HMS Truculent

[ HMS Truculent ]

On the 12th January 1950, HM Submarine Truculent spent the day at sea off the Thames Estuary carrying out trials, following a long refit in Chatham Dockyard. Apart from the full crew, there were 18 civilian dockyard officials on board to make any last minute adjustments, as she was due to sail for Scotland the next day. As she made her way up to the Medway Approaches, the Officer of the Watch conned the submarine on the surface. Traffic in the river was heavy and the steaming lights of many ships on their way into and out of the Port of London were clearly visible on all sides.

Further up the River Thames was the Swedish Tanker Divina on passage from Purfleet and bound for Ipswich and then to Sweden. She was carrying paraffin and, strictly in accordance with the Port Authority Regulations, she carried an all round red light at her masthead to indicate that she was carrying a dangerous cargo. Shortly after Truculent's escorting destroyer had left her and proceeded to Chatham, one of the lookouts reported a strange group of lights ahead on the port bow. The Officer of the Watch was unable to distinguish what they were and reported to the Captain. The Captain, having come up to the conning tower, shared in the puzzlement of these lights and concluded, not unreasonably, that they denoted a stationary ship on the northern edge of the channel. The presence of shoaling waters meant that "Truculent" could not pass this ship to starboard in line with the "Rule of the Road" and the Captain ordered the submarine to steer to port. The mysterious vessel however, was closer than the lights suggested and Truculent's bow had only just started to swing onto its new course when the Divina loomed out of the darkness. The two vessels were on a collision course. The Captain reacted immediately and ordered "Hard to Port... Full Astern". Watertight doors were secured. Divina's Captain also responded to the danger, but even as he took action the vessels collided. He thought he had run down a Thames lighter which had disobeyed the rule of the road and had crossed his bows and, having gone full astern, ordered one of his ship's boats away. The submarine began to rapidly sink by the bows and within minutes, the Bridge Party found themselves in the water, being swept away by the tide. The men in the submarine responded when ordered to their collision stations. In the Control Room, the First Lieutenant ensured that all watertight doors were closed; ventilators and valves were shut, and closed off the lower Conning Tower hatch and voice pipes. Compressed air was still roaring into the ballast tanks as the lights went out and the crew was all ordered aft. The First Lieutenant, realising that carbon dioxide was rapidly building up, decided on an immediate escape. He reasoned that, although there had not been enough time for the issue of a SUBSUNK alert, the presence of heavy river traffic would ensure that there would be plenty of rescue ships on hand when they reached the surface. The engine room and after ends twill trunks were rigged and the indicator buoy was released. In all, a total of sixty-seven men made their escape from the sunken submarine, and this figure excludes the bridge party, which had been swept into the sea at the time of the collision. This exodus was a resounding triumph for both, the Davis Escape System and the Submarine Training Program.

Yet only ten men survived to be picked up alive. The rest were swept away by the tide and died of either drowning or exposure. What had been a triumph had become a tragedy... 

15 Men died from Chatham Royal Dockyard, which included "Electrician's", "Ships fitter", "Engine Fitter", "Shipwright", "Draughtsman", and "a Constructor" ... Mr E W. Austin. Electrician - Mr P J. Bailey. Electrician - Mr W E. Barnden Electrician - Mr K K. Edwards Ships fitter  Mr G. Gutteridge Electrician - Mr D A. Hancock Constructor - Mr R W. Harling Engine Fitter  Mr A A. Holmes Ships fitter - Mr A E. Jenner Electrician - Mr J. McLaughlin Shipwright - Mr J F. Melville Draughtsman Mr N A. Mills Draughtsman - Mr CWS. Potts Ships fitter - Mr RH. Strickland Engine Fitter - Mr H G. Tester Electrician.

48 service personal from the "Royal Navy" also died. Stoker/Mechanic E. Brookes - Stoker Mechanic E. Campbell - Steward J. G. Child - Stoker Mechanic L.A. Daw  -  EM. J. H. Denny Able Seaman W E. Dighton - EM. P. Donnelly - Stoker/Mechanic F G. Dorn  -  Leading Seaman W R. Dring - L/ Radio Elec/Mech TC. Edwards Petty Officer. G T. Eldridge DSM Stoker/Mechanic FG. Ellis - Lieutenant N. Farman - Leading/Seaman W R. Firbank  -  Leading Seaman F R. Fox  -  Engine Room Articifer R A. Frost Able Seaman M F. Gutridge - Able Seaman GWJ. Harrison  -  Leading Seaman PAT. Head DSM - Stoker/Mechanic R W. Helliwell - Leading Telegraphist L C. Higgans Lieutenant F J. Hindes  -  Chief / ERA. F W. Hine DSM - Able Seaman W. Ingle - Leading Signalman R. Johnson  -  PO/Stoker M B. Johnston MID Stoker/Mechanic H G. Jones - Stoker/Mechanic M J. Likely  -  Steward G E. Mackenzie - E/Artificer J T. Manley C/Elec J F. McIntyre DSM, MID  -  Able Seaman M. Murphy - Petty Officer F G. Myatt - Stoker/Mechanic R A. Neighbour Able Seaman KCE. Noon  -  Able Seaman W A. Oliver - PO/Telegraphist ECL. Phillips - ER/Articifer 3rd T P. Phillips - Able Seaman D N. Powell Able Seaman K R. Prouse - Leading Seaman B S. Purkiss - Leading Seaman J L. Read - Stoker T. Richardson  Stoker/Mechanic P. Robinson - Stoker/Mechanic A. Smith - Able Seaman W. Swire - Stoker/Mechanic C. Taylor  -  Stoker/Mechanic E N. Woods.

The total number who perished in the cold waters of the Thames Estuary was 63 ... may they rest in peace.