Affray - Subsmash Commentary
Published 2007 by Sutton Publishing.
An extensive Affray discussion on this site led me to get hold of a copy of Alan Gallop's book SUBSMASH concerning the loss of the submarine Affray in 1951. Now I have a copy and after a first read I decided to read it again with notes about things that caught my attention and post them on the forum. This seemed like a good idea at the time but the notes got longer and longer requiring some serious checking.
Ideally the commentary should be read in conjunction with the book as I have endeavoured to present my comments on a chapter by chapter basis. If this makes the notes long and repetitive I apologise but even one line in the book can bring forth a lengthy pedantic response. One has to give the author the respect of explaining why one takes issue with things he says and quotes in this quite readable book that I think will be of interest to submariners old and new. However while a nice well organised flow has not been possible, I have attempted to make the text of interest and worthwhile reading for those without a copy of the book to hand.
These are entirely my own views based on the experiences as a young man serving in the electrical branch on Amphion Class submarines like Affray coupled with a keen interest in submarines of the era in late retirement. Without the aid of Lambert and Hill's excellent book The Sbumarine Alliance I could not possibly have recalled all the detail of an Amphion Class submarine nearly 60 years later, but on the whole my memory is pretty good though stated in terms of my own view of the whole submarine experience. I am sure others who served in these submarines will have other views, not the least because folks are all different but also that particular duties may well colour their memories. It would be greatly appreciated if I could be notified of any errors I may have made or wrong impressions given about submarines that I may have in good faith, unintentionally created.
I served on the Artemis for 12 months in 1950/1951 and we were in company with Affray during the ships visits mentioned in the book. Our First Lieutenant for most of 1950, William Kirkood, was lost as the Training Instructor on the Affray and I was in Dolphin Spare Crew for few days around the date she was lost. Later I went on to be the PO Electrician of Amphion. The Engineer Officer of Artemis gave evidence about the Amphion Class submarines to the Board of Inquiry. So I think it can be fairly said I have reason to have more than a passing interest in a book about this submarine disaster of so long ago.
Particularly a book that clearly does not want the matter to be left to rest, but wants to apportion blame by inference and disturb the last resting place of these men in the pursuit of finding the reasons for the disaster and of course that is his privilege as it is mine to offer an alternative view. The irony is that I could not have prepared these notes without the considerable research put into the book by the author, Alan Gallop. Very much a case of action bringing reaction.
The relatives and the author are not the only ones who would like this mystery solved and I am sure so would the many who served at the time or later, on the sister ships of the Affray, but I don't want to know at the cost of bringing indignity to the remains of these men have no doubt that others with better technical qualifications and easy access to the archives would be able to more comprehensively review the loss of the Affray , but this is simply a commentary by a former submariner of the time on a recently published book about the loss.
Peter D Hulme 2009.
Here the book sets out that the author's aim to seek the truth about the loss of the Affray.
The Author's Boy 'Sailor' friend being a sentry on the Portsmouth Dockyard gates was a surprise. I wouldn't have thought a lad of about 15 would be placed in this position, but there you are, there is no doubt an explanation. When I was passing through the gates on a daily basis in 1953, the Dockyard Police were in charge.
I also thought the centre of operations was at HMS Dolphin usually entered from the public street via HMS VERNON.
As for the Boy 'Sailor' telling the author about an RN officer 'taking' the Dockyard Gate records - is a conspiracy being suggested? What was there to conspire about - we are never told.
The Dock Yard Police are of some significance in relation to my comments in relation to Chapter 3, about sabotage.
It is at the end of the foreword that the first mention of submarine trim briefly appears and to quote 'Which is, perhaps, why HMS Affray met the unfortunate end it did in the spring of 1951'. This theme is repeated without any satisfactory development and does not appear in the final chapter summarising the author's outstanding concerns.
I don't know whether or not there are archived records that Amphion Class hydroplanes could occasionally jam, but a search might be revealing. Losing trim rather badly with steep angles forward or aft was certainly not an everyday incident on the Amphion Class but in my experience, it happened three times that I can still remember well.
The acknowledgements are quite impressive with some well known names, not the least the excellent staff of the RNSM at Gosport.
1951: POST WAR BLUES, RADIO TIMES.
Difficult to see the relevance of the content of this chapter mainly about civilian post war Britain other than to introduce the film MORNING DEPARTURE with a mention of the loss of the Truculent. In this chapter it would been valuable to read somebody like Eric Groves and then outline the financial restrictions that were being placed on the Navy at that time when quite quickly after winning a major war and placing many ships in reserve or scrapping them, the threat of the Red Navy appeared.
Large sums had to be spent on research to benefit from the many lessons learnt in the war, with equipment designed hurriedly on an empirical basis, needing a firm scientific base to move forward, particularly in the field of Anti-Submarine Warfare. The military politics of the atom bomb delivery are well known.
THE SILENT SERVICE AND HIS MAJESTY'S SUBMARINE AFFRAY.
A potted history of submarines in the RN with various items of submarine trivia that might well be of interest to a reader unfamiliar with submarines.
On page 11 the usual myth about 'hot bunking' is trotted out - not a practical system for a boat designed for reasonable crew comfort on long patrols. And the author knows all this as he tells us on page 11 that the Amphion Class were designed for tropical climates.
As warships in general go, the A class were roomy and reasonably habitable with little cause for claustrophobia. Looking back, the lower decks on a KVG battleship were in my opinion far more crowded and uncomfortable with no daylight. Like all smaller ships, comfort quickly disappears in bad weather, submarines sometimes had the option of diving for a while to prepare and eat meal. The author's quoting Edward Young later in the book confirms the surprising air of spaciousness and rough comfort, and Young was referring to a submarine smaller than the Affray. The growing number of long trips into Northern Waters with much time spent in transit on the surface in very bad weather was very debilitating for everybody and frankly I had had enough of it by the time I left the service. See Page 132, Lt Temple Richard's evidence to the Inquiry..
Later in the Cold War, I am advised the more modern boats snorted from the UK to wherever they were going without ever surfacing. I would imagine this would bring its own unique stresses.
Here are my comments about some of the 'domestic' items in this chapter, while trivial in regard to the disaster they are included in the book and correction based on experience is called for, giving I hope, clearer picture of the 'domestic' life aboard a submarine to non-submariner readers.
When at sea, I don't recall ever eating other than at the mess table either in the Seaman's mess or later the Chief's and PO's mess.
Neither did we queue for meals - it was the standard RN mess system with a single galley. Duty mess men from the seaman and stokers messes collected the food in trays to be served in the messes, with a permanent mess man recruited from the ranks of the stokers and seamen to the ERAs and Chief & POs respectively. The wardroom had a qualified steward. Tea was made by the messes themselves using the readily available water heater with a valued tea and sugar allocation stored in an aluminium box, one for each mess. I know little of the ERA's mess man, but as I recall the Chief and POs mess man was also the Coxswain's assistant with stores and the like - usually an AB known as the 'Tanky' - he kept no watches.
I never had a ditty box or recall ever seeing one in the Navy. In the accommodation space there was nowhere so many could be stowed. On the face it they would be a menace, loose hanging around. I had one of the seat lockers available for kit etc. We all brought along a best No1 uniform for going ashore. But I am happy to be corrected about ditty boxes -hardly a matter of great importance.
The description of the rum issue is incorrect - Grog (rum and water) was issued to each individual rating leading hand and neat rum to Chiefs and POs. One could be classified as G for Grog, T for temperance in which case one received sixpence a day in lieu of and UA (under 20) and not entitled. The Coxswain held the rum in his store and officers did not get rum issued. They purchased duty free liquor like gin. On the whole the tot didn't seem to create any problems and was something to look forward to each day on long trips, though I was temperance simply to get the sixpence, pay was not that high and accumulated sixpences helped while on leave.
In regard to adequate manning I think the problem for the author and others is that they fail to fully appreciate that other than at diving stations, the submarine operated on a three watch system with for instance, only six people in the engine room/motor room compartment. The watch ERA and one leading stoker on the engine control platform, two stokers near the mid engine exhaust valves, plus the Electrician's Mate in the Motor Room, with one stoker in the after auxiliary machine space looking after the shaft glands and steering gear normal and emergency. There might an extra person permanently aboard for training. This was the set-up for surface, submerged on battery or snorting. The EO, CERA and the PO Electrician would have kept a supervisory eye on things, but not 24 hours a day. All pretty relaxed as far as I was concerned.
Of course snorting in rough weather could be busy if we kept pulling a vacuum that forced the OOW or the ERA on watch to stop the engines. I always got the impression holding the trim in the control room was pretty tiring work requiring good plane operators and an experienced OOW. In addition to controlling the boat, a periscope watch was kept. On occasions in daylight I saw both periscopes in use watching for aircraft with the OOW focused on the trim. A radar watch was also kept though I know nothing of the detail Sometimes the boat would go to diving stations for starting to snort, but not often in my experience. We occasionally dived and surfaced on the watch if the weather was reasonable. More on snorting later re' the exercise.
The most informative items in this chapter involve a brief description of the early service of the Affray . There is a reference to the battery (3rd September 1946) apparently defective only a few months after being fitted. In over six years in Amphion Class and T Class boats I never experienced a completely failed cell let alone a whole battery. Why did this vital item have to be replaced and which battery - No1 or No 2? Was it relevant to the later battery tank problems? We are not told in the book. Readers will find the subject of the battery and battery tanks raised several times with no attempt to explain the full technical ramifications. More commentary on this important item later.
I had thought the Amphion Class boats including Affray were mainly based in Hong Kong with the Adamant in 1946 as part of Britain's post war naval policy, but apparently not? However this is of no importance in investigating the loss of the Affray, except perhaps, I have always understood snort kits sent out from the UK were fitted to some Amphion Class in Hong Kong dockyard that at the time enjoyed a good reputation. The author finishes with a paragraph that starts - 'Snort masts were regarded as a wonderful invention, but in 1951 they had some serious flaws that needed to be ironed out'.
When discussing flaws in the snort masts its as well to recall the RN submarine fleet had snorted tens of thousands of miles prior to the loss of the Affray, including the Tropical cruise of the 1947 Alliance and in 1948 the AMBUSH to the Arctic. Both cruises for the specific purpose evaluating snorting in various arduous conditions. Reported on in full in the archives and partially in the Alliance book. The Amphion snort system in 1953 following a full refit didn't seem any different to the Artemis in 1950. Or were the Admiralty not telling us something and today, neither is the author! He goes on. The need to thoroughly train crews about the correct usage of snort was paramount in the submarine service.
And another gem - Used incorrectly by a busy or inexperienced crew in the engine room could quickly send a submarine to the bottom of the sea '. Well that hasn't happened in the period from 1946 to the date when the last of the Upholder Class were mothballed, and diesel boats were no more in the RN. Neither did it happen in the large USN snorkel fleet, with a basically similar but actually a little more complicated kit than the RN set-up. This is a testament to the care and attention of the many people involved over the decades in an operation that requires a continuing state of alertness while on watch.
Actually the Arctic cruise did reveal that the snort head valve could freeze open and the boat would need to go deeper to melt the ice. Snorting became impractical in these circumstances. But note the need to be alert and keep a hand near the hull induction valve. Very soon an electrically heated snort head valve assembly was progressively fitted to all Amphion Class though not to the Affray nor Amphion in the 1953 refit. Clearly the author is setting the stage for what is to come in later chapters, but offers no evidence, anecdotal or otherwise.
It is worth mentioning at this point that the Affray on her last trip carried a full complement of engine room and motor room staff, sufficient to run the normal three watches. The Electrician's Mate put ashore, Page 36 was additional to the usual submarine basic complement of the Electrician (A Petty Officer), a Leading Electrician's Mate and two Electrician's Mates IsT Class.
DAD I THINK THIS BOAT IS JUST ABOUT FINISHED
This chapter opens with 'the Affray having entered the HM Dockyard, Portsmouth for a major refit on 8 May 1950'. But in Chapter 2 we are told - 'June 1950 found her in the Norwegian ports of Galesund (Alesund), Bergen and, Haugusend before returning to Manchester on 7th July'. All 'show the flag' visits with the Artemis on which I was serving at the time. From these dates it would appear her dockyard stay would be too short for a major stripping of the submarines machinery for refurbishment as detailed in my commentary later in this chapter in regard to Amphion . At the close of this chapter the author states that Affray lost her 4 inch gun and 20 mm anti-aircraft weapon and received her own snort tube January 1950 - another period in dockyard? This date may well be correct but no later than 1948/48 would be a better fit, the usually reported progress dates for the fitting of snorts to all the A class, some even being fitted as they were being completed in the yards. These were after all the 'front line' class in the Royal Navy's Submarine Fleet.
The author goes on to tells us that, 'Her crew was ready for Christmas leave, although some would return early to be present when the submarine was again booked into HM Dockyard, Portsmouth for a full engine refit starting I January 1951.' Here we lack definition of what the author means by a full engine refit, the complete removal and refurbishment of all the heavy cylinders/pistons or simply light maintenance work on such things as the fuel pumps, Fuel spray valves etc? Re' the crew returning early January 1st. The normal procedure was that half the crew went before Christmas returning before New Year's Eve to allow the other half to go in time to start their ten days leave in time to be home for New Year's Eve, the first half having enjoyed Christmas Eve and Day with their families.
According to an article 'Disaster Beneath the Waves', 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. The 'task' was hardly onerous, Affray was only out of fleet service for about 60 days and from the book, Page 33, still had senior crew members attached including the First Lieutenant Sherwood (12 months on Affray ) and the Engineer Officer Alston (22 months on Affray ) and considered very capable men by their former captain, Lieutenant Temple-Richard. But I must say I have difficulty with this article as whole as it makes serious statements with no sources quoted. Who to believe?
I suspect the necessary Reserve Group management policies of the times have much to do with what have been unfairly depicted then and now, as cavalier actions by the submarine officers of the time who had all served through WWII. I have added an appendix RESERVE GROUPS, with the intention showing submarines in this groups were often maintained in full operational condition manned by a single experienced crew and only the status changed when a submarine was brought back into the fleet with its own crew. Note Board of Inquiry statement Page 114. More on refits later in this chapter.
In this chapter Engine Room Artificer Second Class, David Bennington comes into the book, his numerous letters to his father played a critical role in the aftermath of the loss. His statements and concerns that were eventually published in the press and were given serious consideration by the Board of Inquiry but largely refuted by the previous captain of the Affray and a fellow ERA during their giving of evidence. Frankly on reading the letter content published in the book, there didn't seem to anything that would justify sending letters that must have upset his father. We on Artemis were in company with Affray in 1950 on the same 'show the flag' trips mentioned in the book and things seemed OK when alongside each other, and no word of serious difficulties came to our notice and Jack was a great gossip
However it is a case of speaking ill of the dead and the boat was lost in mysterious circumstances tending to confirm Bennington's worst first fears, but I am afraid taking all that is in the book and my own experiences in a similar Amphion Class , I think he was rather exaggerating the situation aboard Affray prior to her refit during the 1950 period. Engine problems on submarines were not uncommon with memories of making my way to and from the motor room edging past ERA's and stokers with a complete cylinder dismantled. Aboard the Amphion the starboard engine blew up in a spectacular manner while snorting in 1953 filling the engine room full of thick black smoke forcing us to surface and into an early start for the intended refit at Portsmouth. I was on watch in the motor room fairly close to the action when this happened and very grateful to the keen ear of the CERA who started shutting down before the failure, minimizing the damage else we all may have been sprayed with engine bits and pieces. Readers will in the end, have to make their own evaluation of David Bennington's letters in the context of the book and the mores of the time.
