Thinking there might be a possibility of attacking again and that the enemy had broken off the hunt, I returned to periscope depth and raised the low-powered periscope- only to look directly at as trawler on the starboard beam and so close I her port side from the bridge to the engine room casing. I ordered 'Down periscope, sixty feet', but before the submarine had really started to go down there were three violent explosions: one aft, one forward and another."
The damage resulted in the fore ends being flooded. The accumulated serious damage caused the submarine to partially broach with no control of the trim. The Captain looking through the periscope saw a trawler bows on the starboard beam of the submarine, range about half a mile. Unable to dive to safety and avoid being rammed, he decided to surface and abandon ship, flying a white flag. The charges could not be set as the detonators were in the flooded fore ends. The Captain went below to ensure the Confidential Books had been destroyed. He then returned to the bridge and ordered the crew into the water and then ordered the 1st Lt, who was still below to open the main vents. The Trawlers joined in picking up the crew. The water was near freezing.
The submarine eventually sank, but before doing so some Germans who tried to enter the boat were apparently driven out by battery gas. There are reports in 'Beneath the Waves' that some Germans sank with the submarine.
The Captain was of the opinion that the forward main vent had been damage in the explosion forward and jammed shut, retaining buoyancy until the submarine flooding overcame the buoyancy of the forward ballast tank.
No loss of crew recorded in the Roll of Honour.
Spearfish mentioned above, had previously gone through a similar ordeal and finally managed to surface, but would be unable to dive again. The Confidential Books were destroyed and scuttling charges set, but when she surfaced there was no sight of the enemy. The submarine had only one electric motor, but later managed to get the engines running and got safely home. It is said the gun crew were readied as she prepared to surface - setting the scuttling charges etc, does suggests the Captain was preparing for any eventuality. Sadly this submarine, later in her service, was sunk by a U-Boat torpedo.
Lt Cmdr Thomas Anthony Turner
9 January 1940
Patrol submerged 5 miles off Heligoland Bight. OOW reported enemy destroyer (in fact a minesweeper). Captain estimates at a range of 4 -5 miles. Altered course and speed for attack. ASDIC fails at that point, but hydrophone gives estimated HE rpm - speed of 19 knots, with a range of 500 yards. Fired four torpedoes and dived to 60 feet. Due to a misunderstanding between the pre-occupied Captain and the Electrical Artificer operating the remote torpedo control apparatus in the control room, no torpedoes were fired. "Beneath the Waves" has more a detailed account of this incident.
Came to periscope depth with intention of attempting another attack. Sighted the enemy stopped beam on at a range of less than one cable (2053 yards ). Dived to 60 feet. Two depth charges dropped that damaged hydro plane operation. Captain decided to lie on the bottom for a while. One of the gyro motors was started by the Electrical Artificer and immediately four more charges were dropped. Minor damage. A new A/S 4 set had been fitted that responded to German A/S pulses. Apparently it worked quite well.
Then a very heavy attack occurred that badly damaged the submarine. Another German vessel was detected. The Captain received full damage reports from the 1st Lt and EO. The EO thought one engine could be made to work. The enemy vessel were lying at about 7 cables and an attack on them was not thought possible in the circumstances. The Captain decided that the best, but slight hope was to surface and slip away in the darkness. Preparations were made and the crew issued with life belts (DSEA sets?).
The boat came up stern first at a heavy angle and seemed to hang there, the Captain passed the word to open the after hatch, but then the bow came up and the submarine assumes a normal angle. At some point Lt Wardle had released the drop keel. The Captain went up top through the engine room hatch and found two lit buoys 50 yards on each side. He went up on the bridge and search lights illuminated the submarine and some wide MG shots were fired by the Germans
The Captain ordered all the Confidential Books destroyed and the EO to open all the vents on the port side. This he did with difficulty and also opened the main line 4" flood valve. The submarine then listed badly and water started to lap the open hatches. The Captain ordered abandon ship. All the crew were safely picked up by the German ships and treated well. Some crew in fact were picked up without entering the water. The Starfish slid under the waves without any Germans being able to enter her.
This brief account does not do justice to the Captain's cool behaviour and the calmness of the crew. For this, the full account in "Beneath the Waves" should be read.
No loss of crew recorded in the Roll of Honour.
Lt Cmdr Rupert Philip Lonsdale.
PoW, Ret' as Commander 1947.
Both he and his 1st Lt, Lieutenant Terence Butler faced court martial in 1946 and were honourably acquitted.
4th May 1940
Seal was a purpose built mine layer carrying 50 Mk XVI mines, a large submarine at 1769 ton surface displacement compared to the S Class at 872 tons, mentioned in this list. She was armed with 21 inch bow tubes (12 torpedoes carried). 1-4 inch gun.
She was making her way to the area in the Kattegat where it was intended the mines would be laid. The Captain was proceeding 'hull down' to present the lowest silhouette possible when she was spotted by a German aircraft. As the submarine dived bombs were dropped inflicting no serious damage. As might be expected German A/S trawlers appeared causing a change of plan and a course was plotted to a new position where the mines would be laid. In about 45 minutes all the mines were laid and the submarine started to withdraw. Another group of trawlers appeared blocking his intended path. The submarine was restricted by the relatively shallow water.
