Loss of HMS Affray with All Hands
HMS Affray, an Amphion-class submarine (A Class), left Portsmouth on the evening of the 16th April 1951 for a practice war patrol to Falmouth.
Onboard were its crew, reduced in number to accommodate submarine officers on a training course and 4 members of the Special Boat Squadron of the Royal Marines, a total of 75 persons.
The submarine submerged as planned approximately 30 miles south of the Isle of Wight at 2115 BST (2015 GMT), the intention being to resurface the following morning at 0830 BST (0730 GMT) near Start Point, in South Devon.
Unfortunately, the submarine failed to surface as scheduled, which lead to concerns about its safety and that of its crew and riders.
Realising the potential reason for the failure to resurface, a coded message with the identifier “subsmash” was disseminated, triggering an extensive search and rescue operation.
The search and rescue operation involved twenty-six vessels from Britain, France, Belgium, and the United States, including several British submarines. Additionally, all available civilian aircraft were enlisted to assist in the search operation.
Those involved in the search were instructed to meticulously scan the waters in hopes of discovering survivors, wreckage, or signs of oil spills on the ocean’s surface. At this time it was estimated that the crew could survive for three to 5 days making use of onboard equipment.
Two months later, on the 14th June, in a previously searched area north of Guernsey sonar contact was made with the wreckage of HMS Affray, near the Hurd Deep, a submarine channel which shelved steeply into very deep water and the deepest point in the English Channel.
Despite attempts, the submarine was never successfully salvaged due to its depth and remote location from the coastline, rendering a comprehensive salvage operation unfeasible.
After a comprehensive investigation lasting three months and employing remote-control TV cameras aboard the submarine rescue ship HMS Reclaim, the Royal Navy concluded that HMS Affray’s tragic fate resulted from the rupture of the snort mast. This critical tube, essential for the submarine’s operation at periscope depth, suffered metal fatigue, allowing seawater to enter through the tube’s aperture.
Due to the lack of evidence other than the recovered snort mast by HMS Reclaim, an alternate suggestion or theory remains. It being that the disaster resulted from a main battery explosion and that the damage to the snort mast, actually occurred when HMS Affray hit the seabed.
Whatever the true cause the fact remains that 75 people lost their lives in this disaster, marked as one of the most significant submarine accidents in British naval history since World War II.