Dave Lowe as a former Dockyard apprentice in 1950 presents a dockyard picture of ill-disciplined crews of RN submarine during time in the dockyard. In my experience there were two dockyard scenarios:
The first scenario is one I experienced during the long refit of Amphion in 1953. Accommodation and offices were in a dedicated building fairly close to the dock. The spares boxes for inspection were in a caged lock-up in larger building near the dock. The submarine was completely stripped and all machinery removed for refurbishment in the various specialist Dockyard workshops, a well planned operation. At the peak only the propulsion motors were left as they only needed an inspection and clean.
There was little if any friction between dockyard staff and the skeleton crew, there was little reason as the RN people took no part in the actual refit work, and it was much like the building of a new submarine. My duties as an Leading Electrician's Mate, the senior electrical rating left with the boat along with one EM 1sT Class, was confined to stripping, checking and repacking the numerous electrical spares boxes. Obviously one was expected to keep an eye open and report concerns to the refit Lieutenant in charge. Also it was a time of learning about the boat as she was dismantled and reassembled, but on the whole a cushy number apart from evening duty watch when you had to clamber all over the stripped boat to make sure there were no fires etc. I was living ashore with my wife when not on duty.
The second dockyard scenario involved a relatively short docking for repairs or inspections with a full crew - this was not a common situation in my own experience but we did once spend two weeks in dock at Devonport for general hull maintenance. I managed to frequently escape and stay at the most excellent NAAFI hostel with my wife and our baby, so I really can't comment if there were any 'incidents' on that occasion, but the Jimmy and the senior chiefs didn't put up with too much bad behaviour in those days. In fact people in submarines at that time, were on the whole, well behaved and air of casual but firm discipline prevailed.
For what it is worth on Artemis in 1950 we went into the floating dock at Portland to paint the hull, no dockyard labour was involved. Not sure who operated the dock.
Regarding David Lowe's experience lowering the snort mast. Lowering the snort mast in harbour at any time without a safety clearance was a remarkably reckless thing to do as people were often working on the after casing where mooring ropes and springs were stowed.
On Page 24 the author states that the Affray went into the dockyard for an engine refit starting 1 January 1951and it is clear to me from the detail in the book that this second dockyard scenario is the one that was experienced by Affray in 1951. This view is confirmed in particular by the book on Page 23 stating that ERA Bennington was still at work in the engine room and concerned about his health as he wrote to his father 5th February 1951. It is also clear that there was a duty watch PO in the form of Electrical Artificer Duncombe who joined the Affray 6th April. LEM Wood was carrying out his duties aboard and discusses the oily water in the battery sump with Leading Seaman Goddard while in the mess with four other duty ratings. Duncombe, a skilled electrical tradesman states in the book at this time 'We had one or two teething problems at first, but the main one was the No 1 Battery tank.' Not exactly a submarine in poor condition!
Thus there is no indication that Affray actually went out of commission and that the crew had completely moved out of the boat to clear the way for the Dockyard to take over as had been the case with the Amphion . As mentioned earlier, a source other than the book states she was in Reserve Group status at this time and the off-duty crew could well have been living in the submarine crew accommodation at Dolphin.
I suggest it had been expected that she would be out well before she actually did with plenty of time to run up prior to the planned April Exercise, but she lingered until there was no time for a comfortable running up period before the date of the exercise loomed. However the need for extensive sea trials and running up periods were simply not required as apparently there were no major repairs to equipment requiring extensive diving trials. The Affray had not gone through a major refit as I have described for Amphion that recommissioned with a new crew, especially senior officers and NCOs.
Why she lingered in the Dockyard is not clear, but it was not due to extensive work being carried and running over time, in fact the author states the log books confirm that repair and maintenance work was indeed taking far too long. Log book entries for most of March of 1951 show practically no repairs were completed although there were numerous entries stating cleaning had taken place. Is this the authors interpretation of the logs or are concerns expressed by the responsible officers of the Affray.
We are told of a series of meetings ashore with absolutely no information about who attended and what discussed and decisions made. We are told the crew were worked long hours to repair the faulty engine and plus scores of other tasks. One would have taken from this that the dockyard staff had done nothing of substance from January to March. Did the Submarine's First Lieutenant and the Engineering Officer sit mute while nothing happened? Well the First Lieutenant did express his concerns to his wife, that the ship was not seaworthy. But not apparently to the new Captain who seems unconcerned from the time he joined in March.
David Lowe suggests a piecemeal approach to repairs where work was requested from the Dockyard and later booked to the ship. Makes sense to me, how else is the cost of ship repair to be accounted for? Calling on his own experiences, apparently as an apprentice, he suggests the Navy preferred a half-finished job or tried to do it themselves. He was it seems not involved with Affray and therefore describing the general RN Dockyard scene that if we are to take his remarks at face value the Navy was run by a bunch of lazy, ineffectual incompetents.
Well certainly we did things for ourselves or got the well-equipped submarine depot ship to assist where special machinery was required, that's what it was they were there for! But we weren't incompetent idiots and knew when a task required skills or facilities beyond our own. I tramped round Bristol once until I found a ship supplier who could supply a few metres of heavy lead covered cable to replace a damaged length on the main ballast pump, getting it from Dolphin was not practical, no couriers in those days.
Our ERAs were excellent and could tackle any mechanical repair that it was practical to make on a submarine at sea. Somehow Affray's lot are made out to be a bunch of winging buffoons who happily allowed their boat to fall into disrepair or allow the dockyard to not properly carry out docketed repairs. I need a lot more proof than has been presented in the book to accept crew incompetence and unless all the documents are available we must assume the Affray was in good order in the eyes of her Engineer Officer and Captain and in my experience no CERA would keep his mouth shut if things weren't right. All the CERA in my experience were very impressive men who any captain would listen to if concerns were expressed. However I must concede the First Lieutenants comments to his wife are disturbing and not what I would have expected when I was in submarines. Not so much for accuracy but in that he said them at all. On the face of it, he was not a man worn out as might be the case of wartime patrols but someone who had it relatively easy for months. Not reliable for a long patrol is one thing but unseaworthy is quite another.
In the book we are left with no idea why the Affray spent so much time in the Dockyard (but not necessarily Dockyard hands) and then apparently departed with little remedial work completed and as the First Lieutenant told his wife - unseaworthy. Apart from the oil/water in the No1 battery sump, we are given no idea what was supposed to be wrong with this submarine apart from a broad-brush comment about the engines with no detail whatsoever. It could a dodgy fuel pump or a main bearing problem, no idea!
Sabotage was an issue, but not overly so in that Amphion's large ballast pump having been removed and refurbished was left overnight on the casing waiting to be lowered into the engine room, next morning it was found to have been pushed into the bottom the dry dock. Up and till then we didn't have a full time sentry, after all we were supposed to be in a secure Naval Dockyard. Later as the full crew settled in the newly refitted boat alongside Dolphin the main hull air induction valve had to be stripped by our engine room crew for some minor reason and unexpected evidence was found of what was thought to be sabotage, though I know little about it as it was, all hush-hush with a couple of men in dark suits peering up the valve hole with the EO and CERA, well that's as much as I recall standing at a distance in the motor room except the mess deck chat was that a linen bag of bolts had been placed on the induction pipe spider and was intended to rot allowing the bolts to fall into the valve faces As might be expected, I was not taken into the confidence of those involved so my observations were from a distance as it were but it was a very long time ago and I can't even prove its not all in my imagination, but I don't think so. These were strange times with many people still strong Soviet supporters dismayed at the Cold War but that's another story.
Looking at the refit from my level, it all seemed to go OK. We commissioned and went into fleet service with no major failures that I can recall. I was promoted to be the boats PO Electrician while still in the Dockyard, it was simply my time on the General Service RN promotion list. Normally a PO Electrician would have been drafted in and I would have continued as the LEM. Perhaps, and I do not really know, crew shortages may well have forced the Submarine Drafting Office to take people on submarines temporarily out of action but not out of commission, away to fill gaps on active submarines. Something that did not seem happen later as the total complement grew to meet the need.
We have others in this chapter making statements about the condition of Affray in 1950 that are largely refuted by witnesses at the Inquiry. One is of particular interest, a leaking hydraulic ram in the engine that the Leading Stoker Mechanic Day experienced and thought was the cause of the snort induction valve operating slowly. He may well have been right, but viewed from a simple technical perspective; this is an unlikely scenario with the telemotor (hydraulic) pressure in the order of 1200 to 1500 lbs per square inch. However there may be more to his story than is reported in the book. Of most significance is that he confirms the main induction valve was hydraulically operated in 1950 and hence valves were not a remedial addition after the disaster as stated later Page 178.
Leading Stoker Day's job in the engine room is stated to be raising and lowering the raise, lower, open and close the snort mast's induction tube. This can't be correct, the snort mast or induction tube was raised and lowered from the control room. The hull induction valve was opened and shut in the engine room.
The basics of the career of the 1951 captain, Blackburn are detailed, a decorated WWII skipper with considerable experience in command and as a First Lieutenant. Note I am advised by John Eade, submarine historian and researcher of the times, that Blackburn is listed as a Lieutenant dated 01/07/1943, [promotion to Lieutenant Commander needed 8 years as a Lt]. The author refers to Blackburn throughout the book using both ranks. At that time commanders of Amphion Class submarines were Lieutenants or Lieutenant Commanders.
Captain Coote had this to say in his book 'SUBMARINER', that I must say I thought it was rather unkind and I found most unsatisfactory his not giving the name of the Skipper and his boat, who Coote says refused this exercise, while making a disparaging comment about the deceased Blackburn. Clearly this unnamed officer should have been a principle witness giving evidence to the Board of Inquiry. Why did he not come forward as a matter of duty?
A group photograph of Blackburn as a young Sub Lieutenant on the submarine HMS Safari commanded by the famous Commander Ben Bryant. This impressive group don't look as though they would tolerate someone who wasn't up to scratch fighting a war!
Chapter 15, PERISHER AND THE PERISHER AND FIRST COMMAND
There were only two others on my Submarine Commanding Officers Qualifying Course to give the Perisher its proper title. John Blackburn, who had great potential, was to lose his life in his second command, HMS Affray , which down with her not only her ships' company but an entire training-class of submarine engineer officers, many sons of serving officers. She had just come out of an extended time in dockyard hands when she was abruptly ordered to sea, straight into the potentially dangerous procedure of snorting by night in a main shipping lane. It was not in John's nature to question his orders. No matter what misgivings he may have felt. Another Commanding Officer in a boat in a similar state of readiness flatly refused to sail on the exercise which led to the untimely end of the Affray and her fine company. Significantly no disciplinary action was taken against him, and he was promoted to Commander. Affray lies in 250 feet of water next to the Hurd Deep, fifteen miles north-west of Alderney Harbour.
In this chapter is introduced an issue that in my view is the most significant in regards to the submarines fitness for service, the oil and water mix found in the number No1 battery sump by the EA Duncombe while duty PO. Significant in that we have so little else of substance that might sensibly give a clue as to the cause of the disaster. Indeed it is the only specifically detailed item that indicates something not right.
It should be explained that in commission, in harbour there was a duty watch, with a duty officer and duty PO. An Electricians Mate was always included for charging or even operating the motors while in the trot (group of submarines alongside) if the boat was required to be moved to say allow another submarine to go to sea. This is important in than later in the book the duty LEM also found water in the No 1 battery sump Page 127. It is not clear if they are really the same event misreported. The roster of Chiefs and PO who carried out the duties of PO of the watch included the EA, PO Stoker, and other Chiefs and POs with specific exceptions. At sea the same roster performed the duties of PO of the watch in the Control Room, surfaced or submerged. An important duty.
In the book the problems with the No 1 battery are dealt with in a most unsatisfactory manner with sources largely coming from unqualified ratings not directly involved in the matter. If oil/water was leaking into the sealed tank then this was in my view, a most serious matter with the cause having to be urgently determined and the problem remedied to the satisfaction of the highest level of structural engineering authority, both civil and naval. Only in chapter 26 page 177, does Commander Tall RN, being interviewed by the author, tersely state 'the water/oil issue was sorted out', how did he know? I don't think he was even in the Navy at that time, let alone involved with Affray . Had he seen archived documents not published in the book? He was Director of the RN Submarine Museum.
The No1 Battery Tank, from text in the Submarine Alliance by Lambert and Hill that confirms my experiences of many years ago.
The No 1 battery was in No 1 battery tank beneath the central part of the accommodation space, a clearance of about 10inch being left between the top of the cells and the deck of the accommodation space. Access to the tank was gained through rubber seated screw down battery boards. The tank was lined with Rosbonite to prevent corrosion of the ship's structure by acid. The 112 cells (each about 530 kg) stood on waxed teak gratings to which were secured rubber pads to prevent contact between the cells and the ships structure. The tank floor sloped aft to a sump which could be sighted in the Engineers store.
The battery boards that covered the cells and formed part of the accommodation space deck and were of a fabricated steel design, large, strong and heavy to lift as I well remember. Through them on a periodical basis the specific gravity of each cell could be measured and then topped up with distilled water. Removing a specific cell could require lifting out several others and moving other cells around to bring the faulty cell into a clear opening, though this never happened in my experience. Provisions were made to charge individual cells to bring them up to the overall average state of the battery. In a major refit the batteries were removed and replaced.
Two circular plates about 12 inches in diameter in the passage way, held down by three screws, provided access at the change of every watch to a 'pilot' cell to give an idea of the battery specific gravity, only one was in regular use. It was of course possible that these frequently used cover plates were the source of the ingress of fuel/water but there would surely have been signs on the top of the cell and most certainly this would be the first culprit to spring to mind for examination. It is worth considering that the RN had by this time, about 50 years experience of stowing cells on submarines and the benefit of reports of any shock problems due to depth charging in two wars. As I recall the cells were also wedged individually to keep them in place. The author's reference to ' held in place by asbestos string is a puzzle.
As the construction of the battery tank was rectangular in a circular pressure hull, significant spaces were left at the sides and beneath. The side spaces formed tanks for fresh water and battery distilled water for topping up cells. The space beneath was divided athwart ship to form No 3 (1795 gallons) and No 4 (1948 gallons) internal fuel tanks. The after bulkhead of the battery tank formed part of an accessible Engineers Store where the sight sump was located. Forward, the bulkhead formed part of the No1 (4465 gallons) and No 2 (4465 gallons) Internal fuel tanks divided by a longitudinal bulkhead. Thus the bulk of the battery tank itself was adjacent to fuel and water - logically the source of any fuel and water appearing in the battery tank through cracked or otherwise faulty welding. We have no information as how seriously the welded seams of the battery tank were examined and tested. More importantly were any leaks found and repaired, only second hand lower deck gossip from people with a limited knowledge of the submarines internal structures.
