Submarine Disaster

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On this day in 1904 news of Britain’s first submarine disaster was announced.

The A1 boat had failed to return from naval manoeuvres the previous day and divers were sent down where a circle of bubbles revealed she had gone down, near the Nab Lightship off the Isle of Wight.

It is believed the 100ft-long submarine had been positioning herself to fire a dummy torpedo at the cruiser HMS Juno with her conning tower a few feet from the surface, when the Berwick Castle, sailing from Southampton to Hamburg, ran her down.

The ship reported a dull bang, but it was assumed that a practice torpedo had been struck and nothing was thought of it.

Seven of the 11-man crew were from the Portsmouth area.

A month later the A1 was raised by a salvage company and brought into dry dock, the bodies recovered and buried.

The inquest revealed that the conning tower had been damaged, the periscope bent and a ventilator damaged.

It was believed the force of the collision had thrown the men against the sides of the vessel knocking them unconscious before they drowned.

A message of sympathy, referring to ‘the natural brotherhood of sailors’, was received from the German, Admiral von Tirpitz – from John Sadden’s The Portsmouth Book of Days.