Thursday, December 28, 2006

Futuristic sub was scrapped in 1936

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icWales
By Sam Burson
December 28, 2006



A WELSH historian is hoping to solve the "political murder" of one of the most advanced submarines of its time, 70 years after the clandestine event at a Welsh port.

The X1, a triumph of British naval engineering, would have been a major force in the Second World War, according to Roger Cook, from Swansea.

But it was dismantled unceremoniously off the Pembrokeshire coast before the conflict even got under way.

Mr Cook, who has become fascinated by the history and demise of the X1, on which he is writing a book, is now hoping people from the Milford Haven area may still be able to offer clues.

He says he has discovered that, despite its size and awesome firepower, politicians were always a much bigger threat to the craft's survival than a depth charge could ever be.

The huge vessel was as big a political embarrassment to the UK's diplomats as it could have been a destroyer of enemy convoys.

Mr Cook, from Sketty, said, "It was too good for its own good.

"It was exactly the sort of thing that everybody had just agreed not to build so the Government at the time was never its biggest fan."

According to Mr Cook, who has recently moved to north-east France to work as a historical tour guide, the mystery began some time after the First World War when the so-called civilised countries were desperate to put the brakes on arms races.

Nations were finding military costs growing out of control.

A reduction in the construction of huge battleships was a major issue in diplomatic deals made at the time.

The destructive capability and massive cost of building them meant they were obvious targets.

Britain signed up to the Washington disarmament treaty, as did all the victorious forces after 1918.

But what UK leaders kept under their hats were details of the Admiralty's latest project.

While submarines were not altogether banned by the treaty, their use against merchant ships was - and it was for just this deadly purpose the X1 had been crafted.

It was armed well enough to take on any warships protecting merchant convoys, before catching and sinking the convoys themselves.

No surprise, perhaps, to find that, after her secret launch in 1923, the Government was forced to take a national newspaper to court over pictures of the new craft.

The blurred photos meant all copies of the paper were seized, as the Government barely managed to keep it under wraps. And it was decommissioned in Milford Haven in 1936, dismantled and largely forgotten by the time global conflict broke out again in 1939. Mr Cook believes it would have been a valuable weapon against the Nazis but the timing was all wrong for the British Government.

"(In the early 1930s) they had just agreed this disarmament treaty and what they did was to go and build the biggest sub in the world," said Mr Cook.

"They were pretty anxious about anybody finding out."

George Malcolm, a spokesman for the Royal Navy Submarine Museum in Gosport, was thrilled about Mr Cook's book. He said, "Any research done which brings a submarine story before the public is always welcomed by us."

But Mr Malcolm said the X1 is currently remembered as a failure.

He said, "It is remembered mainly as a bit of a white elephant. It was designed to remain at sea for long periods of time and had enough guns to engage a destroyer. It was the biggest submarine in the world at the time but it was tactically flawed."

"If you're going to have a submarine that size, and that well armed, you may as well just have a surface ship."

Constant power failures also hampered the sub's potential.

Its huge diesel engines were forever on the blink and the sub only ever got up to its impressive top speed for a few minutes during its entire time at sea. But Mr Cook, currently completing a book about an alternative ending to the Second World War, is convinced the machine could have been a success, if given just a little bit of TLC.

He said, "What was not foreseen was how much of an impact the X1 could have had just a few years after it was decommissioned in 1936.

"It would have been ideal for use in the Second World War, in the Far East. But it was the unfortunate victim of what looks like a political murder."

Have you known anyone who worked on decommissioning the X1 in Milford Haven in 1936, or where the tonnes of metal and steel went after it was taken apart? Email Sam.Burson@wme.co.uk


The X1 - The silent killer that never was

At the time, it was the largest, fastest, deepest-diving, and most heavily armed submarine in the world.

Length: 363.5 feet.

Maximum Speed: 19.5 notts surfaced, nine notts submerged.

Range: 12,400 nautical miles (surfaced).

Abilities: Could dive with much more control than previous submarines, which often plunged into the sea bed. The craft was much more manoeuvrable underwater than anything that had come before and could surface at will. It was a model which big nuclear subs later came to use.

Weaponry: The first hunter-killer submarine, it carried two twin power-operated gun turrets, operated by power hoists and a control tower, as on a surface cruiser. Hydrophones and active sonar could pinpoint enemies. A mechanical computer would control the firing of the 70lb shells. If anything was too big to attack with guns, a salvo of six 21-inch torpedoes could be unleashed from below the water. It also had four machine guns.

Targets: It was designed to target complete enemy convoys. After disposing of the escort destroyers, the X1 was designed to use all engines to outstrip any fleeing ships.


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