Daily Event for September 10, 2005

September 10, 1939: Submariners have always had the most hazardous duty in any navy. They are as likely to be killed in an accident as by an enemy. For most when an incident happens there is no way out and not much chance of rescue from above. Someone once said if you are stuck on the bottom of the sea you might as well be on the moon. Of course in some cases rescue is possible as was demonstrated just recently with the Russian mini-sub in the Pacific however, the crew of the Kursk were not so lucky. The most devastating accident occurs when a submarine from your own navy sends you to the bottom.

An incident of this type occurred on September 10, 1939 when the HMS Oxley was torpedoed by HMS Triton. The two subs were patrolling off the coast of Norway and were aware of each others presence. At some point the Oxley strayed off her course and wandered into the area being patrolled by Triton. The lookout on Triton sighted an unidentified sub low in the water. At least two signals were sent to the sub, but they went unanswered. In a final attempt to contact the submarine green flares were fired, but once again no response.

Believing he was now facing a German U-boat the commander of Triton ordered torpedoes fired. In less than a minute they found the mark and Oxley exploded and sank. Triton moved into the area where the sub had gone down and found three men in the water. One went under before he could be picked up and was never seen again. The other two were rescued and to what must have been the horror of the crew of Triton they were British. The commanding officer, H. G. Bowerman and Able Seaman Gluckes had both been on the conning tower when the torpedoes hit.

Later Bowerman would testify that he had seen the flares, but when he tried to respond his flares failed. He also stated that he believed that the signals had been answered, but he was not sure they were answered correctly. The board of inquiry found no fault with the crew of Triton, but I am sure that was very little consolation to any man on the boat. The blame was placed on a navigational error putting Oxley into Triton's operational area by mistake.

HMS Oxley became a double record holder, the first warship sunk by a Royal Navy vessel in World War II and
the first Royal Navy submarine lost in World War II. Oxley was an O-class submarine that had served with the Australian navy from commissioning in 1929 until 1931 when she was returned to the Royal Navy. O-class boats had a normal crew of 55. I don't know the exact number on board at the time of the accident but, only the two mentioned survived.
© 2005 Michael W. Pocock

HMS Oxley