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 sinking of the Royal Oak

RICHARD MADDOX

GÜNTHER PRIEN, commander of German submarine U-47 shaking hands with Vice Admiral Doenitz, commander of the German navy’s submarine arm after the sinking of HMS Royal Oak. Image copyright IWM. Image catalogue reference HU 2226. Original source https://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205194321

GÜNTHER PRIEN, commander of German submarine U-47 shaking hands with Vice Admiral Doenitz, head of the German navy’s submarine arm after the sinking of HMS Royal Oak. Image copyright IWM. Image catalogue reference HU 2226. Original source https://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205194321

JUST BEFORE MIDNIGHT ON OCTOBER 13, 1939. and Britain and Germany have been at war less than six weeks.

U-47, a German Type VII U-boat creeps into Scapa Flow – a huge body of water covering 120 square miles or more than 300 square kilometres – off the northeast of Scotland. It had been used by the Royal Navy since Napoleonic times, although Viking ships had anchored there. (1)

That night Kapitänleutnant Günther Prien was on his second war patrol in U-47 as commander. A former merchant seaman, Prien had joined the Kriegsmarine in January 1933.

Serving first in the light cruiser KMS Konigsberg, he transferred to the navy’s submarine arm in October 1935 and would serve in submarine U-26 during the Spanish Civil War before getting command of his own boat in December 1938.

Besides being a principal Royal Navy anchorage – there were fifty-one ships at anchor at the time of Prien’s attack – Scapa Flow had a special significance for Germany and the German navy.

This was the place that the seventy four units of the High Seas Fleet had been sailed to at the end of November 1918 while the victorious Allies debated their future and to some extent the future of the 20,000 German seamen who were maintaining the ships in good order.(2)

With the First World War apparently ended some seven months previously and with little news from home for the crews who had arrived with the first units on 21 November 1918, rumour and counter-rumour abounded.

So it was the place where Admiral Ludwig von Reuter had ordered his men on 21 June 1919 to carry out a secret plan to sink their own ships.

Of the seventy-four German ships held there fifty-two had slowly sunk beneath the waves as their crews opened sea cocks and made their way off the ships. Nine men would die and sixteen were wounded. (3) (4)

These casualties occurred either as the British tried to stop the scuttling or when German sailors making for the shore were fired on, having been mistakenly thought of trying to stage an attack against their captors.

After almost an hour searching amongst the enemy ships a look-out found HMS Royal Oak  a veteran of the Battle of Jutland in 1916 and acting as an anti-aircraft picket that night.

A PRIVATE MEMORIAL TABLET to P/J 82386 Leading Signalman Charles Edward Fitch RN aged 40 at the Portsmouth Naval Memorial. A married man from Sheerness in Kent, Leading Signalman Fitch is officially commemorated at Panel 34, Column 3 and is one of the 24,660 from both Wold Wars names that appears on the memorial. Image © R Maddox 2018.

A PRIVATE MEMORIAL TABLET to P/J 82386 Leading Signalman Charles Edward Fitch RN aged 40 at the Portsmouth Naval Memorial. A married man from Sheerness in Kent, Leading Signalman Fitch is officially commemorated at Panel 34, Column 3 and is one of the 24,660 from both Wold Wars names that appears on the memorial. Image © R Maddox 2018.

In all U-47 fired three torpedo salvos at his target of which a number missed. The final attack caught the ship amidships and healing over the ship sank in minutes.

Of the war complement of 1,234, some 833 seamen died. These included 134 boy seaman aged between 15 and 17 and 125 of them had been trained at HMS St Vincent at Gosport, near Portsmouth in Hampshire. (5)(6)

Their deaths in particular prompted questions in the British Parliament regarding the Navy’s policy at this time, with Winston Churchill revealing in a debate on 25 October 1939 that there were ‘just under 5,000 boys under 18 years of age serving at sea’ in order to gain practical experience. (7)

Prien returned home to a hero’s welcome. His crew were decorated with the Iron Cross while he received the Iron Cross First Class, the Knight’s Cross and finally the Knight’s Cross with Oak Leaves – all within days of returning to his base at Kiel on 17 October 1939.

