Royal Navy submarine P36 – sunk in April 1942 and raised in the summer of 1958

Richard Maddox

BRITISH ‘U’ CLASS SUBMARINE P36 was laid down in July 1940 at the Vickers shipyard at Barrow-in-Furness on Britain’s northwest coast and commissioned into the Royal Navy in September 1941.

After working up at HMS Dolphin at Gosport, Hampshire England and Holy Loch in Scotland and a patrol off southwest Ireland the boat left Portsmouth, England for the Mediterranean where it was to become part of the ‘Fighting Tenth’ – the 10th Flotilla – based at Malta.

During the voyage P36 landed two agents on the Mediterranean coast of France, near Monte Carlo. (1) (2)

On 22 March 1942 P36 took part in an attack on an Italian Littorio class battleship and its accompaning cruisers and destroyers.

The Italian ships made a counter-attack which lasted for six hours and P36 received some damage. (3) (4)

The boat returned to Malta without further incident.

A number of boats moored at HMS Talbot submarine depot, Malta in January 1943. Image Copyright © IWM. IWM catalogue reference A 14389. Original source http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205147558.

A number of boats moored at HMS Talbot submarine depot, Malta in January 1943. Image Copyright © IWM. IWM catalogue reference A 14389. Original source http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205147558.

In Malta P36 was moored alongside the Lazaretto on Manoel Island in Marsamxett Harbour.

The former hospital and quarentine facility – which dates from the 17 century – was taken over by the British Admiralty in 1939 for use as a submarine depot and named HMS Talbot. (5)

While at HMS Talbot on 1 April 1942 it was attacked and sunk in an air raid – luckily without any casualties – and remained submerged for sixteen years.

THE RAISING OF 'U' class HM Submarine P36 in Marsamxett Harbour, Malta, showing the stern and a propeller coming clear of the water and damage to the sail or conning tower area. Image Copyright © IWM. IWM catalogue reference A 34076. Original source https://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205164291.

THE RAISING OF ‘U’ class HM Submarine P36 in Marsamxett Harbour, Malta, showing the stern and a propeller coming clear of the water and damage to the sail or conning tower area. Image Copyright © IWM. IWM catalogue reference A 34076. Original source https://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205164291.

Fifteen years later P36 did claim a casualty when in October 1957 Jack Cresdee, a diver on salvage vessel HMS Sea Salvor was killed carrying out a survey of the wreck. (6) (7)

The salvage operation was carried out using two specialist lifting craft, LC23 and LC24.

ANOTHER VIEW of P36s stern section as the vessel comes to the surface in the summer of 1958 after sixteen years on the seabed. Specialist vessels lift the submarine near the former HMS Talbot in Marsamxett Harbour, Malta. Image copyright © IWM. IWM catalogue reference A 34075. Original source https://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205164290.

ANOTHER VIEW of P36s stern section as the vessel comes to the surface in the summer of 1958 after sixteen years on the seabed. Specialist vessels lift the submarine near the former HMS Talbot in Marsamxett Harbour, Malta. Image copyright © IWM. IWM catalogue reference A 34075. Original source https://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205164290.

Over a period of weeks and nineteen seperate lifts during July and August the boat was raised, coming to the surface on 7 August 1958. Two weeks later the boat was towed to waters north of the island and sunk for the final time. (8)

Peter Farquar Flett, Senior Marine Salvage Officer, Mediterranean and Malta had overall responsibility for the salvage operation. Before the war he was a police officer with the London Metropolitan Police service.

He served in the Royal Naval Reserve during the Second World War, rose to the rank of Lieutenant Commander and a leading salvage expert. (9)

In 1957 had was honoured with the Order of the British Empire (OBE), Civil Division in the Queen’s Birthday Honours for, the award being published in the London Gazette Supplement dated 13 June 1957. (10)

Peter Flett died in 1992. (11) 

Sources

(1) https://www.naval-history.net/xGM-Chrono-12SS-09U-HMS_P36.htm – retrieved 17 June 2019

(2) https://www.uboat.net/allies/warships/ship/3546.html – retrieved 17 June 2019

(3) https://www.alamy.com/aug-08-1958-hm-submarined-p-36-salvaged-from-lazarette-creek-malta-image69353210.html – retrieved 17 June 2019

(4) https://www.naval-history.net/xGM-Chrono-12SS-09U-HMS_P36.htm – retrieved 17 June 2019

(5) http://www.midimalta.com/en/the-lazaretto – retrieved 17 June 2019

(6) https://www.militaryimages.net/media/d819-cresdee-jack-john-richard.130569/ – retrieved 17 June 2019

(7) http://www.historicalrfa.org/rfa-sea-salvor-ships-details – retrieved 17 June 2019

(8) http://u-boat.com.mt/the-loss-and-aftermath-of-h-m-submarine-p36/ – retrieved 17 June 2019

(9) https://www.buckieheritage.org/pdf/1992.pdf – retrieved 17 June 2019

(10) https://www.thegazette.co.uk/London/issue/41089/supplement/3380/data.pdf – retrieved 17 June 2019

