A single bow torpedo tube and a conning tower distinguished the very first submarine the British designed for their Royal Navy. The 103-foot HMS A-1 was launched in 1902, a larger version of the Holland class submarine the navy had been using up until then.
It would be a collision with the conning tower that would first sink her in March 1904 during a war exercise in the Solent. The SS Berwick Castle, a mail steamer vessel, hit the conning tower on the starboard side and it quickly filled with water, taking the sub and her entire crew to their deaths.
The incident sparked an initiative to ensure each future sub’s conning tower would have a watertight hatch fitted at the bottom. About a month later, HMS A-1 was raised, repaired and put back into service but after she suffered an explosion in 1910, she was subsequently used as an unmanned target for navy exercises.
While running on automatic pilot in the spring of 1911, HMS A-1 sank, and although the navy knew her location, they were not able to find her. She was found by accident in 1989 when a fishermen snagged his lines on the wreck in Bracklesham Bay. The bronze conning tower hatch was lifted to safety by the Ministry of Defence in 1994, for preservation and in an attempt to prevent the wreck from being looted as she had sunk in just 39 feet of water. But the degredation had already begun. Additionally, between 1994 and 1997, when the wreck was investigated, it was evident that several more items were missing.
HMS A-1 was designated under the United Kingdom’s Protection of Wrecks Act in 1998 and again in 2004.
© Copyright Vince Capone 2013