Daily Event for October 9, 2013

Denmark's first submarine, Dykkeren, was designed and built in Italy by Societa FIAT-San Georgio de Spezza at Le Spezia. The boat was laid down on Sept. 9, 1908 and launched on July 18, 1909. She was a small boat only 113' long with a 10' 10" beam. She was powered, like many early submarines, by gasoline engines and was equipped with two 210 h.p. electric motors. She could make a maximum speed of 12.2 knots on the surface and 7.5 knots submerged with range of only about 100 miles at 8 knots (surfaced), far less when at full speed. She was armed with two 457mm (18") torpedo tubes in the bows, no stern tubes.

Her hull was tested to a depth of 145' and found to be sound, but Dykkeren was a "slow" boat, taking almost five minutes to submerge and three minutes to surface and get up to speed. Being the early days of the submarine this must have been expected. After being towed to Denmark she was commissioned on Sept. 29, 1909. However after the boat was accepted by the Danes she was found to have several mechanical problems. These were repaired at the Royal Dockyard at København.

On October 9, 1916 Dykkeren pulled out of København into the Skagerrak and headed for the waters near the Tårbæk Rev (Tårbæk reef), several miles north of København, for diving tests in company with the auxiliary ship Sleipner. About half past one in the afternoon Dykkeren submerged, but just after going under the Norwegian freighter Vesla hove into sight, unaware that the submarine was just under the surface directly in front of her.

The captain of the Sleipner used his whistle to warn the oncoming ship, but he was not answered. Continuing to blow the whistle in short blasts finally brought a response from the Norwegian, but it was too late. Before the Vesla could turn or stop she ran onto the submerged Dykkeren.

The captain made every attempt to regain the surface, but the flooding was too great and Dykkeren sank to the bottom. Fortunately the depth of the water was only about 100' so there was no chance of imploding, but there was also no chance of surfacing, the nine man crew was trapped.

The escort ship dropped a marker buoy and made for a nearby gunboat to report the accident while the Vesla remained at the scene of the disaster. When the commander of the Sleipner went aboard the gunboat Guildborgsund he must have been surprised to find a navy diver aboard. Kaptajn Baron Niels Juel-Brockdorff immediately offered his services in the hope of rescuing the men in his former submarine, Juel-Brockdorff had been the previous commanding officer of the Dykkeren.

Before they returned to the spot where Dykkeren had gone down three of the crew came to the surface and were picked up by a boat from the Vesla. They reported that the entire crew was still alive, but the commanding officer had become trapped in the conning tower while helping them to escape. Juel-Brockdorff wasted no time in getting over the side and down to the boat. He made two attempts to get on the boat, but both failed.

The remaining five men in the Dykkeren had by now moved to the torpedo room as the batteries had been flooded and chlorine gas was being produced. The submarine had been designed with many watertight compartments and all the doors between them and the gas were closed and for the moment they were safe.

The salvage ship Kattegat was brought in within a few hours and efforts to rescue the men began. The first order of business was to attach an oxygen hose to the boat, which was successfully done, then plans to raise the boat were put into place.

It was only possible to raise the forward part of the boat and this was completed by 9 p.m., all five men being rescued. Sadly the commanding officer had died in the conning tower. The boat was lowered back to the bottom, but was raised on Oct. 13 and towed back to København. Not worth repairing Dykkeren was sold for scrap in 1917. Denmark's first submarine was also Denmark's first submarine loss, but because of a quick response and the skill of the men who were on the scene a complete disaster had been avoided. To the best of my knowledge this is the only Danish submarine ever to sink.
© 2013 Michael W. Pocock

Roll of Honour
In memory of
Premierløjtnant Svend A. Christiansen
Commanding Officer of HMDS Dykkeren
Who lost his life on on Oct. 9, 1916

Dykkeren seen under construction.

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