Some two years later the Chief Stoker of the Amphion told me that he never used internal tanks when snorting due the possibility of excessive sea pressure occurring because the fuel tanks were all pressurised by controlled exposure to the sea to compensate in the tank for used fuel with sea water and deliver the fuel to the engine room where any water was separated from the fuel by the De Laval centrifugal separators. He felt the boat only had to lose trim and the sea pressure would become excessive beyond the strength of the fuel tanks with the cells being contaminated with oily seawater if the tanks was more water than fuel, and the consequent risk of chlorine gas that would be picked up by the battery ventilation and out into the boat. The reality is we neither knew how much chlorine gas or its toxicity. But it was a theory that fits Commander Tall's three in a row failure scenario, Page 176. All this was a long time ago and was interesting but not vital knowledge for me as the boat's Electrician, but I think I have it clear what he said about one possible cause of the loss of the Affray. In recent years I have come across U-Boat Command orders banning the use of internal fuel tanks when snorkelling due to risk of over pressurising the tanks.
The chapter continues with the instructions to Blackburn to be ready for sea after a short trial.
My understanding from the time I was in submarines was that it was the First Lieutenant's duty to report to the Captain prior to sailing that the ship was ready for sea in all respects and apparently Foster did not strongly express his serious concerns to his Captain as he had done to wife. Or did he express them and Blackburn was quite happy to have a second in command with such grave misgivings that ignored, suggested the Captain was reckless? It was always my privilege to serve with First Lieutenants who were fine inspiring officers and managed the ship with firmness and confidence. From the ranks of these men came the submarine commanders of the future. Lt W. Kirkwood the Instructor on Affray , our First Lieutenant on Artemis was one such officer.
The chapter concludes with the information that the submarine was officially declared fit for sea and that a reduced crew took her across to Dolphin. This seems rather outside what I believe was the usual custom of the captain and the complete crew joining the boat in the final testing and acceptance days before completion in the Dockyard, however if all the key officers and CPO/POs were present then this would be quite satisfactory. Apparently the First Lieutenant and the Engineering Officer from 1950 stayed with boat through the refit, both experienced officers in submarines and this boat in particular. See Chapter 5. There is no doubt my mind that I knew she did not have a full crew when alongside at Dolphin. I was in Spare Crew having left Artemis at Dolphin 14th April 1951 until drafted to join Truncheon at Rothesay 19th April 1951. I had heard she was going on ship visit to my home town, Manchester and thought about trying for a place on her but the drafting office had me down for, as I say, the Truncheon .
The book states that she did her first sea trial post re-fit, with half a crew on 11th April 1951. The half crew is not as big an issue as has been made out. As I commented earlier a submarine normally operates with a third of the crew on watch and this was just a short day trip. A lot depends on the people, for instance if the EO and the CERA were not present, that would quite surprising but if the half crew had the right mix there should have been no problem. And it cannot be repeated too often, the skipper Blackburn was an experienced submarine commander and perfectly capable of assessing his crew needs for any given situation, else he should not have been in a command position. And what was there to be gained career-wise in taking risks in this situation? And as the book makes clear all that he did was approved by Captain (S/M) at Dolphin and he had a staff who could express concern if they felt strongly enough about the plans for Affray . Not the least Commander (S/M) Stanley. The second in command of the Flotilla, who in the book is only asked technical questions and expressed surprise to the Inquiry about leaving the EA behind but apparently didn't know prior to sailing or chose not to express any concerns to Blackburn or Captain (S/M).
EXERCISE TRAINING SPRING
The author covers the first dive out of refit and the preparations for the fateful exercise. There were two crewing scenarios. The first was the crew assembled for the first test dive that according to the author was much reduced in numbers and had to have Reserve Group crew members added to bring the numbers up to 40 officers and men (crew members apparently taking the nominal Easter Leave Period). As previously stated this crew must have been seen as adequate by the experienced Skipper Blackburn for the test dive and the fact is the trials were carried out to his satisfaction without any problems, indeed the always concerned ERA Bennington reported to his father 'We have done our trials and everything went off pretty well and consequently everyone is pretty pleased'. Apparently the nature of the crew assembly for the trials did not disturb the experienced ERA Bennington who did not hesitate to tell his father about any concerns.
More on Reserve Groups later and in the Appendix
The statement that Leading Seaman Goddard had wired up the hatch containing the yellow indicator buoy should be clarified as this statement seems to imply the hatch was fixed and perhaps could not be released from inside a submerged, but damaged boat as intended. All boats coming out of major refit have a large portion of the crew who have only recently been drafted to join the much smaller number of crew member that stayed with the boat during refit. Certainly the majority of Officers, senior Chiefs and POs would in my experience join the boat as the refit was nearing completion. However this experience was two years after the loss of Affray but regardless the first dive(s) after refit is always going to be with a crew only recently assembled. More on this later.
The second crew scenario and the most critical were those assembled to take the Affray on the fateful exercise. Putting aside the issue of the officer trainees, the exercise would have been a comfortable trip for the captain to try out a boat fresh out of period inactive in dockyard and observe the abilities of the crew and who were all new to him but not on the whole to the First Lieutenant and Engineer Officer. An exercise that by the standards of the time was not onerous and intended to be only from Monday evening to the following Monday morning with an overnight break in Falmouth on the Thursday and at some point land the marines aboard in on some remote English beach.
However I am certainly no expert in the operational policies of the day but at the time one took some interest in what was going on, particularly if it effected the day to day activities of the boat and it does strike me as odd that the Affray was going to snort all night, well according to those who did not go to sea but heard Blackburn's address to the crew. But Captain S/Ms instructions Page 28 leave the method of night passage to Blackburn's judgement so it was his choice. My hazy recollections are that on the big realistic NATO exercises lasting several weeks, we snorted during the day using the periscope, hoping to spot approaching aircraft that had picked up our snort head on radar or visually. At night I understood we were a sitting radar duck and dived out of the way but I realise looking back those were the days when new tactics were being worked out and tried and Captain S/M didn't discuss them with me.
The aims of the Affray on this trip were surely shaped by the artificial need to expose the numerous trainees to all the basic aspects in small groups and not to conduct a 24/7 war operation where everybody is out to get you. I am inclined to agree with Captain Coots (quote attached above) that the busy English Channel was no place for a snorting submarine at night, but perhaps it wasn't as busy in 1951? All night periscope look out would have been very demanding. Collision was one of the very real risks in the peace time submarines, a risk then recently driven home by the 1950 loss of the Truculent. I never ever failed to realise the lookouts had our lives in their hands though I didn't lose any sleep about it. Its like all the other people one has to depend on in life who you don't even know. It is notable that many if not all submarines were later fit with the officially named sturdy Truculent navigation lights at the extreme bow and stern. However as we will later see there was no evidence of a collision involving the Affray. The contentious issue was the taking aboard for the exercise of two classes of officer trainees, with certain crew members left ashore. More on this later.
The author gives what appears to be a copy of Blackburn's orders from Captain (SM) copied and I think retyped from the original orders, the source is not referenced. However the detail makes it clear the Captain was not under any pressure to take any risks and largely had a free hand. The author and others seem to find the carrying and landing of a small party of Marines (Special Boat Squadron people one supposes) most unusual and even sinister. I doubt it; we took a similar party and launched their foldboats to land on the beach in the Scilly Isles. Next day we picked them up and we all enjoyed the Sunday newspapers they brought back with them. Just an exercise unless one wants to indulge in conspiracy theories.
Of more serious concern is the forward torpedo hatch that had to be opened to get the foldboats on the casing ready for the water. This hatch is quite low in the water as can seen on any drawings and is not usually opened at sea, in fact the hatch is clipped and heavy billets of steel put in place to strengthen the gap in the circular hull caused by the angled hatch - see LS Goddard's evidence Page 128. However I'm sure all precautions re' sea condition would be taken as there would not appear to be any urgency also one assumes it was to some degree a self-adjusting situation if the sea conditions were OK for the small foldboats then it was likely safe to open the hatch. We may have even changed the trim to bring the hatch higher, I don't recall, if I ever knew. See a brief reference to the risk Chap 10 Page 82, no further indication is given as to how much weight was given to this risk.
The author reports Marine Sergeant Andrews expressing concerns that the boat leaked like a sieve, how on earth did he know that? ERA Bennington, not an optimist by any means, had just expressed satisfaction with the state of the boat following the only dive prior to the exercise. Bennington sends more depressing reports to his poor father.
Footnote to Chapter 4 commentary.
- Extract from the appendix RESERVE GROUPS. Note the long period between working up the new submarine and the delayed
working up patrol.
- 23rd November 1944 Sidon was completed and commenced trials followed by the start of working
up training at the Holy Loch
- 20th January 1945 Damaged in a submerged collision with HMS/m Turpin. Her stem cutter was
turned to starboard by a length of 4 feet.
- 8th-23rd September 1945 Sidon departed Lerwick to commence her working up patrol. This took place on the west coast of Norway on a known U-boat track.
CLOAK AND DAGGER STUFF
The author makes a number of unsubstantiated statements about the abilities of the crew and apparently knows what they were thinking about. If I am to believe all their concerns, they were very different to the men I served with and this I very much doubt. Jack would grumble about anything, its when he went quiet that you had to get concerned.
We are also told how experienced were the Affray's First Lieutenant and Engineer Officer, both having been attached to Affray for 12 months or more. They stayed with the boat during the refit. Indeed the EO had apparently been with her for 21 months, quite a long time in the submarine service. This experienced and highly trained officer must have been very familiar with any problems his boat may have had and was in a position to clearly state any concerns direct to the captain. Lt Kirkwood, the training officer leading the group of trainee seaman or executive officers is stated to be an 'outstanding officer' and had spent the last year as the Principal Training Officer of Amphion Class submarines. Well he was certainly a competent officer, but he had actually been the First Lieutenant of the Artemis appointed 15/12/1949 and left 10-11-1950 to be the First Lieutenant of Dolphin Spare Crew. I served on Artemis from 21 February 1950 to 19th April 1951.
Kirkwood was a very nice man and he is on our crew photograph taken at Manchester summer 1950. Affray was there as well. I left Dolphin Spare Crew 19th APRIL 1951 go to Truncheon at Rothesay, Scotland. T Class boats continued snorting. The image on the right is fom an original large glossy of mine showing Lt Kirkwood and Signalman Jeffs on Artemis bridge summer of 1950, note the length of the snort mast. It was secured by a yoke about 1 metre below the top of the bridge where the men are standing and broke of just above this point.
The author places great importance on the modern concept of team work etc, but this is a misunderstanding of the way things were in 1951. We were a crew, but very much separated by our fields of expertise. The stokers lived in a world of their own, as did the telegraphists; the electrical people lived in the seaman's mess and answered to the 1st Lt but performed their watch keeping duties in the motor room in the after part of the engine room. It was the stokers who shared their Kai with you in the middle of the night on watch, not the seaman watch keepers in the control room who quite reasonably simply forgot about you way back there. When snorting the various people on watch in the engine room formed a team, indeed the ERA and the Electricians Mate despite a significant difference in rating, had to be always in sync' with their hand signals. And in turn the 'on watch' stokers with the ERA assisted by the leading stoker. (Two engines) formed a team to start and shut down the engines. Yet the Electrician's Mate was effectively alone on watch when submerged on battery, with the ERA and stokers with little to do, spinning yarns at the other end of the engine room.
The art of ASDIC listening was limited to a few and at attack stations a number of people from different specialisations formed the skippers attack team in the Control Room. It is worth stating that in 1951 only fairly recently had the TAS branch been formed and combined the torpedo branch now without its electrical members who had moved into the new Electrical Branch, with the ASDIC people. TAS ratings were seamen with a non-substantive specialisation. Hence I would think it unlikely a TAS seaman with torpedo expertise would able to easily take over from a TAS seaman who had formerly been in the ASDIC branch as for instance a Higher Submarine Detector. Other seamen were radar operators, while all submarines carried a seaman with a gunnery specialisation, a Leading Hand if a 4' gun was carried, Able Seaman if not. The Coxswain (CPO) and Second Coxswain (PO) were again seamen with a specialisation and so it goes. Without knowing the non-substantive ratings of all the seaman ratings it is difficult to assess the expertise aspect of the crew mix, aboard and left ashore.
As already said lookouts and the OOW on the bridge always needed to keep a keen eye on their surroundings for all our sakes, yet at any given time we wouldn't know who was up there. The people in the fore ends and after ends had to work as a disciplined team to safely load the bulky and heavy torpedoes. Yet the cook worked alone as did the Officer's Steward, but if the boat had a gun the cook could be found passing shells up the gun hatch as part of that team. And so it went, a small community but we didn't get any team talks. What held them together was confidence that the Captain and the First Lieutenant more or less knew what they was doing, they didn't have to be a superman, just competent and in turn that we were all doing our varied jobs competently. Nelson said it all in his famous signal before Trafalgar, sent to ships manned by men and boys, even women, many not British, it gave clear message to all and still applies today. Do your individual duty whatever you may be on the ship. In my view that is what the Navy is all about, a sense of ones individual duty at any time in any circumstance. My point is that an individual who had significant submarine experience, quickly fitted into any crew. My transition from a more modern A boat to an older T Class was virtually seamless. And I would say much the same for the other RN submarines of the era, the smaller S class.
However I would point out that some Amphion Class had Vickers engines and others Admiralty engines, of much the same basic design, but different in detail. I would not claim to know how long it took for an ERA to get used to one or the other. But in my experience training like this if required was done, to use a modern term, on the 'buddy' system, with the 'learner' going on watch with the 'teacher' for a period. But this was usually more applicable to people fresh out of submarine training. The engine room crew of the experimental Scotsman had no problem with the different Amphion Class engines as they temporarily took over different A class for a night to recharge their submarine. See anecdote Lt (E) Phil Toms RN (ret). Chief ERA HM/SM Scotsman, 1954.
The book reports the Coxswain marching the crew down to the boat, well may be as it was but I was never marched anywhere, we just made our own way from the shore quarters at Dolphin and the messes on floating depot ships. The point was that different people had to report at different times depending on the work that had to done before sailing. Coxswains I remember were really not marching sort of fellows. Still if that is what people remember, who am I to debate the matter?
The comments about sleeping arrangements of the rates below PO needs clarifying, some slept in the actual stokers and seaman's messes on the cushions of the seats as bunks. Above were fold up tubular steel frame bunks with stretched canvas. Some slept in bunks just outside in the passage, others slept in the fore ends on fold up bunks again made up of tubular frames with stretched canvas. On a T Class 18 bunks were provided like this in the fore ends. They were hinged and swung up during the day if required for working. I can't recall the number in the fore ends of the A Class. I am 6 ft 4ins and always had enough length, but you did have to be young! Some people slept in the after ends but at sea when a little rough, this could be quite uncomfortable with the stern rising and falling with screws racing and the A brackets rattling, but I guess you could get used it as did the stokers on a T Class where all the stokers messed and slept in isolation aft, there were no aft internal torpedo tubes.
