Experimental Submarines


In November of 1910 Captain Roger J.B. Keyes succeeded Captain Sydney S. Hall as Inspecting Captain of Submarines. Keyes was a destroyer man and knew nothing about submarines. He appointed a committee which advised him that future British submarines should be of two types - 'Coastals' for local defence and large 'Overseas' for operations off an enemy's coast.

Keys considered Vickers and Chatham Dockyard unable to meet his demands. So that additional submarines could be built in private yards, he caused the Admiralty-Vickers agreement to be terminated. As two years notice had to be given none of the excellent Admiralty-designed E boats could be ordered from other yards until 1913.

Keyes went abroad to obtain what he wanted in addition to encouraging British shipbuilding firms to propose their own designs. The results were catastrophic, unfortunately, as these efforts produced nothing else but a motley collection of what at best could be called experimental submarine types. These foreign designs were barely suitable for work in the North Sea as they had been developed for the Mediterranean and this caused the Royal Navy to lag behind the German Navy submarines of the overseas type.

There were a number of dismal failures, the Italian designed S class and the French designed W class which were both of double hull construction. These boats were finally ceded to the Italian Navy in 1915-1916. Keyes remained in charge of the submarines for four years. It is a fact that the British Navy never wanted more submarines, at least until the advent of the nuclear submarine.

Most flag officers and above all Admiral Fisher believed that the Battle Fleet should have its own flotillas of submarines capable of working with the surface ships. The obsession of the Admirals in their rigid Battle Fleet concept prevented them considering the submarine as the lone unsupported weapon it really was. This persuaded the British to waste a not inconsiderable portion of their submarine building effort through the construction of so-called Fleet Submarines. The resulting K class steam driven submarines, intended as a new and powerful spearhead for the Battle Fleet, were to suffer more calamity than ever endured by any other class of warship in the Royal Navy.