The Captain skilfully made way past the German vessels, but unfortunately, inadvertently entered a minefield and made contact with a mine that exploded and severely damaged Seal's stern. The flooding caused the submarine to sink to the bottom, stern first into the mud. Strangely the explosion did not attract the attention of the German vessels.
It was night time and the Captain decided to attempt to surface, but without success, finally in desperation the drop keel was released and Seal surfaced, but without the drop keel she would not be able to dive again. The stern of the submarine was severely flooded, the steering not functioning and the main battery by now flat and thus all the pumps and other vital auxiliary systems were without power. The Seal was no longer capable of operation as submarine, with little ability to defend itself on the surface.
The Captain decided to make for Sweden stern first as the bow was pointed to German occupied territory with no steering to change that situation. Then to add to the Captain's dilemma, one of the engines broke down and a German small Arado seaplane appeared that dropped bombs, but did little harm. However it waited and eventually another Arado arrived that bombed and strafed Seal with cannon piercing a ballast tank causing a list. Then the remaining engine also broke down. The Captain and crew had fought back with Lewis Guns until they jammed.
A serious matter of concern were the two depth charges fitted in the bilges, set to explode at 50 feet when the submarine flooded. (I have never heard of this scuttling feature that I assume was to prevent enemy salvage if the submarine was lost in the shallow waters where minelayers would frequently be operating). In these circumstances the Captain felt if he abandoned the crippled ship with the crew in the water, as the submarine sank, these charges would likely kill the crew. Thus he chose to fly a white flag and surrender the submarine, trusting the crew would be transferred to German vessels, having no doubt the submarine would sink while being towed to port by the Germans.
The Captain of the Arado ordered the Captain to swim to his float plane, where the Captain failed to convince that the submarine was in Swedish waters! The Arado took off with Captain destined for captivity.
A German trawler arrived and after inspection by the German 1st Lt, accompanied by the submarine's EO Lt Clark, it was decided to tow the submarine to Frederickshavn (Occupied Denmark). Meanwhile the submarine crew were transferred to the trawler. The submarine arrived safely in port despite the Captain's and crew's predictions. Later Seal was taken to Kiel and commissioned in the German Navy, but was of little value other than as propaganda coup.
The Captain appeared before a Court Martial at Portsmouth in 1946, in regard to the loss of his command and was honourably acquitted. He later left the Navy to become an Anglican Priest (he had always been a devout Christian and gathered crew for prayers in the dire situation they had found them selves in the Kattagat). I believe the 1st Lt, Lieutenant Terence Butler was also before a Court Martial - I assume that following his absent Captain's clear intention, he was the officer who actually surrendered the submarine to the enemy.
One crew member recorded lost in the Roll of Honour.
In particular note this extract from Wikipedia
Lonsdale sent a message to the Admiralty. "Am making for the Swedish coast". With the cipher books destroyed, Lonsdale did not receive two replies - "Understood and agreed with. Best of luck" and "Safety of personnel would be your first consideration after destruction of the Asdics". If these had been received they would have saved him a considerable amount of anguish over his subsequent decisions.
Unfortunately I do not have a primary source for these signals that I believe they are of great relevance to the situation Fraser of Oswald found himself in some few months after the capture of Seal and the charge (3) made against him in 1946. The book "Warren, C E T and Benson, James (1964). Will Not We Fear: The Story of His Majesty's Submarine Seal and of Lieutenant-Commander Rupert Lonsdale. London: Harrap" may well contain a such a source.
Lt Peter Noel Buckley DSO was court martialed and honourably discharged.
5th/6th July 1940
The Shark was observing, patrolling off the Southern Coast of Norway, with the need to charge the batteries after a long day at periscope depth in rough weather. It was summer in these Northern latitudes and it never really got dark, but it would be at its darkest at 2300 and it was now 2200. The Captain made up his mind and ordered the 1st Lt to surface. It is worth noting in regard to the Captain of Oswald's Court Martial, that the Captain intended to propel on the starboard engine and charge on the port. Unfortunately a fault on the engine prevented this.
The Captain takes up the narrative from here on, related here of necessity much abbreviated:
The submarine had been on the surface for 15 minutes when the lookout cried 'seaplane astern'. The submarine dived, but was slow going under due to the heavy weather. Two or three bombs were dropped, followed closely by more bombs. The submarine was badly damage - the starboard main motor was out of action with fire behind the port motor. The after hydroplanes were not functioning and the submarine was short of HP air. There much other serious damage.
The submarine was at a 35 degree bow up angle that proved difficult to correct and at one point the bow broke the surface and MG bullets were heard on the hull. The submarine started to go deep with the control room gauge showing 256 feet, but aft showing 310 feet. By using all the remaining HP air and the port motor, the Captain brought the submarine to the surface and the starboard engine was started and the port motor running at Group Up until the port engine could be started. A course was set to the West taking the submarine away from the coast. The damage could then be fully assessed, but even without this the Captain was sure the submarine could dive.
The port engine was damaged, but was finally started, but limited to 280 rpm, however the critical damage was to the rudder that was jammed hard to port. Steering by engines was attempted, made impractical by the speed limitations of the damaged port engine.