The Captain mustering the troops for a chat was something I never experienced, my experience was that the Jimmy (1st Lt) managed the boat in harbour through either the officers or senior NCOs. The Skipper was usually coming down the gang plank with the casing party waiting to pull it in to stow and the bridge crew in place and away we went. Same in reverse when we returned, skipper straight off to report to Captain S/M. You might see the skipper occasionally in harbour rounds once month and if you were in trouble being drunk ashore. He would occasionally come down for a drink in the ward room in the early evening, but really I doubt I spoke two words to Lt Cmdr Crawford (DSC and bar) in the year or more I served on Artemis. However in dodgy situations he would get on the Tannoy (public address) and tell us what was going on. I have no doubt he knew who I was, as he depended on me (and others) to run his motor room properly when he was asleep. It was just an aloof, lonely sort of job. One always knew what was going, somehow. I always peered at the chart as I passed through the control room on my way to go on watch. Later when I was a PO, the skipper during an attack might ask me for the state of the battery, but that was it.
The question raised about the Electrical Artificer being left ashore is a rather a delicate one to respond to having been many years ago, a PO Electrician in the then quite new Electrical Branch, but I must say nice fellows though they were and no doubt highly skilled in my experience were wasted on a submarine of that time. I served on four boats over a six year period and never worked in any technical way with the EA. His main duty was to stop and start the Sperry Gyro Compass before leaving harbour and on return stop it after the EA gyro expert from the depot ship came down the boat to check the compass. I was lectured on Gyro by an EA expert at the electrical school and he told me he hated the smell when he had to go down a boat just back in after a long trip. In theory we were expected to be able to start and set the gyro on any kind of ship ourselves, many small ships with Gyros did not have EAs. Fitting and turning skills were a major part of an EAs training and not so in the general Electrical Branch. But such skills if required could be performed by the ERAs on their lathe in the engine room. However most of the auxiliary machine motors had spare parts and replacement was within the defined skills of the members of the Electrical Branch. In reality most of the electrical duties involved motor room watch keeping and battery maintenance, with routine inspection and cleaning of the numerous auxiliary motors in harbour. Cleanliness of the major switchboards was essential, if for no other reason than to get by Captain's Rounds without a black mark.
To confirm my recollections of my duties I reviewed a copy of letter written for me in late 1954 by my boss the First Lieutenant, Lt Jardine of the Amphion as part of my preparation for my leaving the service in 1955. It shows that I was responsible to him for my duties that he describes quite clearly. The extensive duties of a Chief or PO Electrician on any ship were clearly spelt out in detail in the official document S430 D and the case of a submarine the EA just didn't come into the picture when the power systems and electrical propulsion systems of the boat were concerned. I still have a copy of this document that was first issued when the Electrical Branch was formed about 1947. If any researcher wants to pursue the matter of the EA being left ashore, I would be happy to supply copies of the documents I refer to above.
My recollections in submarines from 1949 to 1955 are that the EA was in the roster of duty PO as mentioned earlier, both at sea and in harbour. The Electrician was free from these general duties. While I am open to be challenged on my recollections as to the status of the EA and the PO Electrician on earlier boats when I was an Electrician's Mate and it was not something of great importance to me, on the Amphion as PO Electrician I have no doubts that the EA was on the control room Roster and I was free of roster duties and able to focus on the management of the ships main electrical system, quite contrary to the evidence given by Commander Stanley Page 124.
A major failure of the Gyro would probably be beyond the facilities available on a boat (not skills) and they were very reliable. If there was a failure there was a magnetic compass system with actual compass on the bridge in a relatively non-magnetic environment with periscope system showing the card at the control helm.
It was then and remains now a mystery to me why we carried these highly skilled tradesmen with the automatic rank of CPO - a complete waste in my experience despite what Commander Stanley has say Page 124. The 'new' surface navy needed people with their skills as new systems and weapons appeared.
The sole purpose of my rather lengthy explanation of the duties of the EA as I saw them at the time is to firmly justify Blackburns's decision to leave the EA ashore for this short trip. It would not create any manning problems except they would be one short on the control room watch PO roster.
To move on, AB Seaman Hickman's statement about the seaman complement remaining the same can shown to be incorrect by comparing the crew lost with a normal Amphion Class crew. From the Affray's crew list it can be seen there only three Able Seamen were aboard while the ships photograph of Artemis with names and ratings shows twelve ABs.
As previously discussed we don't know the various specialisations of the ABs left on board but we have to assume at least one Radar operator but the highly skilled Radio Electrician, a PO and the submarines radar maintainer, was aboard and maybe two ASDIC operators, though while snorting ASDIC was not a lot of value. The leaving behind of the Signalman would not be a big problem especially if a lot of submerged snorting was intended and there was someone capable of reading an Aldis lamp, flags were unlikely to be much of a problem. One of the full complement of Telegraphists carried would obviously know morse code and may also have been able to operate the Aldis Lamp if required. On examining the facts, Hickman's statement is ambiguous and he could have been misunderstood.
To complete the comment on this chapter, Skipper Blackburn may well have shouted diving stations down the bridge voice pipe and the helmsman below would then press the klaxon button adjacent to the wheel or Blackburn could have waited until he had closed the upper hatch and pressed the Klaxon button in the conning tower. The PO of the watch would perhaps repeat Diving Stations over the Tannoy but I don't recall anything other than the loud Klaxon and certainly no passing of the 'word' from compartment to compartment, a study of the layout reveals this makes little sense. In the noisy engine and motor rooms substantial red lights would also flash.
The matter of finding No 1 battery tank sump having water and oil is briefly raised again with the important statement that after the exercise and further exercises in Portland, the Affray would be going back into Portsmouth Dockyard for further maintenance work because of what to me would be a disturbing indication of something wrong. Its difficult to imagine what kind of deferred maintenance could deal with what I believe had to be seen as flaw in the containment of the battery tank surrounded by fuel oil and water tanks unless proven otherwise. On the face of the information given in the book, there was an altogether a rather cavalier approach to the well being of a major item in the submarine. However without the dockyard technical reports we cannot know what those responsible thought or what they found and perhaps needed remedial work.
In a book vigorously investigating the loss of the Affray with suggestions of cover-ups and the like, it is most unfortunate that while the author mentions the No 1 battery problem several times with the implication that this was a serious matter, he fails to take the matter beyond the second hand gossip of people who had no real knowledge of what was thought to be wrong. If there is no archival data he should have said so and asked a present day submarine engineer to have look at the drawings and pass an informed comment as he has done with Commander Tall in a later chapter on other matters.
The only comments I can sensibly make about this chapter are personal. My wife to be was sat in the dentists chair, when the family dentist who had heard the report on the radio asked her tentatively what submarine I was on. She knew I'd been trying to get a berth on Affray but that I was destined for Truncheon. Still she couldn't be sure and was glad to confirm I was not aboard Affray and pier head jumps were part of the risk of being in Spare Crew if someone took ill and the Truncheon would certainly have managed without me for a while. By the time the signal SUBSMASH ONE was sent I was on Truncheon and knew little if anything of the unfolding of events. I have no recollection of any announcements to the crew or anything like that.
I have thought in old age that perhaps there were two generations in RN submarines at that time, the men who had served in the submarine war of WWII where there had been so many losses and younger men who grew up reading of losses all kinds in WWII, many would have lost relatives quite apart from personal Blitz experiences. I think a similar disaster today would have had a much bigger impact. As it was people in the submarine service in 1951 seemed to quickly move on as had been the case a year earlier with Truculent that happened in my second year in submarines. Perhaps an unconscious attitude of acceptance prevailed that most people now bring to the endless reports of appalling car deaths and injury.
The comment that the First Lieutenant of the Affray Derek Foster made to his wife that the boat wasn't seaworthy etc, is repeated in this chapter and continues to bother me. In the three plus years I was married while in submarines neither my wife or I recall my ever expressing any concerns that might worry her, the separations were bad enough for a young woman alone in a flat and later with a baby, but as we used to say 'Up North' in England, 'there's nowt funnier than folks'.
Wednesday 18 April 1951
COMMUNICATION HAS BEEN ESTABLISHED WITH AFFRAY.
Further to the author's personal exchange with friend who was a boy sailor (boy seaman), in this chapter the author tells us that Admiral Raw was directing operations from HMS Dolphin. Otherwise this chapter is entirely given to various aspects of the search and the possible hull tapping signals beyond my knowledge and ability to comment upon.
THE FLAME BURNS LOW.
Similar to the previous chapter with press asking questions to which the Admiralty had no useful answers.
HEARTFELT SYMPATHY, PERSONAL EFFECTS, INVENTIONS AND VISIONARY SUGGESTIONS.
The title pretty well conveys the content of this chapter.
ONE OF THE GREAT UNFATHOMABLE MYSTERIES OF THE PRESENT TIME.
Captain Shelford RN, the salvage expert flown in for Malta is reported in the book to have said to the Admiralty that she could have lost trim almost immediately and sunk to the bottom etc Another of his speculations was that she could have been hit submerged, perhaps snorting at night. Other submerged submarines have been hit with very severe observable damage and survived so it seems unlikely the Affray was hit if the divers saw no obvious damage, of course Shelford could have been referring the snort mast but this also showed no damage indicating a collision. I have a photograph of the Tactician with forward damage by surfacing under a merchant ship, so bad its hard to believe she could have survived, my friend who was aboard that day many years ago tells that it was just luck the pressure hull was not pierced.
The possibility that some mishap occurred when the submarine was practicing embarking her foldboat through the fore hatch and the submarine dived suddenly causing the boat to flood through the conning tower and fore hatches, was also considered.
As I recall there were two men to a foldboat, ergo two boats, the book confirms this and there most certainly was only one angled fore hatch used to get the foldboats on deck, in fact the torpedo loading hatch. It was something of tight fit and the foldboats had to assemble on the casing before launching. Launching from the after torpedo loading hatch would have been possible, its actually not confirmed where the foldboats were stowed and then launched, in our case it was forward. Thus all the obvious culprits were up for consideration before she was found.
The Parliamentary Secretary to the Admiralty, James Callaghan reporting to the House concedes that the numbers aboard exceeded the normal complement by ten. This additional number would make no difference to the possibilities of escape. Well that's true, the chance of escape was minimal for anybody as discussed elsewhere. Sabotage is raised by one of Callaghan's aides without any conclusions, not surprising at this point. More on escape later in the next chapter.
The author devotes several pages to the detail and history of the Trust Fund established for dependents. It does seem to raise questions that should be asked and answered.
Sunday 22 April / Monday 23 April 23 1951.
NO ESCAPE WAS POSSIBLE BY ANY MEANS
This chapter starts by stating that the Admiralty announced on 22 April 1951, that all Amphion Class submarines would be prevented from going to sea until further notice. Pending further investigations. A very surprising statement was included 'Construction of thirty more submarines at Cammell Laird's yard at Birkenhead was also put on hold' This is nonsense; no new RN submarines were on order anywhere. There was only the HTP work at Barrow and the first T Class conversion was just about to start at Chatham. The Admiralty simply didn't have the money for any submarine construction at that time of austerity. All the orders for further Amphion Class were cancelled at war's end. The incomplete hulls of the Achates and Ace were at Devonport Dockyard in 1948, I actually saw them in their rusty state. Later they were used in deep water crush experiments.
There is a long statement about how if the Amphion Class were two thirds flooded they would likely heel over preventing escape. Otherwise a check on the design revealed a satisfactory submarine in all operational circumstances. And I remind readers this was confirmed by another twenty years of satisfactory service in the RN.
The author gives more search detail and concludes the chapter repeating the ban on the Amphion Class leaving port and that Callaghan conveniently avoided mentioning that that it would be impossible to escape at more than 300 feet. This is a rather harsh judgement by the author when it was not known where the submarine lay and why upset the relatives for no purpose. I particularly object to his view that, 'this was too much information for hundreds of submariners about to return to Amphion Class submarines and dive beneath the waves'. Well this young submariner of the time had no illusions about how difficult escape would be from any submarine at any depth and avoided the 1953 100 ft tank as being more of a risk than going to sea in the boats. Most of the time we operated in areas where the ocean depth exceeded the crush depth of the submarine. The Truculent sinking a year earlier brought home to those high and low in submarines that DSEA was not a satisfactory system and plans were afoot in 1951 to bring in thermal suits and new techniques that did not involve the use of oxygen. The loss of the THETIS in 1939 made all the problems well known but not unreasonably put aside in WWII. Even with all the advances of today, escape is a dodgy business and specialised submersibles have been developed that avoid the crew of a sunken submarine being exposed to the difficult pressurised environment of escape through the sea. But still today, if the submarine sinks in deep water there is not hope and the end will be quick.
As was appears was the case with Israeli Dakar, the former HMS Totem and coincidentally commanded by Captain Coote mentioned earlier in the commentary, when she was in the service of the RN. Though the scattered remains of the Dakar were eventually found in very deep water, it really isn't known what happened. It seems clear she was snorting. However a different design to that of the Affray , no others of this T Class were lost and converted or not, served for many years as did the Amphion Class . The French Navy has been unfortunate in losing submarines. In 1952 the French submarine SYBILLE (formerly HMS Sportsman ), simply disappeared 38 miles off Toulon also the Minerve (27-01-68) and the Eurydice (04-03-70) sunk off Cape Camarat for unknown reasons.
THE UGLY DUCKLING.
Some detail of the Memorial Service 2nd May, but mainly about the salvage vessel RECLAIM and the remarkable efforts involved in finally finding the Affray. Also the conflicts with the famous Buster Crabbe. I leave others more knowledgeable to review this aspect of the disaster.
May - June 1951
THE BROKEN SNORT.
More on the RECLAIM and the first deep sea diving down to the Affray. The radar mast is up as is the 'look out' binocular scope. 'The four escape hatches were found shut'. I was left unclear what this meant, there were three dedicated escape hatches, two angled torpedo loading hatches forward and aft, the gun hatch and the conning tower hatch. Were all clearly shut?
Forward planes were at 30 degrees rise and the aft planes at 25 degrees rise. More on this in the Inquiry pages.
The book says 'Affray 's main motor telegraphs on the bridge were photographed at 'STOP' showing someone in the engine room had anticipated a violent impact on the seabed'. This is one of the more disconcerting aspects of the book where ignorance of the procedures has allowed unjustified conclusions and I will comment at length.
The telegraphs on the bridge Port and Starboard are obviously only used when on the surface, particularly when manoeuvring in harbour on electric drive. The whole, entirely mechanical rod and gear system for say the Port side consisted of an order transmitter with substantial handles in the control room by the helmsman, with similar but not identical order transmitters on the open bridge. There was a repeater in the engine room and an identical repeater in the motor room. The orders consisted of STOP, SLOW, HALF and FULL, STANDING CHARGE, with ASTERN on an inner arc (red letters all on a black background), then SLOW, HALF and FULL, IN Engine clutch with AHEAD on an inner arc (white letters on again on a black background). NOTE. I have no recollection of the STANDING CHARGE order ever being used. This was usually a procedure alongside to charge the batteries with the propeller shaft disconnected by means of the tail clutch. I see in an old photograph of what I believe is Amphion, the PORT engine room telegraph simply has blank sector where STANDING CHARGE label had been. Speculating, it may have been a hang over from happier days before the submarines was made vulnerable on the surface by radar and aircraft. For reasons that I can only guess at, provision was made to disconnect the bridge telegraphs by means of pins in the rod drive systems. Whether it was common practice to remove the pins when submerged I don't know.
