musings while allatsea

Musings of a curious individual

Tag: Submarine

Loving Liverpool (5) Birkenhead

Continuing where we left off… 

It was now day two of my Liverpool trip and outside all was grey and gloomy and I was at a momentary loss as to what to do with myself. While researching my navigation I discovered that Liverpool was also home to “U-534“,  a Type IXC/40 U-boat from World War II. She had been raised on 23 August 1993 by the Dutch salvage company Smit Tak  after being undiscovered for nearly 41 years. She now formed the nucleus of the U-Boat Story museum at the Woodside Ferry Terminal in Birkenhead, which, was a short train journey underneath the Mersey. You can see the dismembered U-Boat in the image below.

Woodside ferry terminal

I actually did not use my brains when I decided to hop the train across the river, for starters I was at least 2 hours too early, and secondly I could visit the museum free if I bought a ticket for the river cruise on the ferry.  With the clouds hanging over my head I picked up the underground at Lime Street and headed to Hamilton Square Station in Birkenhead.

Hamilton Square Station

It was chilly too, and I regretted not bringing my jacket with.  I also regretted missing the lift and hoofing up an infinite number of stairs to get out of the station. 

The promenade, U-Boat Story and Waterside Ferry Terminal were about a block away. A quick walk and I was there, but everything was closed and not a soul was in sight. It was only 8.15, why was everything closed? It was very depressing indeed. The only item that looked reasonably interesting was a replica of the Victorian submarine “Resurgam

The original ill fated vessel met its end in Liverpool Bay off Rhyl on 25 February 1880 while en route for Portsmouth. How successful it may have been as a functioning submarine is not noted. However, the information plaque records that she did sail and submerge successfully. 

At the waters edge I discovered that not only was the tide out, but there was actually a ship alongside at the ferry landing on my side of the river! Huzzah! let’s go have a look!

She was busy loading and there was no way of knowing when she would sail and of course I was on the wrong side of the river to get a proper look at her (for the record she was the Stena Mersey).  And, to my amazement a movement on my right revealed a tanker running light outbound.

I idled along checking my watch. The first ferry to Woodside was destined to arrive at 10H30 and  the museum only opened at 10H30 and it was only 8.20! I had a decision to make because nothing was happening here. Looming next to the terminal were the segments of U-534 and I peered at them through the fence with interest. 

I really wanted to see this exhibition so I either had to hang around till opening time, or head back to the other river bank and come across with the ferry after 10H30. 

There were a few other surprises on this short stretch of river bank. 

The Birkenhead Monument.

The HMS Birkenhead is one of those definitive shipwrecks that litter the pages of history, and especially early South African History, as she foundered after colliding with an uncharted rock near Danger Point (today near Gansbaai, Western Cape) on  26 February 1852. The sinking of the Birkenhead is the earliest maritime disaster evacuation during which the concept of “women and children first” is known to have been applied. There were of the approximately 643 people on board the ill fated vessel of which only 193 were saved. 

The memorial was unveiled on 5 March 2014

The HMS Thetis Memorial.

A bit further along the promenade I found a memorial to the men lost in the sinking of HMS Thetis on 1 June 1939. I recall reading the story of the disaster and unsuccessful attempts to rescue the men trapped inside her, and it was really one of those disasters that could have been prevented.

Ninety-nine lives were lost in the incident: 51 crew members, 26 Cammell Laird employees, 8 other naval officers, 7 Admiralty overseeing officers, 4 Vickers-Armstrong employees, 2 caterers and a Mersey pilot.

Thetis was successfully salvaged and repaired, being commissioned in 1940 as HMS Thunderbolt but was sunk by depth charges by the Italian corvette Cicogna on 14 March 1943 off Sicily.  All hands were lost and Thunderbolt settled to the bottom in 1,350 m of water.

She is listed on the Submarine Memorial at the Royal Navy Submarine Museum in Gosport.

It was time for me to head back to the other bank of the river. The ferry was currently running 10 minutes trips across the Mersey between the terminal in Liverpool and Seacombe/Wallasy and if I arrived too early I would ride her up and down until I got tired. The round trip on the “River Explorer Cruise” runs from Pier Head Ferry Terminal to Seacombe Ferry Terminal, Wirral and then to Woodside Ferry Terminal, Wirral where the U-boat Story was and then back to the pier head. It was a 50 minute hop off and hop on trip and I intended to climb off at Woodside, check the exhibition and then reboard at 11H30 to return to the starting place.

