Monthly Archives: July 2014

UK – Submarine museum moves a fathom closer

PLANS for a submarine museum in Helensburgh have taken a step forward after an application to alter a former church hall were given the green light.

Argyll and Bute Council granted planning permission to the Scottish Submarine Trust to extend St Columba’s West King Street Hall to house a 53-foot long submarine.

The application for a single-storey extension to the existing hall will form the main entrance for the Scottish Submarine Museum. The new accesible entrance to the halls will be a timber clad pavilion extension adjoining to the West King Street Hall, and will create two extra parking spaces.

A 39-tonne or mini submarine will be displayed as the centrepiece to the museum, which will also house an interactive electronic memorial in Remembrance of the 5,329 submariners who have given their lives in the Royal Navy Submarine Service.

The project, which aims to attract 10,000 visitors to the Burgh, is spearheaded by Visit Helensburgh and this application is the first step in the development process.

Chris Terris, general manager of Visit Helensburgh, told the Advertiser the team will be ‘cracking on’.

He said: “Essentially that’s the paperwork out the way and now we get stuck in to the next phase.”

Chris added: “The extension is simply a small single story which will be the main entrance, will house the ticket office and an upgrade to the disabled toilets. It all sits well within the existing boundary.

“The most interesting and challenging part of the project is just exactly how we lift a 33 tonne, 53ft long submarine and guide it into place. This is all being worked out by specialist heavy lifting experts and our own engineers.”

The project has an estimated budget of £740,000, and has received donations so far of £200,000 from the Armed Forces Covenant; £300,000 for a World War II X-Craft mini submarine; and a grant of £140,000 from the council.

Initially it was hoped the museum would be open in time for the Commonwealth Games on July 23, but planning permission and listed building consent were needed for substantial work at former church Hall on Sinclair Street.

Source – Helensburgh Advertiser

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Vernon ‘Ginger’ Coles (Midget Sub Engineer) – obituary

Vernon ‘Ginger’ Coles – obituary

Vernon ‘Ginger’ Coles was an engineer on midget submarines who steered attacks on German warships hiding off Norway

Coles returning from Bergen and leaving X24 immediately following the attack on the floating dock

Coles returning from Bergen and leaving X24 immediately following the attack on the floating dock

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X-craft were 51ft long, 5ft 9in in diameter with internal headroom of 4ft 8in and powered by a reliable 42-horse power Gardner diesel engine giving a range of 1800 nautical miles. Each carried two 2-ton explosive charges to be placed under the bow and stern of the target and detonated by a time fuse, set from inside the submarine.

For Operation Source, the attack using midget submarines on the heavy German warships Tirpitz, Scharnhorst and Lützow, which were hiding in the northern Norwegian fjords, Coles was the designated engineer and steersman of X-9. He recalled: “As the German fleet would not come out to fight, X-craft were the only means of sinking German ships that was likely to work.”

Coles as a stoker in HMS Faulknor at the beginning of the war

The craft, manned by passage crews, were towed by normal submarines into position off the Norwegian coast, where attack crews were to take over. “During the training exercises,” Coles continued, “it was realised that the manila tow-ropes stretched under tension and, after anything up to five days, snapped. The best tow-ropes were the nylon ones used by the RAF for towing gliders, however the RAF were only willing to supply three ropes.”

When, on September 11 1943, six X-craft left their base at Loch Cairnbawn, one of the suspect manila ropes was attached to X-9. “The line snapped at the parent submarine end and the weight of 500ft of wet 4in manila rope attached to the bow of the X-craft dragged it down to below the safe diving depth and beyond. The towing crew, Sub-Lieutenant “Paddy” Kearan, Able Seaman “Darkie” Hart, and Stoker “Ginger” Hollet were all lost.

“I honestly thought Tirpitz would have been blown sky high,” Coles continued. “And if everything had gone to plan she probably would have been, what with 12 tonnes of explosive under her – that would have broken her back without a doubt. But the real problem was the tow ropes. I lost three very close friends. Three dedicated people – Ginger Hollett in particular. He and I were the only two engine room people in the crews and he was a bubbly fellow, full of life and always working, doing something for the betterment of the boat.”

As it turned out, three of the remaining boats, X-5, X-6, and X-10, (later portrayed in the film Above Us the Waves (1955) starring John Mills,) extensively damaged Tirpitz. But nine men had been lost (three in X-9) and six taken prisoner. Two VCs, four DSOs, one DSC, one CGM and three MBEs were awarded.