There was also an electric telegraph for the motor grouping, parallel armatures or series for different speed ranges. As a matter of interest, on the Klaxon sounding, once he had confirmed the engine clutch was out, shown by its mechanical indicator, the Electricians Mate would set the motors at half ahead Group Up without waiting for the telegraphs. This would give a fairly fast initial speed for diving. As I recall, in good conditions we would sometimes dive on the watch (no diving stations, no klaxon, no waking the crew, or the skipper) just the control room using the telegraphs to shut down the engines and start the electric propulsion. If the engines were stopped by the telegraph command, the engine clutch was taken out as a matter of course to allow the motors alone to be used to drive the propellers. There was an electric telegraph between the control room and the engine room for setting engine rpm.
So the mechanical telegraphs on the open bridge shown at STOP could mean nothing if the connecting pins were removed while dived, but if they were in place and if everything was normal in the submerged submarine then a STOP command makes little sense as in my experience rarely if ever, did both motors stop completely when dived else way was lost and depth keeping made very difficult. BUT if something was seriously wrong while snorting, the STOP could have been the initial order to the engines that should have been followed after a slight pause by ordering HALF AHEAD or whatever to the motor room, all in one wrist action. In the engine room once the engines was stopped the ERA would automatically take out the hydraulically controlled engine clutch, thus allowing the Electrician's Mate to set the motors to whatever was now on the telegraphs. One can postulate that the telegraph operator only got to STOP before being unable, for whatever reason, to go to the other two orders that would give ahead way to the boat. It should also be remembered that the watch ERA had the authority to slow or stop one or both engines to keep the vacuum in the submarine within the specified limits. this action was taken as required regardless of the telegraph setting.
Another explanation is that boat was going AHEAD on motors when the trim was lost with a resulting steep bow down angle and then the telegraph action could have been intended to put the boat ASTERN, an action that simply takes way off the boat. Again the intention could have been halted at STOP by some unknown event in the control room. If my recollections are correct, the operating of the both telegraphs was usually done with both hands simultaneously. I have been in this situation with an Amphion Class boat a number of times. On the Amphion we gradually got into so steep an angle the stokers were sliding down the engine room gangway and the Electricians Mates in my charge barely hanging on. I took a decision and told the EMs to put her astern for a short while, hoping for the best in a very white knuckle situation that appeared to be just getting worse and not a lot happening to put it right. The telegraphs never moved from Half Ahead and nothing was said later, if indeed anybody in the control room noticed the rpm counter was in the red for a short period. I have no direct knowledge as to how we got into this situation but planes sticking was later mentioned in the Chief and POs mess. I have since found out my action is a procedure set out in the USN submarine hand book of 1946 for dealing with large bow down angles.
The fact is we simply don't know why the telegraphs on the bridge were at STOP.
Moving on, someone called Marshall Pugh is mentioned on Page 106. He was writing in the Daily Mail (undated but assumed 1951), apparently a close friend of Commander Crabbe who as far as I can see from the book contributed little to the fine work of the people on the RECLAIM. Pugh told the public that senior submarine officers had formed a theory about what happened to the Affray. In public they said nothing. In private their beliefs were never shaken. The core of the theory was the snort cracked and water flooded in the submarine through the intake valve at the base of the mast etc, well elsewhere I describe that the valve was not at the base of the mast though this merely demonstrates ignorance of the layout, not the flooding. What concerns me about these anonymous senior officers is the nature of their description of what might have happened in the submarine. It crosses my mind that these submarine officers with their expert knowledge could have contributed greatly to the Inquiry. They talk about an arduous patrol to come, well that was unlikely considering the stated object was to take it all quite steadily for just 7 days with a night off in Falmouth. We have been through the oft repeated slack picture of a snorting submarine with all off watch crew asleep and dismissed that scenario.
In my opinion they had no right to boost their simplistic theory by suggesting one of the Affray's ERAs who had the critical watch, might well have just wandered forward when the snort mast broke and before the stoker could close it he would be stunned or drowned. Now for the artificer they refer to (the watch ERA) to be forward as these people suggest, he would have had to pass out of the engine room through the water tight door into the passage formed by the toilets and the WT cage then into the control room. I say rubbish, in all the years I kept watch alone in a submarine motor room I never left my post and most certainly would not have done so when snorting. I believe none of the ERAs I worked with would ever leave the engine control platform while watch snorting. The ERAs duty was to watch the vacuum gauge at all times and act on his own initiative to slow or stop the engines if the vacuum started to reach the danger mark. If he did stop the engines he had to get the engine clutches out at once to allow the Electrician's Mate in the motor room to start the electric motors propelling to keep the way on the submarine. NOBODY could afford to away from their position when snorting. In an instant the boat could lose trim and the snort dip under the surface and close, requiring prompt action. Quite apart from the practical difficulties of snorting, the OOW may well have seen a possible collision situation and needed to get down to the usual 90 feet clear of any approaching ship. In Cold War extended exercises in Northern Waters the sighting of an aircraft required instant action to go deep out the way, couldn't wait for ERA to wander back from where ever he has supposed to have been forward away from his post. It never happened as far as I am concerned unless someone can prove it did. I wouldn't have wanted to serve with someone who would leave such a vital post without a proper relief.
The CERA like the Electrician did not usually keep watches and was available 24 hours a day to relieve the watch ERA or the Electrician's if they needed to go the WC and always ready to deal with any technical matters of concern to the watchkeeper. Once more we have the characters of the many fine men in the submarine service of 1951 impugned, and worse by faceless unnamed so-called senior submarine officers. And again the Affray's people are unable to defend themselves at the time because they had died serving their country and we have assume as the author doesn't mention it, nobody spoke up for them including Flag Officer Submarines. Disgraceful!
ENGINEERS EXAMINE THE SNORT MAST
An extract of a report dated 17 July is quoted with some detail based on the metallurgy and welding. In general critical of the quality. According to the author the experts were unable to state if the fracture had been caused by normal service stress or the mast receiving a blow but took the surprising view that was a matter of little consequence. Well I suppose it would have been seen as of consequence to all those who had been snorting in the Amphion Class and continued to do so in other class with a double tube mast not a great deal different in structure even if one tube was used for induction and the other exhaust. Apparently the experts thought the mast would probably not have failed if it had been without the flaws that were found. The obvious question was and is how many other masts were also in this state in service in the submarine fleet and was any action taking to determine this? We are not told until briefly mentioned in the First Lord of the Admiralty's in chapter 19 pages 144 and 145. The House was informed 1st August 1951, apparently in closed session.
THE FIRST SEA LORD AND COMMANDER-IN-CHIEF COLLUDE.
The chapter does need to be read as a whole to see where the author is going with all this.
The setting up of a Board of Inquiry.
This chapter as can seen by its title suggests collusion in high places. Colluding over what and why is not particularly clear. Pre-empting the Board of Inquiry. Mention is made about the need to know if the snort induction is open but the divers were unlikely to be able to determine this, too difficult.
The author tells us Admiralty bosses knew that a battery explosion carried a different set of implications about British submarine design and workmanship failure. Yet the subject does not come again in any detail which is surprising as battery gas explosions were a long accepted risk in diesel-electric submarines and all crew knew not to smoke when the NO SMOKING SIGNS were put up by the electricians when they observed the state of charge was such that the hydrogen /oxygen gas emissions from the cells would increase to a danger level.
Chap 16, Page 118, the accident in 1950 in the Trenchant is mentioned in the Board of Inquiry document. But I presume the author will reasonably say that the Inquiry document was not made public for thirty years. Trenchant suffered a battery gas explosion that apparently severely damaged the accommodations space. We surfaced to go to her aid but we were turned back when other ships reached her first. We heard that the heavy battery boards had been lifted by the explosion and the only person in the accommodation space was the PO Telegraphist excused diving stations as he had probably been awake a long time decoding and coding messages, always a lengthy tiring business. The story went that the battery board came up like a hinged trap door and shielded the POTEL from burns etc. This was a well known accident and it would be surprising if it was not mentioned in the press of 1950. There have been several gas explosions since 1951, but I don't have any details.
The real issue in my opinion of both then and now, what were the effects of snorting on the satisfactory elimination of the gases. One cannot smell the pure gases but the residual products can be smelt and the presence of these made me, in later years as the Electrician, take great care that the battery ventilation was running properly when charging. As batteries have got bigger and snorting extended in modern boats of the sixties, the rules have become much more stringent. However I recall no occasions where we charged to the point where the cells gassed severely when we were at sea. Lengthy overcharging was usually confined to harbour with hatches open and few people in the boat. It is notable that modern USN documents state the gas emission changes with barometric pressure and thus snorting pulling vacuums can increase the gas. More on this in later chapters.
THE BOARD OF INQUIRY INVESTIGATES.
The memo from the C-in-C setting up the Board of Inquiry is reproduced apparently retyped for clarity. To commence at Fort Blockhouse (HMS Dolphin) 1000 on Wednesday the 27th day of June 1951 - etc. The board met privately. The author tells us the now unclassified document can be seen at the TNA Kew was the PRO.
Trenchant battery gas explosion in 1950 is mentioned. Though the question of whether Trenchant came close to being lost and why, is apparently not discussed.
The loss of the USS CONCHINO in 1949 would perhaps be in the minds of RN submarines officers. The only description of this loss I have is in the book BLIND MANS BLUFF that seems to indicate a complex battery failure, not a simple gas explosion. This GUPPY GII conversion that had a different and larger battery set up than the Affray . In poor sea conditions the submarine battery fire became unmanageable and she was abandoned with the only loss of life being one civilian 'spook' and six men from the rescuing submarine. It seems she actually sank due to taking water through the open aft escape hatch.
In an investigative book like this I did wonder why the author did not pursue whether masts on other submarine were tested for stress material fatigue? It would not be difficult to have taken metallurgy samples. Later in the book there is a sentence in the First Lord of the Admiralty's speech to the House indicating further testing on other submarines. page 145.
I ask what did the Board of Inquiry mean by 'The submarine was therefore, not at the maximum state of alertness'? How did they come to this conclusion about a postulated lack of alertness while snorting? It had to be entirely based on supposition and suggests to me they really didn't understand the nature of watch keeping in a snorting submarine. Did they ask anybody?
The Board somehow managed to discern the time of the disaster was somewhere between 0500-0700. The watch would have started at 0400 and we can sure they had not been exposed to lack of sleep having not been very long out of harbour and would have slept until 0400, hardly demanding for all these young fit men. And in my view the 1200 to 0400 watch was always the worst, actually snorting brought a bit of life into an otherwise boring routine submerged on battery or bowling along on the surface with diesel engine pounding away. In my experience it was difficult not to be alert when snorting and the ERA knew his duty was to keep a close watch on the vacuum gauge and act if the gauge reached the danger point, the stokers had to be ready to quickly shut the exhaust valves as the engines slowed down. The Electrician's Mate had to watch for the hand signals from the ERA that he was going to shut down thus the running or floating charge would have be disconnected and when the engine clutches were out, start motoring. Losing the trim and the snort head below the surface was not uncommon even in fair weather and in any significant swell made occasional shut downs likely, nothing to encourage slackness.
Taking another tack, what possible difference could it make if the supposed mast snapping took place when the crew were closed up for diving stations. It all hinged on realising (hearing) the water was flooding through the main induction at a fast rate. Arguably an engine platform crowded with all the engine staff for diving stations would have not been the best circumstances for early detection of the flooding taking place with only a short time to close the hull induction or the emergency flap valve with a quick decision to make. If in doubt about what was happening, the ERAs would fatally await an order from the CERA or the Engineering Officer who quite likely would not be standing in an ideal position to detect and immediately understand the cause of the noise or other evidence of flooding, an incident beyond anybodies previous experience.
The report also stated 'As a result a 14 inch hole was suddenly open direct to the sea, flooding the engine room'. Not quite the gaping hole in the hull implied. The hull induction valve was part of the construction of the original design in the 14 inch trunking from the open induction inlets on the bridge. It was not an additional piece of kit for snorting and was located in the forward part of the engine room where the engine control platform is located. In the snort conversion, between the valve and the root of the snort was the large circular water separator with rather complex 'plumbing'. The snort mast was in fact twin tubes finally brought together as two separate pipes entering the separator under the casing aft of the bridge that has a single outlet pipe along the pressure hull to an external valve that can operated from inside the submarine. The output of this valve goes to the critical induction valve that is the subject of speculation. There is another external valve, again operated from inside the submarine.
These two external valves determine whether the induction air comes from the snort mast or the open bridge induction inlets. I do not know the state of these two valves when the submarine was secured for deep diving, but unless open they would be subject to maximum sea pressure if the short section of pipe to the hull induction valve was not flooded. The obvious thing would be to open both of these valves and flood the system up the hull induction valve. All this kit is hidden within the casing and I would imagine that even today getting some sort of X-ray or Ultrasound machines inside the casing to check if the valve is open would at this depth, be quite difficult and most likely involve first removing a portion of the casing (upper deck). This is not to diminish the seriousness of the sudden snapping off of the mast but I do wonder if the flow calculation took into account the restriction of the 'plumbing' and what depth was assumed and therefore the pressure.
Further to the crew alertness in the engine room mentioned in the report, did the Inquiry consider the Amphion Class as designed without snort? The drawings show the 14 inch piping from the two always (no valves) open induction intakes on the inside port and starboard of the bridge and joined together in a 14 inch trunking from the bridge, then going to the hull induction valve through to the engine room. These submarines were built for fast surface speeds to transit the wide Pacific, indeed one of the shortcomings of the WWII T Class was the lack of surface speed to catch up with targets, one not shared by the 20 knots USN Fleet Submarines who would go round a convoy to get ahead to then dive and be ready in a good position to attack.
The Amphion Class was originally trialled at 18.5 knots on the surface. The expectation of the captain while transiting at high speed, would one be supposes, on the sighting of an enemy aircraft or ship, to get as deep possible as quickly as possible. I never timed our diving on the klaxon, I was either too busy getting to my diving station from forward to aft through the crowded control room or alone on watch responding to the klaxon waiting for the ERA to stop the engines and take out the clutches to allow me to set up half ahead group up (as described elsewhere re telegraphs). The busy ERA would I suppose, have get the induction hull valve closed as soon as the engines stopped before the submarine still with good way on her, flooding the ballast tanks with planes to dive, quickly went below the surface to the point where the bridge induction inlets were flooded. Looking at some data for other RN submarines I estimate the Amphion Class at speed, on the Klaxon, with the Quick Diving tank flooded could get to periscope depth in 60 second. The ERA and his stokers might have 30 seconds from the klaxon before the bridge induction inlets got below the surface and getting deeper as the upper part of the bridge and the high periscope standards finally submerge. It is useful to count out seconds when considering how long it takes to do things, 10 seconds is long time in some circumstances. I have been advised that WWII submarines, including U-Boats were often on the surface hull down, that is with ballast partially flooded, ready for a quick dive in 30 seconds.
Contrast this to normal snorting where there was a warning vacuum sensation in the ears, the big vacuum gauge and an automatic snort head valve shut to normally give him time to get the hull valve shut if going deep. And snorting, the engines would be relatively slow with no super chargers engaged. My point is the alertness required was fundamental to the design and operation of the Amphion Class submarines as designed in WWII without snort. And the Board should have recognised this, not allowed vague suggestions of engine room staff slackness without any justification. And the suggestion of lack of alertness had to apply to every submarine in the Fleet as there was nothing to suggest engine room staff slackness was peculiar to the Affray.