The Captain lists (items 1-15) the situation of the submarine and this list is shown in "Beneath the Waves". He does say they had no choice, but to go round in circles unable to steer and could not dive. The most alarming item was the state of No 1 battery giving off increasing smoke and fumes despite being disconnected.
The 3" gun was manned and the HE ammunition brought on deck. All available small arms were taken on the bridge, but this only consisted of the Lewis guns and rifles. Below demolition charges were rigged in the forward torpedo space and the ASDIC office.
Confidential Books were destroyed or prepared for disposal.
About midnight the next attacks from the air began (the reader will recall it was virtually daylight, I have been on the bridge of a submarine off the coast of Norway, about midnight in June and its a sort of twilight with nowhere to hide.)
No 4 starboard ballast tank was holed and the ship took on a list, two men were washed over the side The Captain appears to be the main source of detail about the events.
The submarine was kept upright by running the LP blower. (By this time they may well have had a running charge that supplied the Auxiliary load.)
During the attack, a Heinkel Seaplane circled the submarine acting as a marker. The 3" shells were set low to try and force the attacking aircraft high. It appears the at this stage the Germans only used cannon that did not pierce the pressure hull.
A Dornier may have been damage by a shell, it was seen flying away emitting sparks.
The two missing men were sighted (because the submarine was circling?) and the engines stopped with the hope they would restart and picked them up. They were in good spirits, though tired. All this under the continuous fire from the Heinkel. These men were a great help as the situation developed.
At 1:20 the Captain realised that his earlier signal could be misconstrued as the submarine underway escaping and attempts were made to send a further signal for assistance - the attempts all failed.
The battery fumes were now making the magazine access in the ward room impossible and the 1st Lt in a DSEA brought out all the remaining ammunition, those assisting him, were forced to take breathers as were the EO and ERAs manning the engine room (fumes would be drawn in from the control room with induction air coming down the conning tower.)
Air defence was continued top side with all hands involved in reloading the small Lewis ammunition pans and shells to the gun.
At 2:45 PO James Gibson fell over the side and was lost, the Captain speculated he may have caught a stray bullet.
Four then ME 109s turned up and devastated the bridge with cannon and MG fire. These continuous attacks brought matters to a close.
After period a Seaplane signalled STOP or STEER TOWARDS STAVANGER. This was ignored, but 15 minutes later having run out of ammunition and having many wounded or dead the Captain reluctantly decided to capitulate.
He considered the scuttling charges, but delayed until the wounded could be taken off, in any case the engine room was flooding badly. The submarine was setting low in the water and would not survive a tow. All of interest to the Germans had been destroyed.
Two nervous Germans came aboard from their damaged seaplane one carrying a Luger in hand.
Events moved on from there with wounded laid out on the gun platform and the wounded Captain and Lt Barnes were taken away by a large seaplane.
There is much more detail of this period in "Beneath the Waves", but it is sufficient to say here that four trawlers came and picked up the crew. They attempted to tow the submarine, but she sank, with her final act being to damage the propeller of a trawler that had to be towed back to harbour.
The badly wounded Captain appears to have been well looked after and ended up a PoW until the war ended.
"Beneath the Waves" reports the Captain as a retired Admiral speaking from his home " Throughout the action all the men displayed great courage and their spirit remained excellent to the end".
Only three members of crew are recorded lost in the Roll of Honour. This figure seems doubtful when the description of the incident is considered?
1 August 1940
All the events are related in the article on the loss of Oswald based on Court Martial evidence. Scuttled after being rammed by Destroyer Ungolino Vivaldi.
Lt Hugo Rowland Barnwell Newton DSC
Went on to command the submarine Selene in the Pacific War. Ret' as Captain 1954.
30 July 1941
The full account of the loss of HMS Cachalot in "Beneath the Waves" contains much interesting detail that is not directly connected to the loss, however only the immediate events leading to the loss be will related here. The Captain is the narrator of the main events.
The Cachalot was a large minelaying submarine of the same class as the previously described Seal and had been engaged for three months transporting goods and people. She left Malta for Alexandria 29th July 1941 with stores and personnel, but had been instructed to look out for a large enemy oil tanker.
The Captain was quite keen to engage and sink the tanker as both he and his crew were getting a little rusty needing the action. Several events are described in "Beneath the Waves" that demonstrate that the crew were either new or getting a little slack. One incident was the taking more out the battery than was prudent. All rather sloppy, particularly as the tachometers in the control room would show the rpm of the motors. For readers of "Beneath the Waves", the Alarm section of the article on the loss of Oswald will help clarify what happened.
At sunset July 29th, surfacing for a star fix, an Italian hospital ship was sighted (range 5 miles) that had not been seen on the periscope and the submarine was forced to quickly dive again. The Captain did not think they had been sighted. Surfacing again Cachalot continued tracking the enemy tanker, with the intention of getting well ahead then turning and proceeding towards him, while charging the batteries, then diving and making an attack.
