Just another day - Arthur Beer.
0800 - 18th November 1960. I am a Leading Mechanical Engineer on Submarine Thule and we are Harbour Stations at Portland, about to go to sea for the day, exercising with various ships of the Royal Navy and the Royal Fleet Auxiliary. We slip and proceed at 0800 and head out of harbourto our diving area about five miles south of Portland Bill. While the crew are still at Harbour Stations the First Lieutenant gives the order "Open up for diving." This is done by the whole crew to make sure that all the correct valves are open and all the valves and hatches that should be shut are shut, in otherwords the boat is safe to dive. (Note:- valves and hatches are always shut, not closed, but you close up for "Action Stations" not shut up. Submarine Thule was a "T" Class submarine, built at Devonport Dockyard and commissioned in 1944. She saw service in the Far East until the end of the second world war, under the command of Alistair Mars, and sand a Japanese submarine in the Straits of Malacca. Thule was 275 feet long, displaced 1090 tons surfaced and 1575 tons dived. Speed 15 knots surfaced and 9 knots dived for a short period. She carried 17 topedoes with 6 topedo tubes forward and 1 aft, with a further two external tubes over the engine room. Her crew consisted of 5 Officers and 56 Ratings. Captain at the time was Lieutenant Thompson. Exercising off Portland is what Submariners call "Mickey Mousing", diving to between 100 and 200 feet letting the Frigates and Destroyers try to find the Boat on their sonar. Boring is not the word for it, trundling up and down listening to the pings and waiting for "Tot Time", the crew keep watch diving and as it is generally quiet carry out cleaning duties and maintain machinery. If any surface ships are detected, such as the Weymouth to Channel Islands Ferry, the Captain may decide to carry out dummy attacks on them. This means the Attack Team closing up and carrying out attacks on whatever target has been decided on. This particular day, the Old Man decided to attack the Royal Fleet Auxiliary Black Ranger. Nothing special about that. I was off watch and in the Stokers Mess, in the after ends, talking to the Engineers Storekeeper. Suddenly the boat rolled over 90 degrees and general opion was that had hit the bottom of the English Channel. On looking at the depth gauge I realised that we were still at periscope depth, so something must have hit us. Diving Stations was then piped. My diving station was in the Engine Room, when I got there the watch keeper, a Canadian Leading Stoker said "It went over the top." The Engine Room hatch was leaking slightly so I went into the Control Room and reported this to the Officer of the Watch. He then piped "Shut all water tight doors." being by the Engine Room door I shut it immediately, only to realise that I had shut myself out of any Escape Compartment, not the wisest of moves in the circumstances. However, after the chaos in the Control Room had died down , it became apparent tht we had been hit just aft of the Conning Tower by RFA Black Ranger, which we had been attking. It was alledgedtheat the Sonar Operator had given the range of the Black Ranger as 2000 yards,but it transpired that he had added a nought and the range was in fact 200 yards. When the Captain ordered Periscope depth to have a look, the tanker was right on top of us. The Boat was soon broughtunder controld and there was no serious damage to the pressure hull and no serious leaks reported. After very carefully checking all systems and making sure there was nothing above, we surfaced. The Boat behaved quite normally and I think the crew, generally, breathed a sigh of relief. We were on the surface.
When the hatches wee open we all realised how close we had been to a major disaster. The after casing, just above the Engine Room Hatch had been destroyed. The Black Ranger had hit us, just touching the rear of the Conning Tower ad hitting the casing and the starboard external torpedo tube with great force. The Snort Mast was sheared off and to this day still lays in the channel. If we had been a foot nearer the surface it would have taken the Engine Room hatch off completely. The Black Ranger was virtually undamaged. It is reported that when we surfaced the Skipper sent a signal to Black Ranger "Thules rush in where Rangers fear to tread." We did what was necessary to make the Boat safe and made out way on wone engine, back into Portland Harbour. As you can imagine, we had a top brass welcome. There were Admirals and Commodores by the dozen on the jetty, plus the TV and Media, to see our very sorry sight. The whole crew was very disappointed, Thule was a good boat with a good crew and we all knew that this was about to end. The only injuries were to our pride.
When we had secured alongside the Captain cleared lower deck and addressed the crew. Firstly, He apologised for endangering our lives and the boat. He asked us not to get involved in anyt way with the media. It was the day before pay day and He said He had organised for us to be paid a day early. We were to go ashore and enjoy ourselves and He woould personally destroy any patrol reports that might be placed before him, an invitation that was taken very seriously, as you can imagine.
The outcome was that we took Thule back to Devonport where she was repaired. She was scrapped in 1962. The Captain faced a Court Martial and was reprimanded. He was later promoted to Lieutenant Commander and made First Lieutenant of HMS Sea Eagle, a shore base in Northern Ireland. I left the boat in December and was drafted to HMS Sultan to commence a 2 year long Mechanician's course.