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Hm Submarine "Affray"

Volume 486: debated on Wednesday 18 April 1951

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(by Private Notice) asked the Parliamentary Secretary to the Admiralty whether he has any statement to make in regard to H.M. Submarine "Affray.


H.M. Submarine "Affray" left Portsmouth at 4.30 p.m. on Monday for a practice war patrol designed to give officers of the Submarine Training Course experience at sea in a submarine under war conditions. She has on board her Captain and four ship's officers and a crew of 46 naval ratings, together with 20 officers from the Training Course and four Royal Marine other ranks of a Marine Training Course. At 8.56 on Monday evening she signalled that she proposed to dive at 9.15. She was then south of the Isle of Wight, and her intention after diving was to proceed westwards through the Channel.

She was expected to surface and to report between eight and nine o'clock yesterday morning, but no report was received. A search was at once organised by the Flag Officer, Submarines, acting on behalf of the Commander-in-Chief. Portsmouth. All available ships of the Royal Navy, aircraft of Coastal Command and Naval aircraft, including helicopters, took part in the search. I also gratefully acknowledge the assistance given by ships of the United States, French and Belgian Navies.

The "Affray" is fully equipped with the latest type of escape apparatus, including sufficient escape suits for all on board. She is also fitted with a marker buoy at each end, which can be released from inside. Just before 1 a.m. to-day, H.M. Submarine "Sea Devil" reported that she had heard signals which were definitely from "Affray." Further signals were heard at 2.35 a.m. by another submarine. She is apparently lying on the sea bed at a depth of about 200 ft., near the place where she dived, but her precise position has not yet been fixed.

Explosive sound signals were made at 5.45 this morning over the position where the vessel is believed to be lying. These signals told her crew that surface craft were ready in position to pick up any men who surfaced by means of escape apparatus. Forty-four surface ships and seven submarines taking part in the search formed a ring covering a wide area and are ready to proceed to the rescue should any survivors escape and appear on the surface. So far none has been sighted. Aircraft from 19 Group, R.A.F., and five naval air stations are also taking part in the search, while R.A.F. and Royal Naval helicopters are standing by. Some of the helicopters and aircraft are fitted with airborne lifeboats.

The Board of Admiralty would like to extend their sincere sympathy to the relatives of the officers and men on board in their ordeal. I should also like to record the untiring and self-forgetful efforts of all those who have organised and are engaged in the search. The relatives can be assured that everything humanly possible will be done by those who are carrying out the search as long as there is any hope that lives can be saved.

We on these benches, of course, wish to join with the Parliamentary Secretary in the message of sympathy to the families of those on board in these most distressing hours of waiting, and also in congratulating those who are taking part in the search. I would like to ask the hon. Gentleman whether he would wish to take the opportunity of denying a statement in certain sections of the Press, which I believe to be quite inaccurate, that there was any delay whatsoever in starting the rescue work?

Yes, Sir. That is quite untrue. I satisfied myself this morning, by reference to the signals that were passed, that there was no delay in putting into force the proper procedure that is laid down on these occasions.

In view of what my hon. Friend has said—that there was no idea that anything untoward had happened until between eight and nine o'clock the next morning, when the submarine was due to surface—may I ask whether it is a matter of routine that submarines on such exercises should report their position during the night, after diving?

No, Sir. It is not possible for a submarine to report its position after diving. There were fixed instructions in the sailing orders of the "Affray" for her to report her position between 0800 hours and 0900 every morning. When 0900 arrived and no signal had been received, doubts began to be raised. The area of search has been narrowed down and it seems possible that the submarine suffered the disaster shortly after diving.

While I appreciate the good work which is being done, can my hon. Friend indicate what time it is expected remains for the rescue of the men in the submarine? What is the normal time that remains in such circumstances as my hon. Friend has outlined?

That must depend upon the number of men and upon the number of oxygen producing canisters that have survived. I do not think that any useful estimate can be given. I am bound to say, however, that 43 hours have elapsed since the submarine dived, and time is getting on.

May I ask the hon. Gentleman whether the fact that the submarine was fitted with marker buoys, and is at a depth such as has been ascertained, means that those buoys cannot reach the surface from that depth?

No, Sir. The submarine is lying in 200 ft. of water. I examined marker buoys of this kind at Portsmouth this morning, and they have at least 100 fathoms of wire attached to them. There is no reason at all why the buoys should not come to the surface.

What is the possibility of using divers to discover the whereabouts of the submarine?

I regret to say that we have not yet fixed her position. We know generally where she is, but we have not precisely fixed it.