Saturday, August 14, 2004


English submarine M1(1925) / O submarino inglês M1(1925)


The Mystery of the M1

The M1 was the pride of the British Navy. She was Britain's most advanced submarine, a 100 metres long and weighed 2,000 tons. It was fitted with it's own massive artillery gun that could hit targets that were 20 miles away, a reminder to the world that Britain still ruled the waves.

However, in 1925, she went missing on a routine mission in the English Channel and the crew of 69 men were lost. Able Seaman Sales went ashore, just hours before she sailed, as he had just learned that his mother had died. He was the only 'survivor' of the M1 crew. In the Board of Inquiry that followed the disappearance, it was believed that the SS Vidar had been involved in a collision with the sub.

There was unexplained damage to the bow of the ship and fragments of naval issue paint were also found there. However, the exact cause and location remained a mystery.

It is a mystery which has fascinated former Navy diver, Richard Larn. He has spent the last 15 years of his life searching for the wreck. It wasn't an easy task for there are more shipwrecks per square mile in the English Channel than anywhere else in the world. Last year, he finally pinpointed the M1 thanks to a sonar fish which bounces signals off the seabed.

The M1 lay at a depth of more than 70 metres which is out of reach of most divers. Consequently, the diving team had to use a mixture of gases to survive the extreme pressures at this depth. They confirmed that the wreck was the M1 thanks to the distinctive footholes in the conning tower.

The investigation of the divers and, then later, a remote submersible, found that the gun had been ripped off the sub in the collision with the Vidar. The weight of the gun, hanging over the side of the sub, destabilised it and the sub went down to the seabed in freefall. The control areas of the sub were flooded which meant that the crew couldn't lift the sub off the seafloor.

The great depth meant that there was no possibility of escape. The M1 is an official War Grave and protected by the 'Military Remains Act' 1986. Divers may not enter such wrecks or, in any way, disturb them.


Supergun Submarine (M1) located 74 years after tragic loss.

The British submarine, M1 which uniquely carried the firepower of a battleship was discovered 35 miles south-east of Plymouth at a depth of 81 metres by diver and submarine expert, Innes McCartney and boat skipper Grahame Knott.

M1 disappeared with her entire crew of 69 while submerged on exercise on 12th November 1925. Her loss remained unexplained until the collier Vidar entered Stockholm on the 19th. She reported being in collision with a submerged object off the Devon coast. Investigation of her damaged bows showed traces of a rare paint which had been used on M1. Navy divers and survey vessels searched for M1 for a month before abandoning hope of locating her.

HM Submarine M1 was developed toward the end of the First World War. Unique in the history of submarine design, she and her sisters M2 and M3 were fitted with 12 inch guns from a scrapped battleship.

This gave the M-Class the ability to sneak-up on shore installations and surface vessels, rise to the surface and deliver a formidable blow from very short range. No merchant vessel was expected to survive a hit from M1.

M1 was completed before the war ended, but not employed in combat because the Royal Navy feared that Germany could copy the design. The U-boat war against British commerce might have taken a grave turn for the worse if such deadly weapons had been employed against Britain s merchant marine.

After the war, the M-Class submarines were used experimentally in developing a range of new submarine technologies. M3 was converted into a minelayer and later scrapped in the 1930s. M2 was converted into the world's first submarine aircraft carrier. She carried a miniature stainless steel-framed seaplane. M2 was also lost in tragic circumstances in January 1932.

Over the last 74 years, stories of the location of M1 have surfaced from time to time. None had ever been substantiated until 18th June 1999 when Innes McCartney's diving team returned with video evidence definitely confirming that M1 had at last been seen again.

For wreck hunters, McCartney and Knott, the location of M1 has been the culmination of over a year of detailed research. Archival records and local information from trawlers and other sources were used to narrow down a search area. M1 turned out to be the first target on their list to dive - successful research indeed.

In 1998, Innes McCartney located and dived the submarine Affray and has identified the final resting place of several U-boats, including the first operational submarine to be coated in rubber.

Of the wreck itself, McCartney says, "I knew it was M1 as soon as she appeared out of the darkness at 75 metres. She is upright and generally in good condition. However, she is festooned with 74 years worth of lost trawler nets. These were a major hazard to the diving team.

"M1 is a massive spectacle to behold, towering above the seabed by more than 5 metres. Her 12-inch gun has fallen away onto the sand. We suspect that it was struck during the collision with Vidar. The main damage to M1 is on the starboard side, forward of her huge bronze conning tower. This was a genuinely unforgettable dive".

Diving to such great depths requires the use of special helium/nitrogen/oxygen mixtures and is fraught with complexities. Few UK-based diving teams are able to employ this technology.

The position of M1 will remain a closely guarded secret in an attempt to prevent it being visited by souvenir hunters. She is a war grave, covered by the protection of the Military Remains Act, 1986. Mr McCartney's diving team did not interfere with the wreck in any way, returning after over 90 minutes of decompression with the only video footage of the wreck.


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