Catharina North Shore Llandudno

Catharina North Shore Llandudno

Sunday, 1 June 2014

Commemorating the Sinking of the Submarine HMS Thetis 75 years ago today 1st June, 1939.

The Sinking of the Submarine HMS Thetis

When the Thetis left Birkenhead on 1st June 1939, she was carrying a crew of 53 sailors together with a further 50 people: 26 Cammell Laird shipyard employees, 9 dockyard managers and fitters, 9 Royal Navy officers from submarine headquarters, 4 Vickers Armstrong employees and 2 representatives of a firm of Liverpool caterers, who were to supply the pies, sandwiches and beer. The submarine was led out to sea by the tug Grebecock, which was going to act as the escort ship.

The Thetis reached its diving position and at about 2.00 pm Commander Guy Bolus signalled the beginning of the dive and informed that the submarine would be underwater for three hours. The tug Grebecock, commanded by Lieutenant Coltart, went to a position half a mile away, but it was not anchored and so it continued to drift away from the dive area and eventually lost the position of the submarine when this submerged. This error contributed to the series of blunders that ended up in the tragedy which ensued, as it delayed the rescue operation which could have saved the loss of so many lives.

Before the Thetis started the dive, the Grebecock offered the Cammell Laird workers the opportunity to leave the submarine, but all of the 50 non-crew people chose to stay on board. Once the dive started, the Thetis remained too light to submerge. The people on board the tug Grebecock noticed that for 25 minutes the Thetis struggled to submerge. Then, suddenly, she went under. After a series of errors the Thetis bow hit the bottom of the Sea 14 miles out at sea, north-east of Anglesey's Point Lynas Light. 
The Stern of HMS Thetis
The observers on the Grebecock had been alarmed by the submarine's sudden dive and raised the alarm. The Thetis sent an S.O.S and could only wait for help to arrive and hope for the best. Men were cramped inside the submarine, with a limited amount of air to keep them alive. The Thetis was still somewhat buoyant and the crew tried to get the stern as near the surface as possible. Sixty tons of drinking water and fuel oil were dumped, allowing the ship to rise stern first out of the water for some time. Worried relatives were told that the men were all safe.

During that short period, sailors began slipping through an escape hatch at the rear of the vessel, but only 4 men succeeded before the ship settled back into deep water again. These people were Captain Oram, Lieutenant Woods, Leading Stoker Walter Arnold and a Laird engine fitter named Frank Shaw. Four other men slipped through the hatch after the submarine began to dive again, but they did not make it. A jammed exit hatch, combined with the mounting weakness, breathlessness and giddiness of those on board, resulted in failed attempts and death. The remaining 99 men inside the submarine died.


Support From Llandudno Lifeboat
Llandudno Lifeboat, Thomas Annie Wade Richards (Llandudno Lifeboat from 1933 -1953) was launched to attend the scene on Friday, 2nd June, to take Dr A. Maddock Jones to the spot 14 miles into Liverpool Bay, where 99 men were slowly dying. Four men had escaped from the Thetis and Dr A. Maddock Jones had answered the Navy’s ‘SOS’ from his surgery on the promenade near the lifeboat slipway. He said, ‘It was probably felt that others would come up from the submarine, but they did not. I waited throughout the day but unfortunately my services were not needed’. Five days later the Llandudno Lifeboat returned to the scene to cast a wreath upon the waves while a bugler sounded the Last Post from the Quarterdeck of HMS Hebe. 
   Llandudno Lifeboat Thomas and Annie Wade Richards
Reference is made to the HMS Thetis in the Llandudno Lifeboat Station Minute Book during the AGM held at 19 Trinity Place, Llandudno dated 22nd January, 1940. During the Coxswains report for the previous year he comments on the fact that the Llandudno Lifeboat took Dr A. Maddock Jones to the scene of the disaster and that the boat returned again to the funeral service to lay a wreath. ‘ 

Local Memory
Local resident Mrs Fay Wareham, nee Brookes who was a young girl of 9 years at the time of the Thetis tragedy remembers the occasion. Mrs Wareham recalls, ‘I used to go for a walk around the Marine Drive with my Aunty Annie every Sunday afternoon. On that Sunday, I remember seeing the hull of the Thetis in the Sea. I can remember it vividly even now. We all knew what had happened to all those men. It was such a tragedy that they could not get them out.’ 

Thetis Rescue Attempt

Operation Subsmash was put into action, with Captain I.A.McIntyre in charge, but his efforts to save the people inside the sub went awry. The commander of the Grebecock had left the tug to drift out of position and so the exact position of the Thetis was not known. Aircraft flew over the area and located the submarine, but then called inaccurate locations. Cutting equipment was not ordered until it was too late. A salvage ship arrived in time to attach a wire hawser around the stern of the submarine and then with the help of winches an effort was made to pull the sub back to the surface. However, the strain on the wire cable was too much, the hawser snapped and Thetis sank to the bottom. Naval divers who could have helped were stranded on the Clyde waiting for civilian colliers to load their ships' bunkers. Nobody had the bright idea to fly them to the disaster area. On Saturday 3rd June 1939, the Admiralty announced that all hope of further survivors would be abandoned. 

Recovering the Thetis 
The bodies of the 99 suffocated people remained inside the Thetis for about four months until autumn, when a mammoth salvage operation beached the wreck at Moelfre Bay, Anglesley. It was the same day that Great Britain declared war on Germany and her Allies. Human remains that had not already been removed by the salvage team were now brought out. Forty-four of those men were interned in a mass grave in Holyhead where a memorial was dedicated to them. 

The Submarine HMS Thetis Beached on Traeth Bychan in 1939

Remembering the Sinking of HMS Thetis in 2014
On 31st May, 2014 a short informal service was held at Maeshyfryd Cemetery, Holyhead, Anglesey to mark the 75th anniversary since the sinking of the submarine HMS Thetis off the Great Orme, Llandudno on 1st June 1939 with the loss of 99 lives. 
Present at the service was The Reverend Dr Kevin Ellis, The Mayor of Holyhead, representatives of the Submariners Association, Holyhead RNLI Coxswain Brian Thomson MBE, representatives of Holyhead Maritime Museum, and other individuals. After the service refreshments were on offer at Holyhead Maritime Museum. 


Afterwards members of the Submariners Association went to Traeth Bychan to lay a wreath
Traeth Bychan on 31st May, 2014

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