It was the Captain's habit to sleep on the bridge. At 0155 30th July, the OOW Lt R D C Hart RNVR sounded the night alarm and called the Captain, reporting a destroyer very close. The Captain asked "were we closing? "and on the OOW's reply "Yes" he ordered "Dive, Dive. Dive!". He did not personally sight the destroyer before Cachalot had dived. No ASDIC traces could be detected by the skilful operator and eventually the submarine surfaced to proceed on track.
It was 0250 with three hours to dawn. The best lookouts were posted including a CPO and a PO.
A ship was sighted and all agreed that it was a laden oil tanker, 1500 yards off track. Being favourably placed, the Captain ordered "Stand by tubes, hard to starboard".
Within 30 seconds the target made smoke and turned away. The Captain concluded had been sighted and ordered a lookout sweep for the escorting destroyer. A further 20 minutes chase through patches of mist took place. In the patchy visibility the Captain decided the enemy had to be slowed down and ordered the gun crew up and on the next sighting ordered fire at Green 30 1,00 yards. The submarine was on the quarter of the ship. Four sighting shots were ordered, then the gun crew fired independently apparently hit the vessel as dense clouds of smoke appeared amidships. The enemy then appeared to be altering course as if to ram the submarine.
Having an excess of speed in hand, still being on main engines, the Captain turned away to counter this threat and place the submarine in a favourable position. The enemy was almost at once lost to sight in the smoke.
One minute later a destroyer was coming towards the submarine at full speed firing all her guns at a maximum range of 800 yards.
With some delay the gun crew finally managed to get below and close the upper and lower gun hatches. By the time it was safe to dive, the destroyer was not more than 300 yards away. The Captain was alone on the bridge and in his words "There did not appear to me to be the faintest possibility of diving or to avoid being rammed, I gave the order abandon ship, hoping four or five men would get up on deck in time".
The enemy destroyer Captain realising the submarine was not going to dive, to minimise damage to his own ship striking a large submarine at full buoyancy, went full astern. The Cachalot Captain estimated a collision speed of 4 knots. The destroyer remained 20 metres astern with all guns trained on Cachalot whose gun could not be brought to bear.
The pressure hull had not been punctured, probably 'Z' tank. With most of the crew on the upper casing, various thoughts of subterfuge passed through the Captain's mind, but it was obvious that the Italian Captain was getting impatient and literally fired over head the Captain's head to make the point and he flashed his lamp at the destroyer indicating capitulation.
The after hatch was shut to prevent things floating out, and the main vents opened. HMS Cachalot sank bows first in 200 fathoms and no debris appeared.
Rescue of all in the water took 90 minutes; sadly a Maltese steward was lost, though the Italian Captain searched from until the Cachalot Captain agreed no more could be done.
Later talking to the Italian Captain the Captain of Cachalot came to the following conclusions, quote - "In conversation with the him (the Italian CO), the following facts were in connection with the loss of HMS Cachalot were established. Our presence was suspected though I could obtain no definite proof that the hospital ship sighted on July 29 had reported us. Cachalot had never sighted a tanker or any other merchant ship. The 'tanker' was in fact the destroyer PAPA on her northward course. This error in identification was due to three causes:
- the certainty in my mind that after the first sighting at 0155 any ships subsequently sighted on that course must be southward
- he possibility of a single destroyer sweeping up and down 70 miles off Benghazi all night had never entered my head
- at the second sighting the enemy was only in sight 30 seconds. Had it been any longer it would have been apparent at once from the change of bearing that it was in fact a destroyer on an opposite course.
The alteration in course and the smoke she had made had been coincidences and although we had known of her presence since 0155 the first indication she had of us was when two shells passed between his funnels. The smoke though to be caused by a hit was in fact a smokescreen. When sighted and reported as a tanker, no signs of her funnels had been seen, though carefully looked for. Consequently smoke coming from amidships conformed with my idea that hit has been scored on a tanker.
The crew were landed at Benghazi and ended up in the PoW near Naples.
It is worthy of note that Lt Newton, Cachalot's CO was in the PoW camp with the CO of Oswald and certainly conversed with him and that Lt Newton gave evidence at the Beirut Inquiry's and the 1946 Court Martial of the Oswald's 1st Lt, Lt Cmdr Marsh.
Also that Newton praised 1st Lt J E F Dickson and Engineer Officer Lt (E) E H Player, for their excellent conduct throughout the abandonment of the ship that continued in the water. Readers should note this praise in regard to the Oswald, in particular the 1945 Inquiry's individual assessment of the Oswald's 1st Lt and EO, that was critical of their conduct in similar circumstances.
No loss of crew recorded in the Roll of Honour.
Lt Cmdr William Alexander Keith Napier Cavaye
Killed in action 13th Feb 1942.
13th February 1942
Tempest sailed from Malta on the night of 10th February to patrol the Gulf of Taranto. "Beneath the Waves" describes in some detail, including Italian sources, the events prior to the sighting, while on the surface, by the Tempest's Captain and OOW of what appeared to be a small Italian destroyer. This was the Circe, methodically sweeping for the suspected presence of a submarine.
The Tempest dived and was at about 100 feet when the first depth charges were dropped. The Captain was surprised as he thought he had submerged before the Circe could have sighted him - and he was right, but the Circe's hydrophone operator heard the submarines raucous klaxon to "crash dive"- an irony if ever there was one.
