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History of the Submarine Service


Holland one, the Royal Navy’s first submarine, fitted with a single torpedo tube, was born at Vickers, Sons & Maxim Ltd. (now BAE Systems Marine, Barrow) amidst great controversy in an era when the submarine was regarded as the weapon of the weaker power. ‘Submarining was no occupation for a gentleman’.


Submarines quickly became established in the fleet but were still regarded with some disdain despite the fact that they had sounded the death-knell for the mighty DREADNOUGHTS. Even so they still remained relatively primitive craft with three white mice warning of dangerous petrol exhaust gases.


Diesel engines made them safer and longer ranged. Boats became bigger and more powerfully armed. Although viewed primarily as defensive platforms, forward thinkers such as Lord Fisher pushed for the ‘overseas’ and ‘fleet escort’ submarine.


The Royal Navy entered WWI with 100 submarines. Many famous exploits completed (five Victoria Crosses won) and a number of future admirals made their mark (eg Max Horton). Losses (54 boats) were relatively severe


A time of experimentation which saw submarines being driven at high speed by steam propulsion; one being fitted with a 12 inch gun; and another carried its own aircraft. Many of these submarines were lost in peacetime accidents. Thus the first stab at the ‘fleet escort’ missed its mark


A period of consolidation. Overseas squadrons were established which maintained British presence around the globe. A significant number of new classes of submarine were built to fulfil the task.

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