If the Board of Inquiry's report was seriously accepted by the Admirably then they could not in all conscience have allowed the submarine fleet to carry on snorting in the same old way far into future, even with strengthened masts, a repeat of the reports assumptions about the Affray could easily have happened in the future by the snort head or mast hitting a submerged log or similar object. Unless they really didn't believe the proposed disaster scenario.
I think the book overlooks that we were in engaged in the Cold War and the Amphion Class were the front line boats, until the first T Class conversions slowly appeared, then in 1958 the Porpoise Class , into the sixties followed by the Oberon Class. The one significant change in the new or converted submarines was that the length of the unsupported snort mast was reduced by being telescopic supported by a high fin. As previously stated, only in 1968 were major changes made to the whole system and were applied to two RCN Oberon Class .
The fin was a natural progression in submarine design but it is worth noting that the basic USN snorkel conversion included installing a sail or fin following the lead of the innovative German WWII Type 21 Electro Boat, thus the USN never went through a phase of using a derivation of the basic U-Boat folding snort mast as did the RN. But this is not to criticise the RN, simply different submarines and that the GUPPY program was producing a sail (fin) design that would fit any of the many Fleet Submarines that were available for various types of conversion.
Also about 1958 a programme commenced to convert the Amphion Class to have a telescopic mast with high fin. The plumbing was simplified by removing the old bridge induction inlets and the associated bridge/snort induction selection valves. The snort mast used on the surface or snorting. The circular water separator was replaced by an in-line helix dryer. All this about seven years after the disaster and then part of a streamline programme for the Amphion Class giving them a long service life.
This chapter needs to be read in full to get some understanding of the Inquiry proceedings. Serious students would need to get a copy of the original full report.
THE BOARD CALLS WITNESSES.
Largely witness's Testimony and needs to be read in full.
Commander (S/M) Stanley HMS Dolphin Page 124 goes into the leaving of the EA ashore that I have discussed in much detail earlier but it is worth stating again that the Commander's statement is at odds with my personal experience at the time performing electrical work on four submarines over six years. Two A class. Two older T Class. In that time I have no recollection of any contact with the depot ship electrical repair section let alone any call upon their services. I would suggest a submarine would have to suffer a major incident, say an electrical fire damaging a switch board before needing depot ship electrical repair services. We were perhaps just lucky and didn't have to call on this back-up service.
A point of interest is Leading Seaman Goddard's comment Page 127 about the Leading Electricians Mate Wood telling him he (Wood) had found water in the No 1 battery sump and there was possibility of the refit being extended. On Page 24, EA Duncombe reported on the 6th of April to the 1st Lt of finding a mix of water and oil in the sump, he kept the waste used to mop up the mix to show the Engineer Officer the next morning. Wood's find is not dated but if these two incidents were separated by some days and each time the sump was dried out then the possibility of more leaking, was in my view, very serious and without some explanation there seems to have been casual attitude towards this problem by all responsible. Goddard further states that the Captain Blackburn told the assembled crew, without explanation, they might be going back into the dockyard after the exercise, no firm reason is given. Goddard confirmed to the Inquiry that the battery sump oil was the only problem of he which was aware.
There is a serious error on Page 130 Reginald Clarke was the Engineer Officer of Artemis for all the time I was aboard 1950 - 1951, not the Captain. The extracts of his testimony about the water in the air coming down the induction mast are interesting. This would be when the snort head valve was clear and open. Far from me to suggest this highly qualified and experienced officer was wrong in anyway but I do draw attention to the substantial circular water trap that was fitted in the casing, in the induction line for extracting spray drawn in with the air. Some years later this was replaced with a helical dryer. Any water in the separator that was in the main induction line coming down from the snort head above the surface, was drained by a substantial pipe into the control room Tundish and could seen in a sight glass before being drained into R tank. Similarly, into the same Tundish was a drain from the induction valve in the engine room with its own sighting glass in the control room.
Obviously Clarke is saying that the separator was not always completely effective. He also talks about a stern down angle and bilge water accumulating in the aft of the engine room causing a stern down angle. However the amount of water per second could hardly be very high else there would be no air passage in the induction system and a dangerous vacuum drawn in the submarine. This situation would apply to all Amphion Class.
As I clearly recall the only time we had a severe stern down angle with water accumulating at on end one Artemis was in 1950. There was a modest depth of water in the long bilge of the Amphion Class Engine Room and it only needed a stern angle to get quite a lot of water at one end, a consequence I would say of bad depth keeping rather than the cause. But that's just my uneducated view as a young Electrician's Mate. Why it had been allowed to accumulate I have no idea, but the ballast pump was there to pump out at any depth. With a significant stern down angle there was enough water to just submerge the low lying steering motor and the Reducer (a special MG set), water that had accumulated in the after auxiliary space low down between the shafts. Once the salt bilge water was clear we (the electrical staff) hurriedly flooded the machines with distilled water and CTC such that we were badly affected by the fumes in the confined space and as we had surfaced were taken up the conning tower for some fresh air. There was not really a lot of water, well below the hatch from the motor room to the lower space with no risk of flooding the main motors above shaft level. But it didn't take a very large amount of water aft to affect the trim.
The engine room was a long compartment with no dwarf bulkheads to stop the bilge water swilling about, but is full of machinery including the two large engines that looking at the drawings today I would have thought would restrict the swishing from one side of the boat to another as Engineer Officer Clark states. On occasions, I spent time down there checking and cleaning the commutators and carbon brushes of the three main engine water circulating pumps. But memory of detail is hazy, it was along time ago and I wasn't surveying the bilge construction, just wriggling round the obstacles to get at the pump motors. A study of drawings would be more rewarding for those interested in what really is not major issue as I see it.
It must surely have been a situation anticipated by the designers and if not, reported to them as unsatisfactory by the submarine engineering officer's experiencing these problems at sea. I note that in the late fifties Amphion Class streamline conversions, the No 5 fuel oil tank forward in the engine room has been divided into two with fore and aft parts. With the aft part still No 5 fuel tank (reduced in size) and the fore part divided longitudinally with one half described as the SNORT DRAIN TANK and the other as OILY BILGE TANK.
Stating the obvious, the ingress and accumulation of sea water as part of the induction of engine air would be progressive not instantaneous and anticipated by the snort system designers by their including a water separator and substantial drain into R tank under the control room.. I guess this dissatisfaction with this whole system may be one of the reasons the RCN later in 1968, brought the main induction into the control room straight into collecting tank and into the R trimming tank amidships, less of a trim problem.
We also took in a lot of water down the conning tower hatch when on the surface in bad weather that had to be contained in a large canvas (say 10x12x2 feet) birdbath that was pumped out to 'somewhere' using the main ballast pump line that ran the length of the boat. See page 132 and former captain Lt Temple-Richards evidence
Page 134 In evidence given by Lt Robert Camplin of HMS Acheron he told the Board about the consequences if a battery explosion occurred. In the brief extract it is a little hazy what he means as the system was arranged to be split so that power can be taken from the battery not affected by the explosion. The emergency electrical system was quite comprehensive and Lt Camplin's very bleak view does not fit with system as I recall and is detailed in the Alliance book.
Captain S/M Browne comments on Page 136 confirm without doubt that the submarine was not considered fully operational in a manning sense, but justifies the decision to proceed on this exercise, my view is that I would likely have joined her from spare crew and would have found the situation quite safe, especially as my former Artemis First Lieutenant, Kirkwood was aboard. The question of crowding depends particularly how the trainees were to be organised in groups for experience. However had I known that fuel oil and water had been found on two occasions in the No1 Battery tank with no apparent cause I might have had second thoughts. Difficult to gauge in retrospect as an old man with a life time of engineering and management experience.
The closing paragraph states Admiral Power's conviction that the broken snort mast, based on probability, was the most likely cause of the accident. As I stated earlier, simply as member of the public, I am not at all sure that the balance of probability is strong enough to come to this conclusion, unless other masts were tested and a major fleet modification programme commenced or the method of operation was changed and in my experience at the time, the latter certainly didn't happen and the former was not apparent though I cannot say that some alterations were or were not made to the Amphion during refit in 1953 but visually the mast of the Amphion in 1953 looked the same as that of the Artemis in 1950. The author belatedly introduces this point without comment on Page 144 simply as a sentence in the extract of the First Lord of the Admiralty's speech to Parliament 14 November 1951. What was in the Inquiry Report on this subject is not known.
However reading the Admiral's comments from a realistic political point of view, leaves one with the impression this was making the best of a bad job in terms of issuing a report to the Nation and the Admiralty of some sort after an unsatisfactory Board of Inquiry where so little positive evidence as to the cause of the disaster was presented and somehow they had to move on and get the submarines back to sea, where they did perform well into the seventies.
WE DO NOT CONCUR AND QUESTION OF SALVAGE OR SCRAP.
This chapter is really in two parts, first comments from three senior people in the Navy, the most significant being from the Director Of Naval Construction. His department were presumably the principle designers as the submarines were built in various yards to a common design. Lacking any other information we must assume that the post construction design of the snort conversion must have been specified if not completely designed by the DNC. He offers no useful suggestions other than he does not agree with the Boards conclusions. Why was this most important man in RN ship construction not called to give evidence to the Inquiry? More comment from me on this aspect of the Inquiry in Chapter 19
The Legal man's talk about a battery explosion is far too strong when there was no evidence presented that a battery explosion could breach the hull. It surely was possible for experts to calculate the worst case explosive force and circumstances that might breach the hull. It is hard for me to consider a battery explosion that would be of sufficient force to kill all aboard without breaching the hull. Consider the large volume of the pressure hull. While subsequent submarine battery explosions have killed crew, no submarines have had their pressure hulls breached and sunk.
Like all the others he is quick to suggest failure of the Engine Room crew to react properly without having a shred of evidence to support this accusation.
G. F. Maunsell (Director of Torpedo, Anti-Submarine and Mine Warfare) who does not disclose his experience in submarines and snorting in particular accuses Blackburn of dishonesty in believing the trial dive out of the dockyard was sufficient to prove the boat was in good shape. I have suggested that this was not a first dive of a completely re-fitted boat but one merely to catch a trim in a submarine that had been in the dockyard for several repairs that did not involve the integrity of the hull or the main operating systems. Maunsell does not come over well in Chap 25 according to the author he was involved in some kind off dispute about the credit for finding Affray.
Again like everybody else he assumes that half crew is a serious deficit without knowing if the key people were there and all the right places were manned by people who knew what they were doing. He considered the volume of evidence is against the broken snort being the cause of the problem. But where was the volume of evidence, all that was evident was the broken snort mast that clearly had snapped off but with no sign of external damage with an adverse metallurgical report and that's it. See page 170 for more about Maunsell and a fellow called Foster-Browne.
Then we have the politicians and the possibilities of salvage. Also relatives wanting salvage.
NO MARK UPON THEIR COMMON GRAVE
Some discussion about the underwater camera and Marconi. More politics and salvage.
One interesting sentence is part of a longish speech to the House by the First Lord of the Admiralty. 'It is possible that a major battery explosion started a shock wave in her hull and this ruptured her pressure trunking which lies amidships under the casing. Damage of this type could have resulted in the submarine sinking on an even keel. Such an explosion could have started a crack in the snort, which might have then snapped off as she grounded'. More on this to follow.
He goes on to tell us (this for the first time in the book) that the metallurgical condition of some parts of Affray's snort and those of two her sister ships was below standard and that some of the welding was not good. Tests just completed indicate that they were well capable of standing up to all stresses other than those associated with explosive shock. A modified form of snort has successfully passed its tests and is being fitted to A class submarines. 'Explosive shock' and its practical consequences to the structure of the mast are not defined. Certainly to the layman the salvaged mast showed no obvious signs of bursting damage. This is as good a point as any to mention the excellent photographs inserted in this chapter. The close look at the break in the mast does not suggest to a layman that the mast broke like this because of an internal excess pressure generated by a battery gas explosion. One would intuitively expect an explosion to cause a severe longitudinal fracture, a serious swollen crack using everyday terms.
Another factor to be considered if high pressure is postulated to have appeared inside the extended mast from within the pressure hull, the snort head valve that in the proposed explosion scenario assumes the submarine was submerged below periscope depth sufficient to close the snort head valve. A look at the drawings shows a double seat valve designed to withstand moderate submerged external sea pressure when closed, but not a high pressure from within the mast. On the face of it, the double faced valve (rather like a vertical spool) would simply lift with any internal pressure breaking the simple lever to the external float. It is reasonable to assume the actual mast was designed to cope with considerable external pressure exerted on this long, largely unsecured mast by moving through the sea when the submarines was making significant forward way snorting in perhaps heavy swells That is a laymans observation but was it even considered by the experts or did they simply know the explosive force generated by a battery gas explosion within the submarine were never going to be sufficient to cause this sort of damage when originating in the large volume of the internal pressure hull of the submarine and in any case the head valve would lift releasing the pressure. I suggest readers note these comments when reading Lt (E) ret. Draper's theory on Page 178.
The First Sea Lord goes on further to discuss an automatic shut off valve, but talks about a false sense of security and 'it had been generally preferred to rely on a correct drill to meet the situations'. This drill is interesting, what drill? The induction snort mast starts flooding due a broken mast of a jammed valve with the boat losing trim (iced head?) all you can do is shut off the snort induction valves and blow all the ballast tanks ASAP. The former is obviously the first line of defence. There had already been contrary evidence given Page 130 by two experienced ERAs to whether the watch ERA or his watch Leading Stoker would hear the water flooding down the pipe into the bilge. We know the engines would pulling a vacuum and the ERA would watch the vacuum gauge and feeling it in his ears, but would he realise the water was flooding in? If he did the only drill was to close the emergency flap valve and close the hydraulically operated induction valve.
One simple device to enable early flooding determination was apparently not fitted until the RCN Oberon Class of 1968, a simple flooding indicator pipe tapped into the main induction with an open end into a tundish placed in a clearly observable position. Why such simple indicators were not discussed at the time is not explained.
The RCN also had fitted to some or all of their Oberon Class by at least 1968, the facility in the control room to remotely close the hydraulically operated hull induction located the engine room. The snort drain sight glasses were fitted in the RN submarine control rooms and had been since well before the Affray 's loss and would have shown that the snort mast was flooded, but that really wouldn't have helped as only the engine room people were on the spot to shut the valve.
The designers of the snort system must have given some thought to the snort mast being badly damaged by collision with a heavy object in the sea even ice. Surely they looked at all the possible scenarios, did anyone ask the critical DNC Page 139 if his staff had considered all the risk scenarios involved in snorting before completing the design of the conversion kit? His staff might, well have considered the welding of the vulnerable snort mast to have been on par with the pressure hull welds and X-Rayed them. Apparently not, its all the fault of the dead ERA of the watch!
However back to the quoted paragraph of the First Sea Lords statement on the pressure trunking, now this is an interesting topic not expanded in the book. A class submarines had a large high pressure pipe in the casing, it must have had the same pressure rating as the hull as it was exposed to the full sea pressure. It pierced the pressure hull with a valve via an internal fan to No 1 battery tank and again with another valve via an internal fan to the No 2 battery tank. For harbour battery charging it terminated in a high pressure valve in the bridge structure that opened to atmosphere. For charging at sea there was a hull valve to an open end in the engine room. Each battery tank had two internal air inlets set quite high above the deck.
