Dorset Submariners

Back to Articles Index

Articles

X-Craft By Gordon Newman

I strayed to the main SMA site and the list of sunken boats. As I, than still only 18 and an RNVR midshipman, was the operational diver on XE11, I was disappointed not to see her listed with the others.
 
On 6th March 1944, I had flu so was in bed ashore at Varbel 1 at Port Bannatyne on Bute. XE11 was taken out to Loch Striven to calibrate instruments. Unfortunately the skipper, Lt. Aubrey (‘Eustace’) Staples, had strayed outside his exercise area and, unbeknown to him, was below the boom defence vessel, Norina. Having completed laying a line of buoys, Norina had engines stopped. XE11, unaware of any other presence, was well trimmed and stopping from 100ft.to retrim at decreasing 10ft intervals. This was a delicate task and has been described as ‘When on a big submarine the trim must be correct to the nearest cupful, in an X craft it would be to the nearest thimbleful’.

Later, one of the survivors, S/Lt Bill Morrison RNVR, who was ‘number 1’ and had been in charge of the trimming, requested permission to go to the heads, which because they were in the W&D compartment, undoubtedly saved his life. Squatting there, he was asked to stay put in order to maintain the 10ft trim that the skipper was trying to achieve and one person moving in that small boat could upset. The BDV only drew 9ft but XE11 banged and scraped aftwards along her hull. The skipper of Norina immediately started his engines and so the screw tore holes into the hull of the X craft.
XE11 sank quickly and settled at 210 ft, with the CO coolly distributing DSEA sets. As the pressure equalised Bill Morrison was able to force the escape hatch open and pulled ERA Les Swatton out in the bubble that took them to the surface. The South African skipper, Lt Staples, A/B JJ Carroll and Stoker E Higgins all died, presumably from oxygen poisoning, with their DSEA sets on. They were buried in Rothesay cemetery, after the boat had been quickly salvaged…a few harrowing days for us all, that are fortunately dim in my memory. We were all subsequently drafted to other units but Bill Morrison, on record for the deepest unaided escape from a submarine, and I never lost touch.
 
We have attended various reunions of the 12th flotilla and placed flowers on the three war graves, which, because of the then secrecy of X craft, have no record of XE11 on them. Bill tells me that the local SMA is now negotiating to have this omission rectified.
I must acknowledge that I was able to refresh my memory of this tragedy from the publication, ’The Tip of the Spear’ by Pam Mitchell and published by Richard Netherwood (ISBN 1 872955 13 4)

Gordon Newman.

Reply received by Gordon Newman from Geoff Exley

I remember Port Bannatyne very well  in the 50's when AFD 22 was moored there.  "Explorer" went in the dock after one of our HTP bags had blown out and curled the false hull round the casing.  We slit all the other bags that were still full of the stuff and allowed it to neutralize in the sea water.  The dock was not fully raised and the oggin was fizzing like champagne!!