Block of wood in propellor led to the death of 14 submariners

Funeral of 13 of the 14 seamen who  lost their lives when H.M. Submarine A3 was lost February 1912. (M. Richardson collection) PPP-140324-110413001

Funeral of 13 of the 14 seamen who lost their lives when H.M. Submarine A3 was lost February 1912. (M. Richardson collection) PPP-140324-110413001

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Of all the incidents at sea involving naval vessels, the sinking of a submarine while submerged must fill most of us with dread.

Sadly that is what happened to the submarine A3 when on battle trials in the Solent on February 2, 1912. All hands were lost.

The bodies of the 14 victims were recovered from the sunken boat and 13 were buried in Haslar Naval Cemetery. The 14th, Lieutenant Campbell, was taken home by train to Oban, Scotland, to be interred.

It appears from the coroner’s report that the incident may never have occurred but for a block of wood. It was found wedged in the boat’s propellor.

A3 was accompanied by her parent ship HMS Hazard on the trials. Hazard was to steam to the eastern end of the Isle of Wight and A3 was to then attack her firing dummy torpedoes.

A3 was seen for a while off the starboard side of Hazard and then disappeared. Shortly after, something struck Hazard and it was felt it was the submarine.

A hole eight feet long and a foot wide opened up on A3 and water poured into her hull filling her in seconds and in very little time the crew had perished.

On being recovered and returned to the Dockyard, an inspection was made and the block of wood was found.

Water was being blown from the ballast tanks and the motors were switched to go astern.

The opinion was formed that A3 was unaware of exactly how close Hazard was until seconds before being struck.

It is thought an attempt was made to surface as there was little room to dive under Hazard in time.

Had the block of wood not been there, A3 might have been able to go astern and clear Hazard. No blame was attached to either captain.

The funeral took place at Haslar Naval Cemetery, Gosport, with every sailor borne on a gun carriage.

The service was attended by men from every ship in port.

More than 300 wreaths covered the coffins and the procession was more than a mile-and-a-half long.

On May 17 the A3 was used as a target and sunk by gunfire from HMS St Vincent.

So shocking was the incident it was reported in newspapers worldwide, including the New York Times and Sydney Morning Herald.

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