The damage was not too bad apart from a damaged hydroplanes and a misaligned shaft that caused a knocking noise.
The weather had become rough and bringing up a new supply of depth charges from below would have been difficult, so the Italian Captain decided to wait out the four hours to dawn. He set two lighted marker buoys and keeping a firm contact on the submarine with his ECG type Sonar. In other encounters this Italian sonar gear seems to have been remarkably effective.
At 0716 the Italian Captain started his second attack and a final third.
The Tempest suffered considerable damage and forced down to 400 feet with loss of trim control. When the heavy steel battery boards of No 3 battery (control room deck) lifted and chlorine gas appeared in large quantities, the Captain realised the position was hopeless and ordered the confidential books put into a weighted bag to be ditched on the surface by Sub Lt Neel-Wall who was not amongst the survivors.
At 0942 the Italians saw two large bubbles and Tempest broke surface. The Captain had waited until Circe made a run without dropping depth charges and tried to come to a stable periscope depth, this proved impossible given the lack of control and bad weather and he broke surface, quickly climbing up onto the bridge. According to the anecdote below, the order to 'Abandon Ship' was given by the Captain just prior to this.
Lt Cmdr Bowker RNR, the 1st Lt and the EO Lt Blatchford supervised the evacuation of the crew and when the last man had gone, opened the main vents to scuttle the submarine. As they departed they saw water splashing over the battery boards with more chlorine gas. The TGM (this was Eric Cambell referred to in reference to anecdote below) informed the 1st Lt that before leaving he had ignited the scuttling charges in the fore ends.
Survivors in the water, observed the submarine was still proceeding ahead with the survivors strung out in a line - the destroyer steamed along the line picking them up - this took 2 hours. The crew had not shown the slightest sign of panic during the attack, but got excited when it came to jumping in the sea. A number were lost due to the not uncommon failure to understand the use of the DSEA set as a lifebelt. A number men were lost because they drifted away in the heavy seas instead of trying to stay in group (Lack of Mae West type life jackets is a common theme through many of these incidents. From photographs it seems U-Boat crews had these life jackets.)
The Italians rescued the survivors between 1010 and 1212. The body of ERA Cameron was recovered in this period. The survivors were given refreshments and covering.
The Italians launched a boat to try and board the Tempest in an attempt to attach a tow rope. They were without success in the heavy weather. The Tempest stubbornly remained on the surface - clearly the scuttling charges had not gone off!
The destroyer then fired several rounds into Tempest to sink her with no apparent effect.
At 1430 the Italians boarded the submarine to attach a tow line and a PO Mechanic went below and had a look round aft of the forward CR WT door that was closed.
At 1605 the Circe position for a tow, but then Tempest slipped stern first under waves.
Ashore at Taranto the 24 survivors, now prisoners, were treated well.
The Captain of Tempest was not amongst the survivors.
This anecdote is taken from a web site dedicated to Eric Campbell who served on Tempest.
Note from web site - Bob Appleton (Telegraphist) served on HMS/m Tempest with Eric and has become a very dear friend. He is one of five surviving crew members alive today (at whatever date this page was published.).
Bob agrees totally with Charles Anscomb's book, SUBMARINER, and the story of Tempest's fateful patrol, as it is written. Bob was among the first group of submariners to leave Tempest, here Bob explains in further detail the events from the shout of "Abandon ship!". (Note that this book is included in the bibliography of "Beneath the Waves")
ABANDON SHIP as described by Bob Appleton.
As we were surfacing, the Captain said, 'Abandon Ship' and prepared to climb the conning tower ladder. The gunlayer - I think it was young Hugh Pritchard - stood on the gun tower ladder ready to open the gun tower hatch. George Milward was behind him and I was as close to the gun tower ladder as I could get! As soon as we broke surface, the gunlayer opened the hatch and water poured down into the boat. I was knocked off my feet by it and George had to hang on for his life.
I scrambled back to the ladder and started to climb up it. As I looked upwards to daylight, I could see Pritchard on the gun, looking downwards screaming out for 'AMMO!!'.
To everyone else, 'Abandon Ship' meant abandon ship, or, go for your life! Sadly, Pritchard, whilst carrying out a brave move, did so without authority, without support and without ammo. The saddest thing was that, whilst yelling for ammo, he started to train Tempest's gun on the enemy ship.
That is when they opened fire. More in self defence I guess. One of the first to be hit was Pritchard who was killed outright. Naturally, enemy was not to know the gun was harmless and kept firing killing several men as they scrambled over onto the casing and the saddle tanks. Quite a number of men came out of the boat the same way (via the gun tower) onto the saddle tanks where we lingered a bit, sheltered from the enemy by the conning and the gun towers before we slid into the (bl**dy) cold and quite rough sea. I can remember when arriving on the gun tower, having a brief look at the Circe, then a quick look forward before clambering down the outside of the tower.
The forward hydroplanes were sort of screwed up as though they had been grabbed in a giant fist. Caused by the fury of the depth charges I guessed. No wonder we had difficulty in surfacing and even maintaining an even depth during the attack. The noise was deafening as shots hit the boat.