However, I am going to skip the ferry trip in this post as I really want to do a post about the ferry separately so this one will deal with my visit to U-534. (the ferry is dealt with in Loving Liverpool (6) Having bought a River Explorer ticket I was entitled to free entry to the exhibition and I had allocated enough time to grab the ferry back at 11H30, although I was equally prepared to catch the next one at 12H30 too, although it would be much more crowded on that trip. There were not too many of us at the museum at that awful time, and I headed directly for the vessel instead of pausing at the exhibits in the hall. The submarine had been sawn into 4 parts, with the conning tower balanced between two of them. Each sawn end had been “sealed” with a transparent bulkhead that allowed you to see inside it.

I am however ambivalent about what was done because they really sliced up an intact (albeit rusty) U-Boat, but it did allow for a limited view of the interior of a U-Boat. The limitations of what they did were several: the biggest being that you could only really see a jumble of badly rusted machinery but nothing that lay beyond roughly 2 metres away. The state of the transparent bulkheads did leave much to be desired because they were badly smeared and I would have thought that they would been cleaned every morning before the exhibition opened. In some sections the machinery was also covered in pigeon crap! and if a pigeon can get in then so can the rain.     

But, those slices were fascinating to see, and while there were cross section explanations that marked certain components it was not always easy to understand what you were seeing. The vessel was full of water for over 40 years so the interiors are badly rusted, and the few wooden parts that I saw were rotten and there was a certain eeriness about that interior. I recall reading a book called “The Night Boat” by Robert R McCammon many years ago, and it was about a submarine full of zombies, and what I was seeing looked very much liked what I imagined that literary submarine looked like (although without the zombies and pigeons). I am not going to even try explain the images because it is beyond me.

It was fascinating to say the least. What really amazed me was how they squeezed so much machinery into such a small area and routed pipework and cables through the hull. The vertically orientated image shows the inside of the saddle tanks, with the curvature of the pressure hull on the right hand side. I never thought to check the underside of the saddle tanks because technically they were free flooding.

On 5 May 1945 she was underway heading north towards Norway, when she was attacked by a Liberator aircraft from RAF 547 Squadron which dropped depth charges. the submarine took heavy damage and began to sink by the stern. Forty nine of the fifty two crew members survived, including four who escaped via a torpedo hatch.

Inside the main building is an exhibition of items that were found inside the submarine, and these were very poignant, and obviously from long ago. 

For me it was a rare glimpse at the inside of a ship that could have ended the war if affective countermeasures were not found, and at times it was a close run thing. U-534 never sank a ship but did shoot down two British aircraft. Her end came right at the end of the war, and today we are able to catch a tiny glimpse into a vessel that descended from primitive hand powered machines that were considered an ungentlemanly weapon. We have come a long way since U-534 was built way back in 1942, and today the nuclear powered submarine is a true submarine and even deadlier than before.

It was time to catch the ferry on the next part of my journey, so I headed outwards, slightly miffed because the shop did not have prices on their ferry models.

My next post will deal with the ferry and my 2 trips on board the ferry Snowdrop.

forwardbut

DRW © 2018. Created 03/05/2018

Updated: 19/06/2018 — 12:54

Happy New Year

It is now 21H42, and in South Africa it is 23H42, almost 2015. I have had an interesting, if somewhat odd year, and up to a point it was going reasonably well. However that has since changed.

The year saw many highlights and lowlights too, these are a few of them.

January.

I started my year with a bit of shipwatching, the Maiden arrival of Norwegian Getaway in Southampton.

And I made a trip to Bristol to photograph Arnos Vale Cemetery, and managed to squeeze in a visit to the SS Great Britain.  It was a great trip, and on my way to Bristol I passed Bath Spa, and decided to make that a destination for a road trip. 

 
February.
 
My first exploration of that month was to Old Sarum in Salisbury, and it was one of those strange places that leave you thinking. And, there was a lot of thinking that month as we gathered in Southampton to commemorate the memory of those members of the SANLC who perished in the Mendi Disaster 
 
 
March.
 
The 1st of March is also the first anniversary of my arrival in the UK. Time has passed, and I have seen much since I stepped off the plane into the unknown.  I also managed to get to Bath Spa and it was a very pretty city.  
 
April

In this month  I moved into my own little pad in Salisbury. Bliss, no flatmates, no shared facilities, privacy!! YES! But what a lot of hoops I had to jump through to get there. Unfortunately it was a longish walk to work and often I would start out in the morning and be worn out by the time I got there. 

May

My birthday month. And in mid May I took a trip down to South Africa to settle some of my affairs. To be honest I do not really miss the place.

 
June.

I returned to Salisbury in June, and it was interesting to be able to consider the UK as my end destination, and not the place I was leaving from. I also paid my first visit to Brookwood Cemetery and the military cemetery there was huge. The largest congregation of military graves I have ever seen in one place. 