To recap, in harbour the fans drew air into the respective tanks through the piping system to the outlet in the bridge in harbour or at sea to the engine room outlet, snorting or on the surface. It is clear when the battery ventilation system is opened up at sea while submerged snorting, if the external pipe is damaged it would have allowed in sea water through the open hull. valves, flooding the battery tanks and flowing through the open end into the engine room. Chlorine gas will be generated in the battery tanks as the sea water mixes with the acid and will find its way out of the open air inlets located aft near the galley and forward in the accommodation space.
Only the cell manufacturers and submarine designers can know if a battery gas explosion within the large pressure hull could develop sufficient pressure enough to burst the external large ventilation pipe that will actually have a moderate opposing sea pressure at snorting depth on the outside of the pipe. I don't know. Whether or not it was damaged through some external agency was not obvious to the divers from RECLAIM in 1951. The same battery ventilation system was used in the 1958 new Porpoise and the later Oberon class. Apparently the designers at the Royal Navy's Directorate of Naval Construction did not think there was problem with this system. However about 1968 along with other significant snort alterations, all the battery ventilation piping was brought inside the pressure hull in two RCN Oberon Class and perhaps one or two later RN boats.
The Director had a great deal to say for himself following the Inquiry page 139. I repeat what I said earlier, why was he not called to give evidence at the inquiry about the whole design of the snort system and battery ventilation? He was the man responsible for all naval ship design. One has to wonder if the RCN suffered a dangerous but not disastrous flooding of the induction pipe in an earlier 'O' that brought about these extensive changes in 1968.
More talk in this chapter about the difficulty of salvage.
The TIMES published a Leader comment that best sums up the situation and I suggest a read. The view is an undetermined catastrophe, but internal in origin, exactly where it stands today.
More on RECLAIM and trying to determine if the Snort hull Induction valve was open using X Ray, they were not successful.
More about dissatisfied relatives wanting to visit the site. It crossed my mind there are many WWII wrecks around the UK with loved ones and few if any visit them. But the Admiralty could have been more helpful, but perhaps just the culture of the times, with the huge losses not that long ago in WWII, I think 150,000 in the RN killed still blunting people's minds.
SHOULD I BE IN HIS SHOES, I SHOULD ASK FOR A COURT MARTIAL
Apportioning blame has become a modern a well developed practice in all fields of endeavour such that the complex causes that lead to accidents are lost in finding a scapegoat(s) to feed to the media, rather than seeking remedies that will prevent a repetition. The author thinks it strange by November 1951 that no one was demanding the heads of the culprits be brought before them on a platter. And here I think is the theme of the book; seek out the culprits of 1951 now in 2007.
The author states that James Thomas's Parliamentary statement (presumably that in part on Page 144) had managed to destroy the confidence of ordinary submariners had in their submarines. Now they don't come more ordinary than me and I never gave the AFRRAY incident another thought once I joined Truncheon in Scotland. Not until the subject came up in a chat with our Chief Stoker when I was the Electrician of the Amphion about 1954. And I am not the stoic type and I have a healthy sense of fear, as and when required by the vagaries of life. Actually the Electric Power & Gas Industry where I found a new civilian career was often more obviously dodgy than submarines on most days. And talking to my wife who I married in December 1951 currently reading the paper sitting next to me as I type this, she recalls no more concern than she already had about the whole business. We were courting when I was in boats and the Truculent went down. My absences were of more concern to her at that time than the thought of some disaster happening. No doubt as it always has been so for sailors wives else they would live a life of constant fear.
Crews sitting on volcanoes, now there a dramatic statement that I doubt ever came into the thoughts of any crew I served with but as later events were to show there was reason for official concern. The number of battery explosions seems to have increased, though after I had left the service. I believe my old boat the Artemis suffered one. The interview with Commander Tall page 176 confirms increasing cases of battery explosion without giving a satisfactory reason. Its difficult to know why the increase, as not a lot changed in the A boats, but I can't comment further through lack of detail. However I can only repeat, no submarine came close to being sunk due to a battery gas explosion though sadly lives were lost. I do know carrying out maintenance overcharging at sea was being phased out from comments in the Electrical Manual of the Converted T Class fitted with an extra battery with all cells increased in capacity; BR 1965 dated 1953.
On Page 150, we have the Navy's Head of Military Branch putting in his two pennyworth, never heard of this position or his qualifications to make such judgments. He goes on the make statement about a layman's view, well I have endeavoured to explain that perhaps the layman's view is not always the correct one. The simple process of counting heads in determining the effective crewing was totally wrong and showed most of these self-appointed critics had no knowledge of the subject they were writing about. If I was capable of being appalled by anything a civil servant or politician said, I would be about the fellows quoted in this chapter.
If the navy had enough to justify a court martial for Captain Browne they would have gone ahead. Court martial after a loss of or damage to a ship was hardly a rarity in the RN. But how embarrassing if all the facts had been laid out by a competent defence in a public court. Including the perilous state of funding to the fleet and pressures to bring the submarine force into full force for the Cold War.
I recently had the dreadful case of HMS OSWALD in WWII brought to my attention that serious readers might like to review in connection with the blame actually and tacitly heaped on Blackburn. As far as I can see everybody and his mate in the Admiralty was distributing written opinions with no technical evidence to back them up, quite amazing!
The letter to Browne is humbug and clearly came after all the pressure within the Admiralty by those who knew little of the submarine realities. I suspect that if the letter to Browne had been made public at the time, he would have insisted on a court martial and would in my humble opinion have been found not guilty in terms of the loss of the submarine. However I don't think anybody in the higher echelons of the Royal Navy was going to forgive him for losing so many promising young officers, some from naval families. That was why he was secretly and officially criticised, not for losing a submarine and its crew. The loss of the Truculent the previous year was accepted with far less fuss The loss of he Affray and its possible causes were not the crime, putting all the eggs in one basket was.
Note From 'A Submariner's Story by Joel. C. E. Blamey' 1953 AMBUSH Lt Cmdr Geoff Bourne. Blamey as Instructor Engineer Officer took a full class of twelve trainees. 'The submarine COs were always very co-operative and happy to carry out any special exercises considered beneficial to trainees'.
A ROLL OF HONOUR.
The role of the crew of the RECLAIM salvage vessel are quite properly recognised for their efforts. Something about Commander Crabbe and his subsequent fate that had nothing to do with submarines.
WE WERE NOT FIT TO GO TO SEA
More about ERA Benington and his father.
Readers must evaluate for themselves what Gerald Smart has to say about his earlier time in Affray , 1948. His particular expertise is not stated. Neither are we told what his rating was at the time he served on Affray . We are told he was a CPO at the time he was invalided out of the RN. But the sticking of the starboard vent is worth a comment, note these vents are amidships. We had a mishap when for some inexplicable reason the reliable AB responsible for removing the locking pin and reporting to the control room at large the state of the vents, failed to remove one of the locking pins. We dived with an obvious list to starboard, this was the first dive out of harbour. When in harbour all the vents were pinned shut. Not a dangerous situation in calm weather, but if a vent stuck in a heavy sea I would guess it would not be an ideal situation. I am surprised that a single stuck amidships starboard vent on an A class resulted in a 'plunging' towards the bottom but I was not a diving officer.
The captain calling the petty officers together and asking them what was wrong with crew is something quite outside my experience but I suppose these strange things did happen. Shades of Mutiny on the Bounty. However this event took place in the previous year and would seem to have no relevance to the disaster to come when Blackburn was in charge.
IT HAPPENED SUDDENLY AND NONE OF US EXPECTED IT.
A ghost story.
WHO HAD THE RIGHT TO SEND MY FATHER TO SEA IN A DEATH SHIP?
Family and similar matters.
TAKING CREDIT AND CONSPIRACY.
Tales of knowing where the Affray lay before being found. Read carefully and note that this Captain Maunsell is the same person on Page 139 with strong opinions contrary to the findings of the Inquiry and effectively accuses Blackburn of being dishonest. His comments stated on Page 170 in this chapter do not enable one to give particular credit to his views stated on Page 139. All this is in connection with an Admiral Foster-Browne who seemed more concerned with getting disputed credit for finding Affray than what happened to her crew. Another tale appears about Captain Shelford that does little to warm my heart.
The RNSM organises a memorial service. On the same day the TIMES has the headline 'Survivor Says Navy Hushed Up Sub disaster'. To be precise, the fellow interviewed was not a survivor, he just didn't go on this trip. Lt Goddard, the man interviewed by the press, 17th April 2001, was one of the crew left behind and at that time was a Leading Seaman and pops up in the book on several pages. On Page 173 we find his earlier evidence to the Inquiry, Page127 being repeated, that something was wrong with the No 1 battery tank. He seems to have an issue about his archived evidence. He quite properly draws attention to statements in the House at the time that have already being published earlier in the book and remains convinced the disaster was caused by an explosion, battery or one of cause unstated.
The author makes bold statements and draws conclusions that impugn the reputations of men long gone but nothing new is added. Much is made of the evidence of crew members who had served on Affray, giving them qualities and range of knowledge no crewman of the same time that I knew would be likely to claim but there you are. The author continuing his bold line states the broken snort was a red herring, a convenient cover for the Admiralty, suggesting at least to me as a reader, that the Admiralty knew something that had has not ever been revealed.
He concluded it's time to consult the experts!
WHAT HAPPENED TO THE Affray? A PROFESSIONAL PERSPECTIVE.
Commander Jeff Tall, OBE, MNI. RN is consulted. I am not sure snorting in my time it was quite as debilitating as he describes, but he was in later diesel boats when they were frequently making transits to 'Northern Waters' without surfacing there or back. Also as I have already stated, snorting at night must been hard work in the Control room. I have read that the Israeli Dakar that was lost, had two officers in the control room when snorting, presumably one for the trim, the other on the periscope.
He states, although a sign of poor maintenance, the water/oil issue was sorted out before she sailed. Unless I missed something, nowhere in the book did I see anything that told the reader that the dockyard or the boats engineering staff had determined precisely why the battery tank had oil and or water in the sump, possibly on two separate occasions, that is not all clear lacking a date for one of the inspections.
I cannot see how poor maintenance could be attributed to the detection of the oil/water. To the contrary the inspection of the sump that involved climbing down into a confined machinery space indicated to me a good standard of inspection maintenance. Did Commander Tall, with access to the RNSM archives know something the author didn't? I have already discussed at length in notes to earlier chapters that I feel that unless there was firm evidence of significant seepage through the seals of the battery covers that formed part of the deck in the accommodation space, then the sump samples indicated some fault with the tank itself and had to be determined and rectified to the satisfaction of the senior officers who would declare the submarine seaworthy.
In his final answer Commander Tall dismisses any suggestion of a conspiracy theory in regard to the stated purpose of the exercise. He also casts doubt on the Affray would be carrying out a gassing charge so soon after leaving harbour, an important point if a battery gas explosion is to be considered.
Former Leading Electrician's Mate Mike Draper, later an Engineering Lieutenant retiring in 1990 puts forward a theory. At the time he would be in much the same position on AUROCHS that I was on Artemis, just a few months senior I think. A small aside, he says his friend on AUROCHS, was John Denny, the PO Electrician lost on the Affray . Another senior crew member with Amphion Class experience. The fact that he was Acting Electrician means nothing as it took two years to be confirmed but the full duties of a Petty Officer in the RN expected to be carried in all circumstances, else how could they judge one's performance? I was indeed Acting Electrician on the Amphion and in a young man's game, was an experienced submarine electrical NCO.
I think he is stretching a long bow with his scenario. He says the Affray batteries were due for a long equalising charge. Its a long time ago but I have checked the Porpoise handbook and this charge continued for up to 7 hours, well beyond the normal point when the battery was determined as being charged. I think ideally on monthly basis if the operations allowed it. Certainly the charge continued for several hours in the gassing part of the charging cycle, to get rid of sulphate in the cell plates and as the name suggests brings all 112 cells in each battery up the same voltage and specific gravity. Frequent SG samples were taken. It is recommended that the battery ventilation system is left running for at least one hour after the charge was completed. In Draper's scenario this was many hours before the boat actually sailed. He suggests the long charge was carried out over the weekend prior to the exercise and therefore would likely have been finished no later than Sunday, in fact possibly late Saturday evening. The emission of the potentially dangerous hydrogen from the battery ceases fairly quickly after the charging current is removed and the start to dissipate through the fan driven battery ventilation system through the outlet on the side of the conning tower, also hatches would be open, certainly the fore hatch. The Affray did not sail until 1600 on the Monday; any gases would be long gone. She would then make passage on the surface on the diesel engines pulling some induction air down the conning tower hatch through into engine room. The passage would at least two hours and as the patrol was stated to start at 1800, it would be four hours with no doubt bridge and engine instruction for the trainees. A running charge would be put on to carry the auxiliary load and perhaps a small charge into the battery to compensate for the modest amount of power used to supply the electric motors while manoeuvring the boat away from Dolphin into the main harbour.
Battery ventilation would in this case be running until the submarine dived sometime after 1800. The theory suggests Affray was snorting in the early hours of Tuesday morning, when the disaster occurred caused, according to Draper, by the back fire of the engine igniting the lingering hydrogen gas. I dispute his scenario as there would have had to been of a significant level of gas (as I recall 3% by volume.) to cause an explosion and was clearly not the case if the equalising charge was carried out in harbour, the most likely place if one was carried out and having being the dockyard so long, a sensible battery maintenance action.
He states the induction hull valve was wheel operated, as I recall it was hydraulically operated and so the Alliance book shows it to be but Draper tells us this was a post disaster modification. But on Pages 21/22 Leading Stoker William Day recalls in 1950 the oil leaking and his impression the induction valve operating cylinder was slow. While his recollection is no doubt correct his technical conclusion is unlikely as the hydraulic (telemotor) pressure was in the order of 1200 to 1500 lbs per square inch. regardless his recollection, it confirms my own that the induction hull valve was indeed hydraulically operated prior to the loss of the Affray. It is worth repeating a point I raised in Chap 16. Commonsense would suggest a fast acting valve was needed before snort was fitted, not a slow wheel operated device. It is of interest to note that the hull induction valve existed in the same position prior the conversion to snort to act as a high pressure hull induction sealing valve, the snort was merely an additional induction inlet. Fast operation would be required in much the same way as in snorting as the submarine dived as quickly as possible when under attack to 90 feet and the open induction inlets on the bridge would quickly be under water. He also states hydrogen detectors were fitted, well not in Amphion in 1955. The USN used Hydrogen detectors in WWII Fleet Submarines.
Overcharging at sea was obviously still taking place in the fleet according to BR1965 published in 1953, but it states it would likely be phased out in this particular class of submarine, the converted fast battery T Class , that had much larger batteries than those found in the Amphion Class even when converted in the late fifties. It was likely the T Class converted to fast battery submarines had hydrogen detectors and perhaps burners. The 1958 Porpoise Class with very big batteries were almost certain to have hydrogen detectors and other hydrogen management devices.
