'A bit of a do'
It being Submariners Reunion weekend on the 9-11 October 2009 and me meeting up with some old messmates there was obviously a bit of lamp swinging going on. Anyway I met one old ships and was reminded of a “bit of do” we had in 1968, he being Fred Cartright who was the Killick Chef on the same boat. Having been asked to donate the story for our website I shall therefore proceed to knock out the said dit.
We were based in Singapore on board H.M. S/m “Anchorite”, an A-Class Submarine which had been completed in 1947, though laid down in 1945, for war service in the Far East. She had spent a couple of commissions out there at this time, based on the Singapore Royal Navy Dockyard and serving with the 7th Submarine Squadron. It was now time to bring her back home to the United Kingdom for final disposal and scrapping. She was a good sturdy boat and still able to work, so we did the usual routine of exercising with different naval elements and working our passage back home. Eventually we had traversed the Indian Ocean and were round the Cape and working in the North Atlantic. We’d had a couple of days refuelling in Ascension Island and were on our way to Gibraltar for a find rabbit run before fetching up in Gosport and paying off the submarine. The exact details are now hazy after such a long time but basically we had to dive to carry out certain obligations to the Admiralty. We had already been diving on a regular basis and were still opened up for diving so on this particular evening we were carrying out our normal routines i.e. getting ready for a movie show in the for’d mess after clearing up from our evening meal. The projector was in place and all loose gear had been stowed away and we were just waiting for the stragglers to take their seats before we could begin the show. The tannoy crackled into life and the pipe “Diving on the Watch, Diving now, Diving now,” was heard and so everyone carried on as normal. The vents could be heard opening and the air escaping, as usual. The normal tannoy messages were being relayed over the loud speakers, no problem. The angle started getting a bit steeper than usual but this sometimes happened so nothing really untoward was suspected. What happened then, as far as I can remember, was however a bit unusual. The tannoy messages came across where the main vents were shut, as usual and the angle was getting very steep. The main complaint then, was that we were normally warned about steep angles in advance so that we could prepare for them. This warning had not been given, that was unusual. The projector started sliding down the mess deck table and had to be held and some of the crockery cupboards we starting to burst open and spill their contents onto the deck, again not usual. The next orders we heard were for the main ballast tanks to be blown, i.e. air channelled into the tanks to gain full buoyancy and surface, not usual so soon but obviously the control room knew what they were doing. The angle of the boat in this case however kept getting steeper and the blowing of the ballast tanks was not doing its usual job and surfacing the submarine. At this stage “Diving Stations, Diving Stations” was the next pipe that we heard. At this stage the boat was so steep that we couldn’t climb up the hull to get to our diving stations. Tool boxes and other paraphernalia was also starting to crash down the length of the boat. One by one the High Pressure air groups were depleted of their precious air supplies and obviously things were now looking very dodgy indeed. I looked around my messmates and everybody’s face was extremely pale to say the least, so I assume mine was the same. Down to the last air bottle group (I can’t remember how many we had now but there were none left) and the angle was still going on so we all thought we were about to breath our last. Suddenly the boat started answering to the air that was in the ballast tanks and we stopped gaining degrees of dive and started righting ourselves. As soon as we could climb up the boat we all left the mess and charged to our diving stations, mine being in the control room on the telegraphs. We were all in place and fulfilling the jobs we had been trained for, which was a relief. The boat eventually came to an even keel and went onto the surface. Time had to be taken out then to replenish the High-Pressure air bottle groups via compressors driven by the main engines. The Jimmy (1st Lieutenant) busied himself checking his trim whilst the rest of us just carried out our orders as required. Eventually, all was back to normal, HP air bottle groups were topped up, everyone in place, 2 blasts on the diving klaxon and down we went. The exact same thing happened but because we were at our diving stations it didn’t seem so perilous. Eventually the boat answered the controls and we bobbed to the surface again. Repeat routine but this time the Jimmy was called a few choice names by the Skipper and had to empty every tank concerned with the trim and check every other tank and compartment to ensure that nothing was amiss which could affect our diving capability. HP air bottles full, trim achieved once again but from scratch, everyone happy, well the Skipper was, and 2 blasts on the diving klaxon took us down again. Would you believe, the same thing happened all over again? I can’t remember the exact circumstances but we tried diving 4 times and the same thing happened, Some of us were starting to get a bit fed up with this, not rebellious but just wondering when the Skipper was going to call it a draw. He eventually did and we then proceeded to Gibraltar as previously planned. Signal sent for early harbour entry and everything as normal. No more diving. When we were in harbour the Skipper deemed that a skeleton crew should remain on board to do duty watch and the rest should go ashore and get it out of their systems. I couldn’t go ashore because I was under stoppage of leave; I had done a bit of Absent From Place of Duty in Capetown. However in the time honoured fashioned I made myself available to do some trot sentry duty to assist the duty watch. I was on the casing doing my duty when the shore telephone rang, on answering it I was informed that Operation Radiogram was under way. This entailed a simulated attack and the boat was to go to sea and await instructions. I told the officer at the other end of the line that this was impossible as all the crew was ashore getting drunk because we had had a “bit of a do”. He then told me to get the duty officer to the phone, which I duly did and heard him telling the chap exactly the same. He insisted that we had to do it so we then had to get a couple of blokes off the duty watch, I think there were only about six of us on board anyway, and they had to go ashore and get the crew back on board to go to sea. From what I heard, the Skipper was in the casino and told them to “Bugger off” and get the Jimmy to take the boat to sea. I would assume that the aborted dives had affected him the same as the rest of us. The crew came back in dribs and drabs and none of them was fit for anything from what I could see. One bloke had been dragged away just as he had started getting stuck in to a steak dinner. He proceeded to put some beef dripping on an empty cigarette packet and eat that. The Jimmy hit his head on a valve on the control room, rendering himself unconscious and incapable of taking charge of the boat. We didn’t go to sea, nor were there any repercussions as far as I know, at least not at a local level. After a couple of days we got ourselves ready for sea and headed back to the U.K., surfaced all the way. On entering Haslar Creek at H.M.S. Dolphin I had to inform my wife, who had come down from Birkenhead to greet me, that she would have to arrange accommodation ashore for herself because I still had two days stoppage of leave to fulfil.
What had caused the boat to not act as it should have done on diving? There are 5 ballast tanks on an “A” boat and number 5 is a single tank and not a saddle tank as the other 4 are. When the main vents were opened all the indications showed that everything was normal, however, it turned out that number 5 main vent, a single plunger type contraption if you will, had suffered a snapped rod and was remaining shut. Number 5 ballast tank had been acting the same as a water wing and we were swinging on it. The danger was of course that with the other 4 tanks having open bottoms, called free flood, then once a certain angle is reached, any air put into the tanks just pours out of the open hull. This is not a full explanation, for instance number 3 tanks doubled as a fuel tanks and had a bottom vent to seal it when it had diesel in it, but I am sure you can form a basic picture of the set up.
The old Navy could be a bit hard sometimes but I have no regrets, how could I? I’m still here.
Ken Kerr, RO2, P/J981180, H.M.S/m Anchorite, 1967-68