 
July. 

This was quite a busy month, my first trip destination was Portsmouth and Gosport, and a visit to HMS Alliance and the Royal Navy Submarine Museum which was really fascinating. 

 
I also visited Haslar Naval Cemetery and photographed most of the World War II graves there. Unfortunately I was not able to complete the First World War Graves so would have to revisit at a later date.

I  took a trip on Shieldhall down to Ryde, which is the longest trip I had taken on this preserved vessel. I was also keen on doing a trip on her to Poole, but I just did not do it. It was also my last trip on her for the year. On a shipwatching note, I was able to photograph Emerald Princess.  

August
 
On the 4th of August we remembered the start of the horror of the First World War.
 
The biggest highlight of August (and probably the whole year) was definitely the Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red Memorial at the Tower of London.
 

 

It was a very memorable thing to see, and it was only probably a quarter of the way done. The images that I have seen of the end result have really been breathtaking, and I know it was probably the most effective memorial and tribute I have ever seen to those who never came back from the First World War.

I also made a visit to Tower Hamlets Cemetery, which was number 6 of the magnificent seven  Victorian Garden Cemeteries, and of course finally got to see the Imperial War Museum which had been on my bucket list since I was a a boy.

It was also the month when the Maritime Festival was held in Southampton, and to be frank it was not as good as the previous years one. 

 
September

Somewhere along the line in August I probably injured my ankle, and was not able to do much in the way of day trips. In fact September was a very quiet time altogether. The only major expedition I made was a return to Gosport to complete the World War One graves I had not done earlier in the year. The rest of that month I seemed to spend in a state of advanced vegging.

October. 

In October I started job hunting as I was concerned about the situation where I was. Fortunately (or with hindsight, unfortunately) I was able to find a job almost immediately in Basingstoke, and I made plans to pack up and leave Salisbury. Packing and arranging my move and finding new accommodation took up a lot of my time, and the only real highlight I had was on the shipwatching front when the worlds second largest cruise ship: Oasis of the Seas called in Southampton. 

 
  
November.

In November I closed the book on Salisbury and at the end of the first week of November I moved to Basingstoke. It was also Remembrance Day in Salisbury.

 

And while on the shipwatching front I went down to Southampton to see Quantum of the Seas. This was the maiden arrival of this new ship too, and she was interesting to see.

 

 

That was the last bit of shipwatching I will do for awhile, or at least until next year, although that does depend on where I am.

 December. 

December was a quiet one. Winter has set in and the weather has gone pear shaped along with it, although we have had some really beautiful days. Christmas Day being especially nice. I did three lots of gravehunting over December, the two local trips being especially memorable. I also revisited Brookwood, although I did not really have any specific grave that I was looking for. I do however have a new appreciation for it. 

And that was my year. I also had some finality on the job front, and from next week I am in the market (as they say). Whether I will remain in Basingstoke remains to be seen. My heart really wants me to go back to Southampton, but I have made no real plans. It all depends on the job market. On the gravehunting scene I will probably be returning to Brookwood, and I have a few churchyards on my list, I will also probably go to London one of these days to look up a few graves there, and of course to visit Norwood Cem. But until then the only thing I can say is…..

 
© DRW 2014-2018. Images and links recreated 21/05/2016.  
Updated: 22/06/2018 — 12:48

The Royal Navy Submarine Museum

Another bucket list item, the Royal Navy Submarine Museum was the first stop on my trip to Haslar Royal Naval Cemetery in Gosport. I have never been on board a submarine before, although I was always curious about them. Come to think of it, I had been on board a semi-submersible boat before, but that doesn’t really compare.

The museum has three major submarines, the biggest being HMS Alliance, the oldest being the Holland 1, and the one that really makes you shake your head HMS X24.  

Submariners are a different breed of sailor altogether, and when you come up close and personal with their weapon of choice you can see why. These vessels are not for the feint hearted, and they do have a tendency to never return. The list of those vessels that were lost is a long one, and for each ship name there is a crew.

The first submarine (apart from HMS Alliance which is not easy to miss), is the Holland 1. And I have to admit I am glad I got to see her because she really does not look very much like the images I have seen of her.  Possibly because she is not submerged? It must have taken a lot of courage to make that first dive, and I expect you need to have a lot of confidence in your design too.

Her interior is accessed by a door cut into her hull, and there is not much to see inside, but the emptiness is really dominated by her torpedo tubes and the lack of headroom. The image below is looking forward. I have no way of knowing what else was in this machine way back when, but I expect it was much more crowded.

