Epping’s war connections:

1918 - The Unlucky Submarines

In memory of Stoker 1st Class J H TREDGETT (Royal Navy)

HM Submarine K4

HM SUBMARINE K4 was one of a series of seventeen K-Class submarines. They have the unfortunate reputation of being the most accident-prone class of any ship ever used by the Royal Navy. Six were lost, there were sixteen major accidents and numerous smaller ones.

K4 was built by Vickers and launched in 1916. In January 1917 she ran aground on Walney Island (see picture), and in November of the same year she was involved in a collision off the Danish coast with K1, one of her sister submarines. The damage to K1 was so severe that the crew had to be taken off, and she was sunk by gunfire from HMS Blonde.

On 1st February 1918 K4 was detailed to take part in an exercise off May Island in the Firth of Forth. The exercise was named Operation EC1. The 5th Battle Squadron, led  by Sir Hugh Evan-Thomas,  was to sail from  the Forth and meet a force from Scapa Flow led by Beatty. The Battle Squadron consisted of five battle cruisers, three battleships, fourteen light cruisers, several flotillas of destroyers and two K-Boat flotillas (the 12th and 13th). K4 was part of the 12th flotilla, along with K3, K6 and K7. They were led by Captain Charles Little in the cruiser Fearless. The 13th Flotilla was made up of K11, K12, K14, K17 and K22, and led by Captain Ernest Leir in the destroyer Ilthuriel.

They left Rosyth in the afternoon and it was dark by the time the reached the estuary. The 13th flotilla were steaming at nineteen knots in line ahead when a group of minesweepers crossed their path. K11 and K17 turned to port, but K14’s helm jammed and she swung round in a wide circle. K12 carried on unharmed but K22, bringing up the rear,  ploughed  into the port  side of  K14.   Both  submarines  were damaged  and the bow compartments were flooded. The battle cruisers were following the submarines. The first three steamed past unharmed but the fourth, HMS Inflexible, ran into K22, tearing off her starboard ballast tank.

In HMS Ilthuriel Captain Leir of the 13th flotilla had learned of the original collision and led K11, K12 and K17 back to the scene. This caused even more confusion as they were now steaming in the opposite direction to the rest of the fleet. They narrowly avoided a flotilla of destroyers before running into Little’s 12th flotilla. HMS Fearless, doing twenty-one knots, smashed into K17, whose crew abandoned ship as she sank in just eight minutes. By now chaos reigned. K3 almost rammed K4. K6 and K12 just avoided a
head-on collision.  K6 then tried to regain her position in the flotilla, but in doing so rammed K4, almost cutting it in half. K4 went down very quickly, taking her crew with her. There were no survivors. To make matters even worse K7 scraped her keel over K4 as she went down.

The final tragedy came when the destroyers escorting the 5th Battle Squadron ploughed through the survivors of the K17 in the water. When she went down all fifty-six crew members had escaped. By the time the destroyers had passed only nine were left alive.

Stoker 1st Class James Henry Tredgett is commemorated on the Chatham Naval Memorial in Kent. After the first World War an appropriate way had to be found of commemorating those members of the Royal Navy who had no known grave, the majority of deaths having occurred at sea where no permanent memorial could be provided. An Admiralty Committee recommended that the three manning ports in Britain – Chatham, Plymouth and Portsmouth – should each have an identical memorial of unmistakable naval form. The names of over 8,000 sailors from the First World War are commemorated at Chatham, together with 10,000 from World War 2.

John Duffell, The Royal British Legion, Epping & District Branch, 2001


picture courtesy of the Royal British Legion