Next Coles teamed up with the Australian X-craft captain Lieutenant Max Shean, first lieutenant Joe Brooks, and diver Frank Ogden for Operation Guidance. A lesson of Operation Source was the potential for confusion during multi-craft attacks, so on April 14 1944 Shean’s X-24 was towed to Norway for a solo attack on shipping in Bergen harbour. Explosive charges were successfully laid under a German merchant ship, Barenfels, and 24 hours later, sick and suffering from headaches caused by the stale air in the boat, Shean and his crew rendezvoused at sea with the submarine Sceptre to be towed home. Coles had steered X-24 continuously for 19 hours. Shean was awarded the DSO for his courage, and Coles was awarded the Distinguished Service Medal, the highest award then available to ratings for bravery and resourcefulness, barring the VC.

“Max [Shean] was the only captain I would sail with,” Coles said later. “When we went into Bergen one would have thought we were going on exercise. He was cheerful, confident and pleased that we were doing something useful with no thought of not coming back.”

Coles (centre) with Max Shean and Joe Brooks who were crew on X24

After D-Day the X-craft were deployed to the Far East for Operation Sabre. When the experienced submariner, US Admiral Chester Nimitz, Commander-in-Chief, Pacific Ocean Areas, first saw one of the midget submarines he declared it a “suicide craft” which had no place in the Allies’ order of battle. But when orders came from Washington to cut two underwater telegraph cables off Japanese-occupied Saigon, he soon pressed them into service. Shean designed special grapnels to hook the cables and Coles manufactured these in the workshops of the depot ship before they set off, once more under tow, from Queensland to the Mekong river.

On July 31 1945 they began a submarine trawl for the cables, and after Coles had steered X-E4 across the river several times he snagged a cable and was suddenly brought to a halt. Just 13 minutes later a diver, Australian Sub-Lieutenant Ken Briggs, returned with a short length of cable as souvenir. Coles continued to steer underwater across the Mekong, and a second cable was found an hour later; this time Sub-Lieutenant Adam Bergius emerged from the airlock brandishing a length of cable as proof that it too had been cut. Coles was mentioned in despatches.

Vernon Coles was born on April 16 1920 at Tilehurst, Berkshire. Orphaned at the age of 5, he was brought up by an uncle and aunt. He left the local school at 14 to become an apprentice toolmaker at Huntley Boorne and Stevens, manufacturers of biscuit tins which are now collectors’ items.

Inspired by Sunday school outings to see the fleet in review at Weymouth, he joined the Navy in 1938. His first ship was the destroyer Faulknor, one of the hardest working destroyers in the fleet, which was the first ship to sink a German U-boat, and in which Coles took part in the Norwegian Campaign in 1940, served with Force H in the Mediterranean on the Malta convoys, and escorted convoys to Russia and across the Atlantic. He volunteered for submarine service in 1942.

Vernon in St Nicholas’ Church Newbury viewing the dedication the HM Submarine Tigris which was adopted by Vernon’s home town Newbury during the Second World War

Post-war he served in submarines in Sydney and Singapore, and twice in Malta before leaving the Navy in 1952.

He then joined the Ministry of Public Works and Buildings, worked in Malaysia and at Abingdon, and was chief engineer for the Americans at their base at Greenham Common before taking a position with Van Oord, a dredging company.

A Freemason, he also enjoyed speaking about his wartime exercises at schools and after dinner.

Vernon Coles married Marie Weaver in 1948. She predeceased him in 2010 and he is survived by their two daughters and a son.

Vernon ‘Ginger’ Coles, born April 16 1920, died May 2 2014

Source – The Telegraph

Tsar’s ‘Shark’ submarine discovered beneath the Baltic Sea

A submarine nicknamed The Shark, which disappeared during the First World War, has been found by divers

The Imperial Russian submarine known as Akula or The Shark, 1913

The Imperial Russian submarine known as Akula or The Shark, 1913

The 400-ton craft, commissioned in 1911, was the biggest in the pre-revolutionary fleet and is though to be the first submarine in the world that was capable of firing a volley of several torpedoes. It was dispatched on a mission in 1915 with 35 sailors aboard but never returned to port.

Tanel Urm, an Estonian diver, and a companion found the wreck 30 yards below the surface while exploring a series of located – but unidentified – objects on the floor of the Baltic Sea off Estonia last month.

Russian and Latvian divers then joined for a fresh expedition with the Estonian team after hearing the sub had a blown-off nose cone and three distinctive propellers.

The Russian submarine was commissioned in 1911

The smashed nose of The Shark, and the fact that an external compass on the conning tower was not stowed, suggest the submarine was destroyed on the surface when it hit a German mine. It would have sunk swiftly because it had only one compartment stretching the length of the sub. The divers could not swim inside the wreck because of the damage.

Mr Bogdanov told The Telegraph he had informed Russia’s defence ministry of the find and he hoped the submarine would be declared a “brothers’ grave” – the final resting place of the men who perished inside.

“There is no point in raising the sub,” he said. “I hope we can put a memorial plaque in front and make it a place that can be visited on remembrance days or for educational diving trips.”

Source – The Telegraph