His sequence of postulated events does not equate with the practice, the head valve closing caused a vacuum, the ERA watching the gauge sees it fall and throttles back the engines in the hope the trim will quickly recover and the snort head break surface and the valve will open again, breaking the vacuum allowing the engines to be speeded up. If this did not happen the technique was, if the state of vacuum allowed, shutting down one engine closing the exhaust for that particular engine as the engine slowed to stop, usually done quite slickly by the stoker. If the vacuum did not improve the second engine was then closed down and with the stoker closing the exhaust valve as the second engine slowed and the back pressure dropped below the level required to keep back the flow of sea water through the open exhaust, normally about several feet under the water when snorting. Sometimes the timing was not quite right and water got into the cylinders but only in the second engine leaving the first one to be ready for a start up while the second engine was being drained. It should be noted both engines use a common exhaust but each with separate isolating snort exhaust valve. At this point the snort induction valve would still be open be until the second engine has stopped and trim was finally restored and the head valve broke the vacuum and the gauge showed normal. If the intention was to shortly restart snorting the hull induction valve would remain open. Apart from my own memories of snorting on Amphion Class and T Class submarines, this is all pretty much as described in the report of the long tropical snort cruise of HMS Alliance 1947 and the Arctic snort cruise of HMS AMBUSH 1948.
I have no recollection of the engines back firing with flames in many hours on watch in the motor room, part of the engine room, but of course that doesn't mean it never happened. However I did once see the relief valves lift and form a pretty fountain when starting the motors with engine clutch still in due to faulty indication and the cylinders full of water following a difficult shut down from snorting.
Admiral Whetsone former submarine captain of a later era, attempts to gives the answer to the disaster on the BBC, by stating the obvious, but the difficulties he describes existed before the loss and afterwards continued to exist until the last diesel submarine left the RN without another loss. I don't recall any reduction in the lighting of the engine room/motor room. What would be the purpose, it was the same 24 hours a day. However if dived on battery for long periods often lights were turned out throughout the submarine to save power and in the accommodation space encourage people to rest on their bunks in an attempt to reduce oxygen depletion and CO generation. At night the control room was always dim with red lighting to assist the view of the OOW on the periscope and if surfaced the same for lookouts going on watch.
Roger Fry, who has been very helpful in my researching of the converted T for my article, is also stating the obvious and making his own assumptions about what was in the Admiralty's mind with nothing to support any views other than they like everybody else didn't know what happened and that was an unhappy position for the Admirals and the politicians who really would have preferred something straightforward like the TRUCLULENT disaster of the year before, despite the misreading of the approaching navigation lights and the deficiency of the DSEA system, soon to be abandoned, not to mention the lack of wisdom in having a poorly lit, dark grey and black, vulnerable submarine on passage at night in this busy waterway. And a relatively low conning position with little or no shelter.
THE STRANGE CASE OF STEWARD RAY VINCENT.
Funny business this. He comes back aboard his ship the WOODBRIDGE HAVEN and causes damage to the Quarter Deck. He is restrained and placed in detention. All fairly typical of drunken sailors and their daft behaviour. But the mystery is why he was subject to a Court of Inquiry. Usually cases like this are dealt with formally by the Captain. If every drunken sailor misbehaving demanded a Court of Inquiry they would many of them sitting regularly. The rest of the tale is equally odd. However too much should not be made of the training. As I recall it was two to three weeks with an extra week for electrical ratings, then to a boat as an extra for training. No, the mystery is the Court of Inquiry.
As for aiding the Chef (cook) the galley was too small for more than one. The steward's job was the collecting of the food from the galley and serving it in the wardroom. I was always under the impression that stewards prime job was to look after the skipper then the wardroom.
A TECHNICAL DIVER REMEMBERS HIS VISIT TO THE WRECK OF THE AFFRAY 1998.
As the title suggests.
QUESTIONS DEMANDING ANSWERS.
This is the recap chapter so little point in repeating comments already made. However it was interesting to see the oil in the sump of No 1 battery raised again.
Re page 193, For those interested the drawings of the snort system are still available and are also published in the Alliance book.
I repeat, the hull induction valve is not at the foot of the of the snort mast located above the Control Room. It was in the engine room.
THE SUBMARINE RESERVE GROUPS.
At the time I had at best only a vague awareness of the Reserve Groups, but they I were, I think, a consequence the need for austerity in the Navy both before and after the war. I suspect they were phased out as the fleet consolidated to face the needs of the COLD WAR. They were a consequence of the need to keep a number of submarines ready for service but there were no crews and thus were in a group with one crew. And speculating, was this perhaps a driving element in getting the trainee officer through their course and off to appointments at sea? Nobody was going to go into all this semi-political business at the Board of Inquiry, the 'climate of the times' always has to be understood to follow historical events. The Reserve Groups seemed to have disappeared by about 1952/53. As a matter of interest, the Navy had large groups of ships like destroyers moored in the channel in places like Devonport looked after by a handful of people. I understand battle ships were moored in the Lochs in Scotland.
A history of HMS Sidon
HMS Sidon was sadly lost in 1955 when torpedo blew up, but here listed to show the Reserve Groups. The history was collated by Dorset Submariners who take a special interest in Sidon and hold an annual memorial. Here is listed data that tends to confirm much of what I have suggested in regard to the refit history of Affray. Also note that the working up patrol was no picnic. I should say I only became aware of this timeline for Sidon on completing my book commentary that goes before.
- 23rd November 1944 Sidon was completed and commenced trials followed by the start
of working up training at the Holy Loch
- 20th January 1945 Damaged in a submerged collision with HMS/m Turpin. Her stem cutter
was turned to starboard by a length of 4 feet.
- 8th-23rd March 1945 Sidon departed Lerwick to commence her working up patrol. This
took place on the west coast of Norway on a known U-boat track. She had difficulty off the coast of Norway obtaining
a land fix for the first 3 days. Sidon needed to take land fixes for navigational purposes.
Heavy snow and rain storms had obscured all land marks. After 3 days however, the weather cleared and all landmarks
could be seen clearly. No further navigational problems were encountered. No ships or U-boat patrols were sighted during
this patrol. The only sighting of any enemy unit was a Luftwaffe JU-88 flying 2 miles away at a height of 200 feet.
It commenced no attack against Sidon and presumably it had not sighted her. The heavy weather
made the seas rough and Sidon was unable to maintain periscope depth. Visibility at times was
reduced to zero by the snowstorms.
- 23rd March 1945 Sidon arrived back at Lerwick after completing her working up patrol.
- 24th March 1945 Departed Lerwick and proceeded on passage to Holy Loch
- 26th March 1945 Sidon secured alongside SS 'AL RAWDAH' in Holy Loch
- April 1945 Sidon left the Holy Loch for passage to the Far East to join the 8th Submarine
Flotilla. She diverted to Fremantle to repair battery defects en-route.
- 7th July 1945 Sidon departed Fremantle, Australia to commence her 2nd patrol. Soon
after departing, one of her engines developed a defect and she called in at Onslow to rectify this. The patrol was mainly
for air-sea rescue duties.
- 12th July 1945 Sidon departed Onslow having rectified her engine fault. She later
passed through the Lombok Straits.
- 24th July 1945 Sidon was diverted to search for the crew of an American Liberator
which had come down off Siagon, in conjunction with USS/m 'Hammerhead' and US aircraft. After 4 days of searching she
recovered 2nd Lt Stanley Reed USAAF. He had been adrift for 5 days with little food & water. He had drifted 287
miles from the ditching position. In the words of the patrol report, 'The joy on his face when he saw Sidon
amply repaid all the fruitless searching and false hopes we had experienced.'
- 3rd August 1945 Sidon arrived at Subic Bay in the Philippines after completing her
patrol. Sidon completed her time in the Far East by being present in Hong Kong harbour when
it was reoccupied by the British after the Japanese surrender.
- 6th December 1945 HMS Sidon arrived at Portsmouth after the completion of her war
service in the Far East.
- 27th December 1945 Paid off into Reserve Group 'S' at Portsmouth attached to the 5th Submarine Flotilla
- 28th January 1946 Taken in hand at Portsmouth for repair to armaments. Completed 9th March 1946.
- 26th February 1948 Transferred to Reserve Group 'G' at Portsmouth for refit.
- 27th February 1948 Taken in hand for refit at Portsmouth. Completed 18th June 1948.
- 1st August 1948 Placed in Reserve Group 'M' at Portsmouth.
- 19th November 1948 Taken in hand at Portsmouth for fitting ballast. Completed December 1948.
- 24th January 1950 Taken in hand for refit at Sheerness. Completed 19th May 1950. Post refit diving trials
were successfully completed on 21st June 1950.
- 20th July 1950 HMS Sidon towed the midget submarine XE8 from
Plymouth to Portsmouth.
- 31st August 1950 Towed the midget submarine 'XE8 ' from Portsmouth to Plymouth.
She also joined the 2nd Submarine Flotilla on this date.
- 19th April 1951 HMS Sidon took part in the search for HMS/m Affray which was missing
in the English Channel.
- 6th-20th June 1951 Touched bottom during phase 3 of Exercise SWX 6. The exercise had started after leaving
Portland and had ended just before arrival at Loch Tarbart. Damage was confined to the net cutter immediately below
No's 5 and 6 torpedo tubes.
- 11th November 1951 Paid off into Reserve Group 'F' attached to 5th Submarine Flotilla Devonport pending refit.
- 21st November 1951 Taken in hand for refit and modernisation at Devonport. This included the removal of the
4-inch gun and gun tower and the installation of a snort mast and Type 267MW radar.
- 27th June 1952 Refit completed HMS Sidon re-commissioned into the 2nd Submarine Squadron, based at Portland for submarine and anti-submarine training.
'A Submariner's story' By Joel C. E. Blamey. Page 258. As commissioning engineer officer he tells how the first trial dive out of the yard ended up with the Sidon plunging down with a severe bow down angle striking the shingle bottom at 158 feet. A dockyard modification had caused a complete loss of the telemotor pressure resulting in the loss of control of the main vents and hydroplanes and other equipment. While quite frightening no serious damage was done.
- 30th November 1952 Taken in hand at Devonport for intermediate docking and for fitting an escape trunk. Completed
9th January 1953.
- 1st June 1953 Attended the Coronation Naval Review at Spithead.
- 1st February 1954 Transferred to 5th Submarine Squadron pending refit.
- 9th February 1954 Taken in hand at Cammell Laird, Birkenhead. Completed November 1954.
- 16th June 1955 HMS Sidon, commanded by Lt. Cmdr. H. T. Verry was due to depart for a live torpedo firing exercise. She was based at Portland using HMS Maidstone as her depot ship. All her hatches were shut except the hatch of the conning tower. The submarine was lost.
'A Submariner's story' By Joel C. E. Blamey.
An excellent account of service in submarines from pre-war to well into the post war period on interest..Just brief notes taken from the book.
He was a Commissioned Engineering officer, and earlier a Warrant Officer serving as a submarine EO. Same rank different names.
1946 Reserve Group RG F - Falmouth. CO released as POW Lt Cmdr Bowker RNR, a 1st Lt. Ursula was the serviceable base ship. Otherwise they had a full T Class crew. All other submarines were waiting for scrap, no batteries. Some of the submarines were famous S class & T Class boats such as Torbay, Tribune - 14 in all.
I was cynically amused by Balmey talking about a problem he had reported to Dolphin, saying mysteries are not very popular in the Submarine Service, this in 1946.
Ursula even went to Dolphin transporting parts 'robbed' from submarines destined for scrap.
According to data records, the Ursula was that year loaned to the Soviets for 4 years, then returned and scrapped.
From Stoker Mechanic Albert Birchnall.
Anyway on with the history. I joined in Feb 46, and by June I was in reserve group R at Dolphin. That was Truculent , Tantulus, Thule, Thermopolye and Telemachus . We used to take different boats out on day runs (not enough to crew all the boats). At the back-end of 47 Truculent was fully commission, and we went on operation 'Black current' supplying power to Pompey Dockyard, all through the bad winter of 47.
From Chief Coxswain Derek Lilliman RN (ret), 5 April 2009. VULCAN block was the submarine crew shore accommodation at HMS Dolphin.
Perusal of my Service Certificates tell me I was drafted to RGP on the 31st March 1950, which was a collection of eight 'S' boats secured up at Petrol Pier. During the day I didn't have a lot to do with the submarines as I was duly appointed Mess Caterer under the old Canteen Messing system so spent all my time on the ground floor of Vulcan Block and the galley out the back. I remember pretty well that when you were duty watch you had to troop onto every submarine and run the Battery Ventilation System for half an hour both evening and in the morning before 'Both Watches'. I eventually commissioned the Sea Scout out of RGP in Mar 1951 and went down to Portland to become part of the 2nd Squadron based on the Maidstone. I also recollect that there was a RGP and a RGM in Portsmouth with a RGD in Devonport and I believe one at Sheerness but can't recall its name. Like RGS they were a collection of submarines with only one crew between them!
I should have mentioned, also that at least once a week and sometimes twice, one of the boats would be taken to sea on a day run, for exercise.
As far as I can remember Peter, at least one of the submarines in the group had a Standing Charge on all day especially before it went out day running. As I said before I spent most of my time being Mess Caterer, making Klacker's and Pot Mess as well as figuring out what to give them for 'Duff'! I also remember that when the Sea Scout was commissioned out of the group I was automatically made 'Tanky'. The only good thing about that was I got a neat tot instead of 'Two & One' Incidentally, I don't believe there ever was any Shore Charging Facilities on Petrol Pier and only limited on the Main Jetty in them days.
Re a question about Amphion Class - To My knowledge Lofty the answer is NO but I could be wrong as after the Sea Scout and a short spell on the 'Tea Urn' as Scratcher, I spent the next two and a half years out in the Med.
Pre-war examples These two examples illustrate that experienced submarine commanders could be attached to Reserve Groups.
Lt Cmdr Neil Rutherford, DSC. Born 15 May 1922
- Career before 1943 deleted as of no relevance.
- 05/07/1943 - 01/1946 Commanding Officer HMS Spiteful (submarine)
- 08/02/1946 - 08/1946 HMS Dolphin (submarine depot) (for submarines) (Submarine Reserve Group K)
- 08/1946 - 09/1946 HMS Stygian (submarine).
Taken from a Wikipedia posting but other sources seem to confirm accuracy. Prior to an unfortunate death in later years he rose to the rank of Admiral.
Commander HC CUMBERBATCH Born 8 December 1900
- Career before 1937 and after 1939 deleted as of no relevance.
- On returning to Britain in 1937, he took command of HMS/m Otway, working from HMS Dolphin, which he joined on 30 August 1937. The following month, on 25 September, he joined the Reserve Group A at HMS Dolphin, moving to the depot ship HMS Dwarf in July 1938.
- He returned to command HMS/m Otway on 26 September 1938, working from HMS Dolphin, but for only two weeks, before rejoining Reserve Group A in command.
- On 2 August 1939, he took command of HMS/m Oberon working from HMS Dolphin, and then HMS Forth (2nd Submarine Flotilla) Rosyth in the same month, returning to HMS Dolphin in October 1939.
- Oberon moved again at the end of November 1939, joining the depot ship Alecto at HMS Dolphin.