FAMILIES of 60 men killed in a submarine disaster in 1932 are to sail out to the wreck of HMS M2 to mark the 80th anniversary of the tragedy.
The experimental submarine was the world’s first underwater aircraft carrier and carried a two-seater biplane in a watertight hangar on its deck.
She accidentally sank three miles off Lyme Bay, Dorset, in 1932, with the loss of all hands, including two airmen.
Only two bodies were ever recovered from the wreck.
On May 26, families of the men who died will sail to the site of the tragedy to pay tribute to their loved ones.
Among them will be 86-year-old ex-sailor Sydney Estcourt, who was just six years old when his 30-year-old father George died.
He said: ‘Dad was on watch- keeping duty in Portsmouth but he was asked to go on the M2 because the petty officer went off sick. He was made up to be acting petty officer but he had premonitions. He had a bad feeling something was going to happen.’
George was so concerned he left his wedding ring and personal effects at home.
Sydney said: ‘He wrote a letter to my mum saying if she wrote in and said us kids had the flu then perhaps he could get some time off.’
Sadly, the letter did not secure the time off.
‘I remember my mum screaming when she got the telegram,’ recalled Sydney.
He said: ‘I had to go and live with my grandmother for a couple of months after she got the news.’
The navy launched an inquiry to find out why M2 sank on January 26, 1932.
In an investigation lasting almost a year and 1,500 dives, on December 8, 1932 M2 was lifted to within 20ft of the surface before a gale sprang up, sending her down to her final resting place.
The hangar door was found open with the aircraft still inside it.
The accident was believed to be due to water entering the boat through the hangar door, which had been opened too early to launch the aircraft after surfacing.
The memorial on May 26 has been organised by members of the British Sub-Aqua Club in Portsmouth who have dived on the wreck.
Diver Jane Maddocks said the site is ‘fabulous’ but ‘thought-provoking’.
First submarine aircraft carrier
THE M2 submarine was at the cutting-edge of naval technology in the interwar years.
She was built as one of three M-class submarines between 1915 and 1920.
But after her sister ship, M1, accidentally sank in 1925, the M2 and M3 were reassigned for experimental use.
M2’s 12in gun was removed and replaced by a small aircraft hangar which housed a small Parnall Peto seaplane with folding wings.
The boat was designed to operate in a reconnaissance role ahead of a battle fleet.
The unique seaplane could be launched by hydraulic catapult within a few minutes of M2 surfacing. The aircraft would land alongside the submarine on completion of its sorties and be winched aboard by a crane.