Home - Dits & Bits - BR3043 - Part Two - Progressive Development of Design and Equipment - Chapter 32

Chapter 32: Habitability

1. Little attention was paid to habitability in the first submarines and it is as well to start with remarks by Hoare in 1916 concerning USN submarines as follows:

'Many of the early boats had no heating. Of late electric heaters had been provided to some extent but consume such large quantities of electricity from the batteries that their use was abandoned. In later boats steam heaters and coils are being installed. When the combustion engines are running it is quite possible to use the water jackets or heat from the exhaust gas to achieve this object.

In the early boats food was cold and canned, and coffee heated over an oil stove. In later boats an electric stove with four or five hot plates, an oven and a coffee urn were provided. Also a tireless cooker, a hot water reservoir and an ice-box'.

2. Domville-Fife in 1910 remarked on RN boats at the time, and this would mean the Holland to C Class, that 'at present it is practically impossible for the crew to live on board for very many days owing to the small free space inside and to the cramped deck. As endurance increases so must the habitability. The air supply for submerged use is in most cases amply sufficient'. It was accepted that the crew could not live on board continuously for more than a very few days.

3. Living conditions in the early RN submarines were undoubtedly hard by modern standards but little more could have been expected. In the Holland boats the period away from base or an attendant ship was short and dives were limited to about three hours so that permanent accommodation was not necessary. Any seating, table or sleeping accommodation was portable and normally stowed. In the Holland boats a drinking water tank carrying about 20 gallons of water at the port side of the torpedo tube and a WC at the starboard side discreetly hidden behind a compensating tank covered essentials. Ship ventilation as a separate system was non-existent.

4. In the early boats the ventilation must have been the taxing factor to comfort and efficiency. In the Holland boats one 10 in ventilator was provided over the fore end of the engine. Air to the engine was supplied down this ventilator and through the conning tower hatch. Two fans exhausted the battery tanks through two 3in ventilators on the hull, with portable extension pieces outboard; a third 3in ventilator with an outboard extension piece was fitted just forward of the conning tower for air supply. There could have been little circulation of fresh air except in the space between the conning tower and the main engine.

In the A Class the battery ventilation was self-contained but still there was no actual ship ventilation.

5. Air from the air bottles was to be the source of supply to the boat, if required, when submerged. Fyfe states that 'on the first submersion trials of No 1 on the 5 February 1902 her appliances for the purification of the air were used to maintain atmospheric conditions without any need of her cylinders of compressed air being requisitioned'. This statement is strange in that, as far as can be ascertained, air purifying plant was not introduced until some time after 1902 In the A Class. What undoubtedly happened was that for the duration of this first dive the condition of the air inside the boat remained sufficiently satisfactory without the use of air from thehp storage bottles.

6. Actually little Improvement In amenities can be noted in the A Class and as usually happened when more space was available more equipment was put in and accommoda­tion took second place. An air purifier was fitted for trials in one boat and later on all the A Class carried an air purifying pump and plant. This practice continued in later classes. When A3 and A4 were condemned for further service in March 1912 they were retained for carrying out further experiments in air purification. An eight man crew was kept for each boat so that the trials were undoubtedly taken as covering a serious requirement.

7. White mice were carried on board as a means of detecting carbon monoxide such as was found in the engine exhaust fumes.

8. The ship ventilation was Improved slightly In the C Class when an air suction was taken from the battery exhaust fan to the after end of the boat. In Plate 8 for C21-30 on the port side between Frames 43-59, the upper portion of the boat appears to have been kept clear and divided Into four cubicles each about 6ft long which might have been used as sleeping berths. An oven is shown for the first time and from, its position over a WC suggests some sort of portable heating cupboard.

9. Lighting is always important. Incandescent lamps had so far been fitted and were portable. In Plate 7 for C1-11 the lamp positions are shown and were fixed and, if Plate 7 is correct, there were approximately 23 lamps in this size of boat.

10. Efforts were made in the design of the D boats to improve habitability. Watts stated 'the most important advantage was their improved habitability since the radius of action of the C Class was more than the power of the men could endure'. But in spite of the best Intentions of the designers there Is no doubt that the Increased equipment that went into this class made little additional space available for the crew which increased from 16 in the C Class to 25 in the D Class.