Once in the water, we collected in groups to gather our thoughts and to prevent anyone drifting away. Strategy was discussed and instructions passed to those unsure of how to handle their DSEA sets.
Thirty-six crew members recorded lost in the Roll of Honour including the Captain
Lt Cmdr Ian Lachlan Mackay McGeoch DSO, DSC
Ret Vice Admiral 1970. Wrote a biographical book "An Affair of Chances". Sept 1st 1991 - published by Leo Cooper.
21 April 1943
Splendid left Malta to go on patrol April 18th 1943. On Wednesday morning of the 21st, she was about three miles SSE of Capri. At 0830 A lookout of the German destroyer Hermes sighted the periscope of the Splendid some 3000 yards off the port bow.
The destroyer was actually on passage at the time from Salerno to Pozzuoli. She turned towards the sighting and immediately established good A/S contact and closed the on the submarine attacking with depth charges, dropping a total of 43 over a period of 40 minutes. The experienced crew of Hermes never lost A/S contact in ideal conditions.
The Captain tells us he had lingered too long with the periscope up, trying to identify the strange destroyer (a former Greek ship with a German crew that had been built in the UK and was similar to the RN G and H classes), as no German destroyer had been reported in the Mediterranean in general Intel available to the Captain.
The Splendid was taken down to 300 ft, 50 feet in excess of the maximum operating depth creeping at slow speed. First the "after hatch was torn from its seating and water was pouring in with submarine taking a steep stern down angle, going rapidly deeper. The next attack caused serious damage, hull distortion jammed the one of the shafts. Both main motors were on fire. The depth gauges in the control room went to its maximum reading of 500 feet. As the submarine was still stern down the stern was near crush depth and the submarine had to be raised to prevent disaster."
It is interesting to note this experienced Captain's comments about his ships company "That whereas the submarine was expendable, they were not and their safety would in extemis would be my first consideration This mental preparation for a circumstance which in my view of the wartime submarine losses could not be regarded as unlikely no doubt helped me to take the decision quickly enough when the moment came." The main ballast were blown and when the Captain saw the depth gauge showed the submarine was rising he told the crew to get ready to abandon ship.
They left the submarine in an orderly manner only to met by heavy fire from the German destroyer. One shell went through the conning tower killing several men. Leading Signal Man R. W. Auckland, finding a queue at the control room hatch opened the upper gun hatch after some difficulty in the dark, and hearing the firing, took shelter behind the behind the gun mounting. He was of the view that as the submarine was circling on motors with rudder jammed hard to port, the Germans probably thought the Splendid was manoeuvring to get in a position to fire torpedoes. Auckland took to the water, but was concerned that having heard of German atrocities they may well run down the survivors, and though he was picked up by an Italian A/S launch that had arrived the scene, others of the crew picked by the Germans were well treated. Auckland with other survivors was landed at Capri.
The Captain and the 1st Lt, Lt R Balkwill RNVR, waited until the abandon ship was well under way and then opened some of the main ballast tank vents to ensure the was no chance of a boarding party getting on board.
The Captain on arrived on the bridge to find the Germans still firing and had already killed some of the crew, he himself, was blinded in one eye by a small piece of shrapnel. He and the 1st Lt jumped into the water agreeing to swim towards Capri as that known to be a the attractive place.
Nine crew members recorded lost in the Roll of Honour.
Lt John Henry Bromage DSO, DSC*, RN
Ret 1951 as a Commander.
24 April 1943.
"Beneath the Waves" has a very comprehensive description of events before and after the sinking of Sahib. In which whole action is related by the captain and the gunlayer, Leading Seaman A G E.Briard DSM, MiD who joined the RN as a boy seaman in 1935 and submarines in 1938. They recall events as seen and heard from their point of view, with some comments by Italian officers involved in the attack. An earlier action in the fatal patrol was a successful gun action where 72 rounds dealt with an armed tug and the large barge it was towing. The clear style of description used by Leading Seaman Briard who manned the gun is worth a read.
Moving on to Sahib's next action; two days after the attack on the Tug, shipping was reported on a westward course and two miles from Cape Milazzo. At 04.50, half an hour before dawn, the submarine dived from the Northward. The ships, five in number, were four hours out from Messina. One was the heavily laden merchantman Galiola (1917. 1429 tons). A quick look through the periscope showed the Captain that the corvettes Aliola and Bassini positioned off either bow and off the starboard and port quarters were the torpedo boats Climene and Bassini. Clearly the merchant ship was important!
Using Leading Seaman Briard's detailed and description of events, but edited somewhat:
The Captain stealthily used the periscope quickly and sparingly as he took in the situation that incidentally, he relayed to the crew.
Then he made a decision and ordered sixty feet and increased speed.Steer 160. Stand by 1, 2, 3 and 4 tubes - the attack had begun. The ASDIC operator reported that the enemy had the submarine in contact.The Captain, expressionless, commented Well, they now know we are here." and calmly said "We'll press on regardless". Crouching at the attack periscope and ordered the 1st Lt "Slow ahead both bring her up to periscope depth". The "Dammit! She's turned away. Steer 180, down periscope". This now meant an attack on the target's starboard quarter. After manoeuvring, the Captain back on the scope ordered "Fire 1... fire 2... fire 3... fire 4, down periscope. Hard to starboard.Steer 020. Shut off for depth-charging".
