Thursday, March 10, 2005


Victims of early submarine disasters are remembered


Navy News
March 08, 2005

Barrow built 'A' Class submarines alongside their Depot Ship at Wearde Quay, River Lynher estuary; other side of Hamoaze from Plymouth. A4 completed 1904 - Yard No. 296. Subs - A6, A8, A10, A11 and A12 were all al launched in 1905. Yard numbers - 304, 306, 308, 309 and 310 respectively. The A was lost of Plymouth in the same year.

Submariners in the West Country hope to restore monuments to Royal Navy pioneers to mark the centenary of an early Silent Service tragedy.

Only four sailors were saved when a battery explosion destroyed HMS A8 off Plymouth Breakwater in May 1905, killing 15.

One hundred years on from the disaster, the gravestones of 11, in Ford Park Cemetery in Plymouth, are in a poor state – some have fallen victim to the weather, others have been attacked by vandals.

The state of the stones has prompted Plymouth Submariners’ Association (PSA) to launch a £4,000 appeal to honour the men who paved the way for today’s Submarine Service.

A8 was the third submarine to be lost as the Royal Navy got to grips with the new concept at the start of the 20th century – HMS A1 and A5 had already been lost on trials before A8’s fatal exercise on May 8, 1905, and in total six of the 13 A-boats launched before 1914 had foundered or sunk before the war began (prompting those in Naval circles to dub them “instruments of collective suicide).

A8, in company with A7, a torpedo boat and the cruiser HMS Forth, parent ship of the submarine squadron, had left Devonport in the morning for exercises off Looe, carrying a crew of 12 and seven trainees.

After clearing the Breakwater the two submarines carried out manoeuvres, after which A8 proceeded with open conning tower – standard practice at the time – as she prepared to dive.

Four of her crew, including her Commanding Officer, Lt A.H.C. Candy, were on the casing, and he noted the boat had an unsatisfactory trim, being bow down in the water.

Suddenly, without warning, the bow sank deeper, causing the stern to rear up, and she dived to the sea bed with her conning tower open.

The four men on the casing, including torpedo coxswain CPO William Waller, were swept off the casing and saved, but frantic efforts to rescue the remaining 15 proved fruitless – they were probably quickly overcome by poisonous fumes from the battery.

Two explosions followed, suspending further rescue attempts, and the boat could not be raised for four days, when it was towed back to Devonport and the bodies recovered.

The loss was a major blow for the city of Plymouth – it was the first major submarine disaster and had taken place within sight of the Hoe.

The entire route of the funeral procession, on June 15, was thronged by members of the public, and the half-mile long procession took 90 minutes to cover the two miles from the Dockyard Chapel to Ford Park Cemetery.

Nine of the men were buried with full Naval honours in the naval section of the cemetery, with a tenth buried in the Roman Catholic section.

The eleventh was buried privately the following day, and the remaining four were buried in their home towns.

“These were brave men – it is important that we do not forget them,” said Vic Cavell, chairman of PSA. “There is a good proportion of submariners in Plymouth and this is something they can associate with.”

The association can be contacted at or via the trustees of Ford Park Cemetery on 01752 665442.

Meanwhile submariners north of the border have also been paying their respects at the graves of the crew of K13, who died when their boat was lost in trials in Gareloch on January 29, 1917.

K13 was one of the ‘calamitous Ks’, a class of steam-powered submarines which were beset by accidents and failures throughout their life.

On this occasion the submarine, one of a class designed to run at high speeds on the surface as a fleet escort, was on a practice dive, and had successfully completed a two-hour dive and been accepted by the Royal Navy.

Admiralty officials insisted, however, that before she returned alongside she should make a short dive to verify that all hatches were watertight.

Although all instruments indicated the boat was watertight, four boiler ventilator hatches were left open (the K boats had numerous holes, valves and vents in the 334ft hull, including hatches to cover her two short funnels) causing the 2,600-ton vessel to sink.

Although 48 men survived in a compartment which remained watertight, 32 of their colleagues died almost 60ft below the surface of the loch, while Cdr Goodhart attempted to escape through the conning tower to warn of the disaster but died in the process.

His body, recovered two months later, was also buried at Faslane.

But the survivors had a harrowing experience before they saw the light of day again – it was 15 hours before an air supply could be provided to the men, and 54 hours after the accident before they could be taken off the sunken boat through a hole cut in the pressure hull.

The rescue efforts drew praise from King George V himself, who described the operation and escape as “marvellous” while expressing sympathy for the sailors and Fairfield shipyard staff who had died.

The submarine could not be raised for six weeks, at which time the bodies on board were recovered.

Leading the tributes to the victims at Faslane Cemetery alongside Rear Admiral Nick Harris, Flag Officer Scotland, Northern England and Northern Ireland (FOSNNI), was 101-year-old Amy Bachelor.

The centenarian actually witnessed the tragedy and subsequent rescue attempts unfolding.

Members of the Helensburgh Sea Cadets tolled the submarine’s bell once for each of the victims.


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