And the image above is looking aft. Underneath the wooden deck is the battery, and the ladder goes up to the rather small “conning tower”. 

My next port of call was HMS Alliance, and she really dominates the museum. She recently underwent restoration, although I have no idea what was done on board her. 

Unfortunately you cannot just waltz on board and look around so I headed into the exhibition hall to book my spot. 

The hall really houses most of the balance of the exhibits, as well as a small souvenir shop and of course HMS X24. She is the only surviving X craft still existing (although the wrecks of them litter the ocean floor), and she is really claustrophobic (and I was standing outside her!). 

It really comes down to the men that sailed on these vessels, and the operations that they performed during the war. There is not a lot of space for all the bits and pieces that submarines need, in fact I expect it would easier to collect the bits together and build a hull around them, than building a hull and trying to fit everything inside afterwards.

I do think the latter choice was made. Bear in mind that 4 men lived in and fought these vessels, and their best known exploit was Operation Source, the attack on the Tirpitz

Heading outside I was once again confronted by a memorial to those that never returned. The Americans call it “On Eternal Patrol”, and I think that is a fitting description of the many submarines that never came home. Many were lost in events that were not attributable to enemy action, and those vessels have never been found.
Then it was time for me to board HMS Alliance through a door cut into her side just behind the forward hydroplanes and torpedo tubes. 
Alliance is a member of the A-Class and was laid down towards the end of World War 2, she was finally completed in 1947. She is no longer in her 1947 disguise though, having undergone a lot of modification and changes since she first put to sea. She has been a museum ship since 1981.
There is not a lot of headroom on board, and I expect it must have been even more crowded when she was in service. There are quite a few period items on board her and she is really a time capsule of a different life on board one of HM Submarines 
The images I took do not really show just how small the space is,  apart from there being people behind and in front of me, there was equipment and machinery above and below, as well as on either side. Although generally forward of the control room there is accommodation and living areas, whereas aft of the control room was more dedicated to engines and machinery (and accommodation) . Storage space was everywhere.  Of course the heads always interest me, and there are actually two on board (officers and other ranks). These are not your run of the mill porcelain telephone type either. The image below is of ratings heads and wash room. (Water is not plentiful on board, so any sort of shower was really impossible). The instructions on flushing them make for interesting reading:
Charge air bottle and open sea and NR valves (non return valves?)
Open flush inlet valve with CARE
Free (?) lever and bring to PAUSE
Bring lever to FLUSHING
Bring lever to DISCHARGE
Bring lever to PAUSE
Return lever to NORMAL and LOCK
Close all valves.

One mistake and you would probably be the most unpopular person on board.

Passing through the vessel I could not help think that many wartime submarines were much smaller than this, and their crews were still under the added stress of combat. I would be interested to see how she compares to a U-Boat, and she would be considered luxurious compared to the wartime U-boats. I visited U-534 in Liverpool in 2018, and you are able to see her rusty interiors and they do not compare at all.
We were now passing into the motor/engine rooms, and things were somewhat more open, but multiply that by the heat and sound of her diesels running and this could be a very noisy and uncomfortable place. But engineers have always been special, they really thrive on the heat and noise and without them the ship would  just be a steel box going nowhere.
And our tour ended at the aft torpedo tubes. I was ready to go around again, but the bottleneck was still stuck somewhere near the control room, so I gave it a miss. The fresh air felt good though,  and I came away with a whole new perspective of submarine warfare.
 
Then I made a quick circuit of the exhibition hall, and saw many things that I had read about over the years. Some were hard hitting, and all seemed to involve bravery and sacrifice. I was particularly glad to see that HMS Conqueror had not been forgotten
And that the infamous K-Class had not been neglected in the roll of disaster. Now they must have been interesting to see. Although if you think about it rationally, we have really returned to the age of the steam powered submarine, after all, nuclear powered submarines are really driven by steam turbines.
And one last reminder of disaster. HMS Thetis.
And then it was time for me to go, I had a cemetery to find, and it is probable that some of the men in that cemetery had a connection to the vessels mentioned at the museum.
The “Silent Service” is still one of the deadliest military forces around. They have become true submariners since the advent of the nuclear powered vessel, and they can be anywhere, ready to strike at any time. As a surface vessel fanatic I have never really considered the impact of meeting a submarine would have. I think I have a whole new appreciation of them, and of course much to read about in my travels. The museum is not a large one, but it is really a worthwhile one to visit. Gosport is easily accessible through Portsmouth, and it is worth taking the time to pay your respects. I know I will return one day.
 
DRW © 2014-2018. Created 24/07/2014, images recreated 19/04/2016, updated 03/06/2018
Updated: 03/06/2018 — 17:41
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