The Captain's words tell us: "at 04.58 four torpedoes were fired, aimed individually and spread two-thirds of a ship's length apart on an estimated track 100 degrees with range 2,800 yards, Sahib than being about 700 yards 15 degrees on the starboard bow of the Climene. Though the sea was flat calm the attack was unobserved. One hit was obtained and the merchant ship sank almost instantaneously, without survivors according to the captain of Climene.
After firing the torpedo salvo Sahib nearly broke surface and the swirl of her propellers was observed by aircraft after the torpedo had hit the target. One bomb was dropped which did no damage, but indicated our position to Climene. She immediately obtained A/S contact".
Leading Seaman Briard reports the struggle to maintain depth and estimates at one point the depth gauge showed the periscope standards would have been exposed, he continues; At that moment there two large explosions and the Captain swept the area astern "She's gone, she's disappeared?". He sounded surprised. The Sahib took on a sharp bow down angle as we sought more depth. Then there were violent explosions within seconds of each other "Probably the Junkers having a go at us" observed the Captain. By now we had reached 100 feet and begun to level out.
The Captain continues: "Sahib had by this time turned and was proceeding North at 4 knots at 300 feet. Climene took up a position on the starboard quarter and maintained contact without difficulty in perfect A/S conditions, breaking off every five minutes to carry out an all round sweep. However no attack developed and no other HE could be heard. The Italians at this time had coastal escorts with electric motors and batteries: they hunted in this manner, but switched over to diesels when they went in for an attack, at the time I was unaware that such vessels existed. For some three-quarters of an hour I was well aware that I was being hunted because ASDIC transmissions in contact could be heard. Nevertheless I was mystified because I could not any hydrophone effect from the engines of the attacking craft. The submarine was at 250 feet and going very slowly to minimise noise when suddenly, hydrophone effect that was quite audible to the naked ear in the control room started up directly overhead. Very shortly afterwards the asdic office reported the unmistakable sound of depth charges hitting the water".
Leading Seaman B goes on with more detail that I will omit here, apart from "It felt as though some giant hand had taken hold of the submarine and was continually slamming it down. The shock waves inside the boat seemed to burst inside my head and dim my sight" and "Steering out of action, sir which I reported.
The Captain - Quite suddenly at 05.45, very loud HE started directly overhead. Sahib was put to full ahead group up and consequently, by the time the depth charges exploded the centre of the salvo must have been astern of the submarine, nevertheless the results inside the boat were fairly spectacular. The Captain lists various items of flooding damage, some apparently repairable apart from the 1.5'' hole caused by the compressor outlet being blown of the hull and water entering looked like a 1.5" steel bar, it would seem the Captain went and had a look for himself. More worrying would have been the Leading Seaman Briard report by the CERA, that the pressure hull was holed under the after-ends bilges, but the EO could not confirm this?
The Captain continues - "In the meantime Sahib's stern had dropped; to correct this I increased speed and blew number five ballast tank to bring the boat on an even keel. The control room depth gauge was fairly steady at about 270 feet so the depth was kept by that gauge. More and more buoyancy had to be given to keep the boat manageable so when the EO reported there was nothing he could do about the damaged aft, the order to stand by to abandon ship was issued".
Leading Seaman Briard continues; "The Captain was in the favoured submarine commanders pose, stance between the between the two periscopes with an arm hooked through the lower conning tower ladder. His face was still expressionless, but his words, when they came out seemed to hold infinite regret.
I am sorry; lads... Stand by to abandon ship.
DSEA sets were issued. The Captain told me to open the lower gun hatch, a report came from the WT office aft where a shallow water depth gauge had been shut off and was now working, that the submarine was on the surface, there is more detail to be found in the book.
Back to the Captain; "It was then reported from the forward that the boat was breaking up, and it was reported from aft that we were on the surface. I solved this problem by hitting the periscope wires with my hand and finding them slack, was happy to agree with the after-ends. The control room gauge still said 270 feet. I proceeded to the bridge where the situation was then as follows; - Sahib was moving at about 13 knots with after casing awash and her bow well up. The Climene was on her starboard bow and the two corvettes on her starboard quarter, all about 2000 yards away firing their forward guns. (Later thanked the CO of Climene for not firing to hit, but he said he had been.) Two Ju88s were machine gunning the submarine and it was their bullets on the pressure hull that had made the breaking up noises. I ordered the motors to be stopped and the crew abandon ship.
Leading Seaman Briard continues with a gripping description of what followed as seen through his eyes, it is too lengthy to be quoted here, although it is worth noting that he comments that the water was remarkably warm.
The Captain continues; "When I thought all hands were out I looked down the conning tower. I saw a stoker pushing up a leather dhobi basket that he bought in Fez when on leave and which he had no intention of leaving behind. Having eventually got this stoker out, without basket! I went down into the control room. After satisfying myself that the boat was empty, I opened the main vents and went up again - fast. I had just got over the side from the gun platform when the stern down and the bows went up. Sahib sank at a 90 degree angle in 600 fathoms at a position approximately 10 miles north of Capo Milazzo. I have recurrent nightmares about what I would have done if the main vents had not opened".