However, the following can be noted:

  • A ship ventilation fan separate from the battery ventilation was Installed for ventilating the after end of the boat*
  • A wardroom space was allocated and fitted with bed berths, cupboards and drawers, writing desk and folding lavatory,
  • Kit lockers and mess trap lockers for the crew. Lockers were also provided for rations and emergency rations. Separate provision rooms had not yet appeared.
  • A fresh water built-in storage tank with hand pump. This had been started in the later C boats.
  • Two fixed ovens.
  • Stowage positions for moss tables and stools.

Undoubtedly some of these items had been or were introduced in some of the earlier boats as far as space and weight would allow, but both were too critical in the spindle hull boats to allow much improvement.

11. Further improvements in the E Class over the four years between completion of the first and last boats of the class included:

  • Good officers' quarters occupying a whole section of the vessel, later restricted however by the introduction of a W/T cabinet.
  • Reasonable crews' messes with kit lockers in the messes.
  • WC's which could be blown at depth.
  • Slop shoots.

12. In the double-hull boats building at this time there was more space inboard to allow better accommodation, especially in the larger boats. The space allocated to officers went to extremes in the K Class, but was cut back in K26. Separate officers' bathrooms and WC's had appeared. The great advantage of the double-hull boats was the large upper deck recreation space.

13. Conditions in the L Class greatly improved from those in the E Class. Separate messes were allocated for Officers, Era's, PO's and crew with the crew in bunks as far as possible. The officers had a bathroom and an electric galley range. Provision and store rooms were named although such spaces had really started in the K Class. In fact accommodation and amenities had now reached a really good standard.

14. Standards improved still further in the larger boats and in X1 a palatial officer's quarters was about 70ft long and the three crews' mess decks were good. Further progress was made in Oberon.

15. Whilst Oberon was building discussions proceeded about the Odin Class under design. Proposals were put up that a considerable increase in free living space above that being provided in Oberon was necessary in the Odin Class so that the health and morale of the crew during wartime cruises of two to three months should not be impaired. One suggestion was that the free flooding spaces in the upper deck casing should be converted to messing and recreation spaces although this would involve increasing the height of the casing by two feet with considerable increase in breadth; the drawback of increasing the silhouette on the surface 'should be gladly accepted in order to obtain daylight living spaces in harbour and at sea when the nature of operations will permit'. Another suggestion was that the stern tubes should be deleted to 'obtain space urgently required for living space and store rooms'.

Such suggestions from sea show how very much the question of improving habitability was in the minds of those concerned with the new design of overseas patrol sub­marines with large endurance.

16. Major improvements made in Odin from Oberon were:

  • The battery flat was lowered 6in. to Increase the headroom in living and working spaces. This meant abandoning the scheme of passing one cell over the top of others to facilitate the removal of cells.
  • The Captain's cabin was sited in the bridge.
  • The oil fired galley was placed in the bridge and electric ovens fitted near the living quarters, one for officers and two for the crew.

Other smaller items were a cold cupboard and ice chest, a combined officers' bathroom and WC and crew's heads in the bridge.

17. By this time the standards of space and amenities for both officers and men in submarines were as good as ever reached. The introduction in the Staff Requirements for Odin of habitability for the tropics had necessitated improved standards, especially in ship ventilation independent of battery ventilation. It may be said that any improvement in standards after this time was in the quality of the fitting out.

18. It had always been a problem to carry sufficient fresh water to match the endurance and this became more difficult as the endurance increased. In X1 only 19 days supply could be stored in the space available compared with 90 days endurance of fuel at 7 knots. To augment the water endurance a distilling plant was fitted in which the exhaust gases from the main engines were used for distilling water. This was not a success. Rather similar evaporators were fitted in Oberon again without success and although additional storage was found the total amount of fresh water carried was only 29 tons as against a desired 40 tons. Thereafter storage for a reasonable quantity of fresh water was found in the design stage.

19. The first submarine to carry a boat appears to have been C1 with a 10ft berthon boat. From then on a 10ft berthon boat was carried in all submarines until the K Class with two 10ft berthon boats and one 13½ft dinghy stowed in the superstructure. The M Class and L Class had one 12½ft collapsible boat only. Motor boats appeared in the 1920's. Then the larger vessels had one 13½ft motor dinghy in addition to a 12ft collapsible boat. A boat derrick was fitted on the after side of the bridge with the boat stowage in the casing below.


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