U-47 would be lost with all hands during its tenth patrol on 7 March 1941. By that time Prien and his crew had accounted for thirty ships. (8)

Sources

(1) http://www.scapaflowwrecks.com/history/ – retrieved 12 September 2018

(2)http://www.scapaflowwrecks.com/wrecks/royal-oak/sinking.php – retrieved 12 September 2018

(3) https://www.historytoday.com/richard-cavendish/german-battle-fleet-scuttled-scapa-flow – retrieved 12 September 2018

(4) https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-33152438 – retrieved 12 September 2018

(5) https://uboat.net/allies/merchants/crews/ship68.html – retrieved 12 September 2018

(6) https://www.royalnavy.mod.uk/news-and-latest-activity/news/2016/december/16/161216-last-survivor-of-the-royal-oak-tragedy-dies – retrieved 12 September 2018

(7) https://api.parliament.uk/historic-hansard/commons/1939/oct/25/boys-active-service#S5CV0352P0_19391025_HOC_291 – retrieved 12 September 2018

(8) https://uboat.net/men/prien.htm – retrieved 12 September 2018

Charles Edward Fitch and Portsmouth Naval Memorial

http://www.naval-history.net/xDKCas1939-10OCT.htm – retrieved 12 September 2018

https://www.cwgc.org/find-war-dead/casualty/2492399/fitch,-charles-edward/ – retrieved 12 September 2018

https://www.cwgc.org/find/find-cemeteries-and-memorials/144703/portsmouth-naval-memorial – retrieved 12 September 2018

The finding of Australian Submarine AE1 – more than a century after it sank

RICHARD MADDOX

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HMAS AE1 underway on the surface. Image © IWM. Catalogue reference: Q 74848

 

September 14 1914 saw the loss of AE1 – a British designed and built ‘E’ class submarine and the first submersible for Australia’s navy.

Built by Vickers at Barrow-in-Furness between 1911 and 1913, the vessel was commissioned in February at Portsmouth, England.  HMAS AE1 set off in March of that year on the long trip to Sydney, Australia, together with the similarly designed HMAS AE2.

Arriving 24 May 1914, the boat had completed the longest voyage by a submarine ever at that time. Albeit that most of the voyage was on the surface it was never the less a great source of pride for the Royal Australian Navy,(1) its title having been officially recognised by King George V on 10 July 1911(2), a decade after Australia became a self-governing federation(3).

With war declared the two Australian boats set about the capture of Germany’s Pacific colonies, including the surrender of Rabaul on the island of New Britain, to the east of New Guinea on September 13 1914.

The following day AE1 rendezvoused with the destroyer HMAS Parramatta and then proceeded to Cape Gazelle.

At around 09:00 the submarine was ordered to a new patrol point and to anchor with the destroyer at Herbertshohe (the German name for what is now Kokopo, New Guinea) at 17:30.

Visibility varied between five and ten nautical miles because of haze and HMAS Parramatta subsequently reported that submarine was obscured by the mists and the commander of the destroyer thought it advisable to maintain visible contact with the submarine for as long as possible.

Five hours later at 14:30 the two vessels were in signal contact with the submarine asking for a report on the visibility in the immediate area.

An hour later the destroyer lost sight of the submarine and decided to investigate further. When nothing was found it was decided that the boat had returned to harbour and the Parramatta proceeded with its ordered task of anchoring at Herbertshohe.

With the destroyer anchored as order ed and the submarine now overdue a search was made to find AE1. No distress call had been received.

Despite an extensive search nothing was found at the time and the loss of the submarine with all thirty five crew was the first major tragedy in the history of the Royal Australian Navy and the first loss of an Australian naval vessel.

large_AE1_1

Lieutenant Charles Lewis Moore. RN one of three Royal Naval officers aboard AE1 when the vessel was lost. Image © IWM. Catalogue reference: HU 125835

The crew included three officers from the Royal Navy and Cyril Lefroy Baker, the boat’s  telegraphist and the first man from Tasmania to die in the First World War.(4) (5)

Several searches were carried since the vessel went missing but none could locate the wreck.

On 21 December 2017 –  almost 104 years after AE1 disappeared – the Australian government announced that the mystery of the submarine’s final resting place had been solved.

An underwater search which began on 17 December and funded by the Australian government and the Silentworld Foundation and assisted by the Submarine Institute of Australia, the Australian National Maritime Museum, Fugro Survey N V, the government of Papua New Guinea and Find AE1 Limited a not for profit organisation established to finding the wreck, managed to  locate the submarine in 300 metres (985 foot) of water off Duke of York Islands, a group of islands in St George’s Channel, Papua New Guinea.

There are said to be more than twenty shipwrecks in the area

With the Australian government attempting to find descendants of the 35 Australian and British crew members, talks were beginning with the Papua New Guinea government regarding a lasting memorial for the site.

However, how the submarine met its end remains a mystery.

The fin or conning tower structure is separated from the main body of the boat and the absence of oil at the time of the sinking suggest that the vessel sank intact and not as the result of an explosion.

Sources and further information

(1) http://www.navy.gov.au/hmas-ae1

 (2) http://www.nma.gov.au/online_features/defining_moments/featured/royal_australian_navy

(3) http://www.nma.gov.au/online_features/defining_moments/featured/federation

(4) http://seafarersmemorial.org.au/memorials/vessels/ae1.php

(5) http://www.examiner.com.au/story/2557549/100-year-old-mystery/