(11) https://discovery.nationalarchives.gov.uk/details/r/N13700278 – retrieved 17 June 2019

The first, the last and an ‘almost’ – HMS Warrior, the USS Des Moines and HMS Gambia at anchor in Grand Harbour Malta, circa 1951

Richard Maddox

WITH THE WARSHIPS HMS Warrior, USS Des Moines and HMS Ganges at anchor, a gangle of colourful dgħajjes water taxis are busy plying their trade in Malta's Grand Harbour. Note the dgħajsa on the left of the frame that appears to have a two Royal Navy sailors aboard - one of whom seems to have an injured arm. Image copyright © IWM. IWM catalogue reference A 32044. Original source https://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205162973

WITH THE WARSHIPS HMS Warrior, USS Des Moines and HMS Ganges at anchor, a gangle of colourful dgħajjes water taxis are busy plying their trade in Malta’s Grand Harbour. Note the dgħajsa on the left of the frame that appears to have a two Royal Navy sailors aboard – one of whom seems to have an injured arm. Image copyright © IWM. IWM catalogue reference A 32044. Original source https://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205162973

LOW SUNLIGHT reflects off the steel flanks of three warships in Malta’s Grand Harbour and bounces of the water as brightly decorated local dgħajjes – a type of small boat, the design of which may date back to the Phoenicians – bob around them.

This is an interesting picture not just because of the naval units it captures but also because it gives an insight into a different life when Malta was more financially dependent on the Royal Navy than on tourism. (1)

Completed too late to see war service the aircraft carrier HMS Warrior (R 31) would see serve on loan with the Royal Canadian Navy, before being commissioned into the Royal Navy. It would join United Nations forces in Korea before becoming as a trials ship and testing many innovations destined for use by the Royal Navy. In 1959 the ship was commissioned as Argentina’s very first aircraft carrier. (2)

Another image taken at around the same time from the the air of the same three ships shows part of Warrior’s flight deck (ahead of the forward lift) stacked with stores a number of the carrier’s aircraft parked midships.

GRAND HARAN ELEVATED VIEW showing (left to right) HMS Warrior, USS Des Moines and the Crown Colonies class cruiser HMS Gambia. Note also the floating dock with a large merchant vessel aboard. Image copyright © IWM. IWM catalogue reference A 32043. Original source https://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205162972.BOUR from the air showing (left to right) HMS Warrior, USS Des Moines and the Fiji-class cruiser HMS Gambia. Note also the floating dock with a large merchant vessel aboard. Image copyright © IWM. IWM catalogue reference A 32043. Original source https://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205162972.

AN ELEVATED VIEW showing (left to right) HMS Warrior, USS Des Moines and the Crown Colonies class cruiser HMS Gambia. Note also the floating dock with a large merchant vessel aboard. Image copyright © IWM. IWM catalogue reference A 32043. Original source https://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205162972.

Behind HMS Warrior is the US Navy cruiser USS Des Moines (CA 134). It operated in the North Atlanitic and Meditteranean and was one of the last all-gun cruisers in the United States’ Navy. (3)

It was deccommissioned in 1961 and placed in reserve until it was taken to be scrapped in 2006. (4)

The final ship in the line-up (on the far right of the image) is HMS Gambia (C 38).

Affectionately known as FREDFearless, Reliable, Efficient and Dependable by her crew – HMS Gambia was a Crown Colonies Class light cruiser, a class of ship similar to HMS Belfast but differing in size and armour. (5)

Looking for a suitable example of the British MK XXIII 6-inch gun and its turret to add to the museum’s collection, a team from Imperial War Museum visited Portsmouth Naval base on the south coast of England in April 1967.

HMS Gambia was awaiting disposal and was looked over. While inspecting the ship the team realised that there was the chance to preserve a whole light cruiser and not just a single turret.

However one of the deciding factor in favour of HMS Belfast being aquired and preserved – first by the Belfast Trust which operated between 1975 and 1978 (6) and then by the Imperial War Museum – was that that ship was structurally in better condition than Gambia. (7) (8) 

HMS Gambia went to be broken up in December 1968. (9) 

Sources

(1) https://www.maltauncovered.com/culture/maltese-boats-luzzu/ – retrieved 13 March 2019

(2) https://www.militaryfactory.com/ships/detail.asp?ship_id=HMS-Warrior-R31– retrieved 13 March 2019

(3) https://www.goldstarmuseum.iowa.gov/about/ussdm – retrieved 13 March 2019

(4) https://www.globalsecurity.org/military/systems/ship/ca-134-program.htm – retrieved 13 March 2019

(5) http://hmsgambia.org/ – retrieved 13 March 2019

(6) https://beta.charitycommission.gov.uk/charity-details/?regid=268074&subid=0 – retrieved 13 March 2019

(7) http://hmsgambia.org/last.htm – retrieved 13 March 2019

(8)  https://britainatwar.keypublishing.com/2018/11/30/hms-belfast-a-national-treasure/ – retrieved 13 March 2019

(9) http://hmsgambia.org/last.htm – retrieved 13 March 2019