Now for British Submarines during the First World War

Ok now it’s time to talk about British Submarines, at the start of the 20th century all submarines were crude machines and those in the British Navy were no exception. However, by the end of the First World War the development had come so far that it would pretty much remain the same at the start of the Second World War.

The British Submarine Service was a volunteer branch of the Royal Navy. Those who worked in the early submarines had to both effective and efficient workers and intelligent enough to use machinery that was complex for the time. The Submarine Service was never short of volunteers and the Navy could afford to pick the very best after a thorough selection process. Those volunteers who made it past the selection process then faced a lengthy training programme. Pre-1914, those who joined the Submarine Service saw themselves as an elite force within the Navy and this caused resentment amongst those who worked in surface ships.

The first British submarine, pictured above, was launched on November 2nd 1902, a Captain by the name of Roger Bacon invented the submarine’s periscope, and the periscope was raised and lowered by the use of a ball and socket joint. This type of periscope would remain the same throughout the First World War, although modifications were made to the lenses to improve visibility.

There were smaller submarines like the Holland and its successor, the A-class submarine; these were restricted to coastal duties because of their size. Roger Bacon wanted a small-calibre gun on the deck of the B class submarine but was prevented in doing so by Lord Walter Kerr the First Sea Load who never gave his full support to the Submarine Service.

During the war, Britain invented three new types of torpedo, one was powered by oxygen those powered by compressed air left a tell-tale wake in the water, oxygen is soluble in water and left no tell-tale wake. Another was a circling torpedo the theory behind this was that if it had missed its main target it might hit another. Then there was the acoustic or magnetic torpedo which was attracted to the noise made by a ship’s propellers or would attach to the metal hull of the ship. This torpedo was of little use in the First World War but would leave its mark during the Second World War.

The inside of a Holland submarine was very cramped. The captain stood with his head in a windowed cupola and on each side of his head was a six-inch steering wheel – one for horizontal steering and the other for vertical steering. Using both wheels and giving orders out to the crew must have been demanding in times of calm – let alone when the captain was under pressure. Later designs of the Holland moved the steering wheels elsewhere.



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