Leading Seaman Briard states; "Most of the crew were now crowded on the casing, all seemingly reluctant to take to take the first plunge into the sea. The Captain called from the bridge for all hands to keep clear of the main vents. He then disappeared below". Briad then heard the clunk of the vents opening and took the plunge.
The Captain continues; Ju 88s continued to machine gun survivors in the water and it was at this point that Electrical Artificer E G England must have lost his life, as he was seen to enter the water with a DSEA set on. Two ratings had their DSEA sets hit by bullets, but they were uninjured. Survivors were picked up by the Climene and a corvette and after good treatment taken to Messina where we were given dry clothes. Later that night we were taken to Rome for interrogation, The CO of the Climene informed me one of the torpedoes passed under the corvette that made the damaging attack. I arrived on Climene at 0615, seventy-seven minutes after firing".
The author of "Beneath the Waves" reviews the incident drawing on Italian sources, but summary is that significant naval A/S forces were deployed against Sahib and once the Ju 88 saw the swirl of propeller water following the near broach, the end was predictable given the ideal ASDIC conditions. A total of 51 depth charges were dropped in a period of about 10 minutes. The use of electrically propelled A/S vessels only made the Captain of Sahib's evasion tactics more difficult in that he was unaware of this innovation.
Electrical Artificer E G England was the only Sahib crew member lost during the action.
Interested readers may care to look at this website that has no relevance to the theme of these incidents, but it has the merit of naming Sahib's 1st Lt and Chief Coxswain, this concerns evidence given by Lt Bromage in regard to the PoW spy Private Theodore Schurch who was later hanged in the UK in 1946
Lt Michael Geoffrey Rawson Lumby DSO, DSC
Ret' as Captain 1966.
14 August 1943
Saracen left Algiers with orders to proceed to the vicinity of Bastia (a port on the 40 mile channel between Northern Corsica and Elba where she had recently patrolled and sank two ships.).The Captain takes up the story " We were ordered to proceed on the surface to patrol in the vicinity of Bastia. The passage had been without incident ".
The Saracen continued to patrol observing the activity in and around Bastia. After a false sighting, the submarine moved out to sea to surface and charge.
The Captain continues " We surfaced to find an enormous full moon bearing south, and a glassy still sea. We had no choice, but to patrol up and down the moon. This we did, starting in a northerly direction. At about 2345 the watch officer sighted two MTB-like craft and two larger vessels to the north. These must have had us silhouetted against the moon. We dived to 400 ft and put our faith in bad ASDIC conditions. Strangely we seem to have dived into a pool of fresh water. The HE of the four vessels was very clear and ASDIC transmissions very loud.
At this point the 'Beneath the Waves' quoting the Italian captain of the Minerva, says she was joined by the corvette Euterpe. Sufficient to say here, eventually good contact was made with Saracen and the attack commenced.
At 0045 on the 14th August, 36 depth charges were dropped. One was close and as consequence the after ends were flooded and the WT door closed. Later inspection was not possible, but observations just prior to hasty evacuation told of plates badly sprung and water pouring in.The submarine assumed a severe bow up angle and attempts to correct by blowing air into ballast tank, resulted in porpoising, in the process using a lot of HP air. To maintain any sort of buoyancy, the Captain ordered full ahead. (At this rate the battery would soon have been flat.)
The Captain continues, "I was kept informed of the HP air situation. Fairly soon, I have no idea how long, I decided we were on a losing game. Hands were ordered to muster in the control room with DSEA. Sadly many burst on being inflated. I suppose 12 months in the Mediterranean had caused them to perish. Those without DSEA were told to hold on to men with DSEA when they got into the sea. Everyone was told to gather on the casing and jump into the sea together when the main vents were opened. The order to surface was given at 400 ft.It seemed to take a very long time and a lot of HP air before the depth-gauges started moving in the right direction. Once started the gauges moved very fast"
ERA F K Hutchins (eventually awarded a DSM) recalled "We had great difficulty in keeping our trim and depth.Due to efforts of our Captain we managed to surface. As the submarines was in no condition to proceed as a fighting unit, the Captain ordered abandon ship. Before leaving, the Captain ordered me to open all the main vents. The motors were still running as we left the control room and went up the conning tower to leap into the sea. The Saracen continued to run a short distance before she took her last dive. The Italians treated us very well and gave us brandy, cigarettes, and blankets".
Stoker Edward Metcalfe recalled the severe damage to the pressure hull in the after ends and the WT door being shut, also the severe angle the submarine took and later the 1st Lt poised on the ladder to leap up and open the upper hatch as soon as the submarine surfaced, followed by the crew. Metcalfe also recalled arriving up on the bridge and finding the night illuminated by tracer and later having 20mm shrapnel picked out of him by the Italians. He reported quite a swell.
46 crew and five officers were picked up by the Italian corvettes Minerva and Euterpe. 6 crew were lost, presumably by enemy MG fire or drowning.
Six crew members recorded lost in the Roll of Honour.