The Arkwrights after Champagne and Shambles
The male line of John Arkwrights in Herefordshire since 1814 was brought to an end in its fourth generation with the death of John Richard Stephen Arkwright in a submarine accident in 1943. His death in war was an ironic fate given that his father had composed ‘The Supreme Sacrifice’, better known as the Remembrance Day hymn ‘O Valiant Hearts, who to your glory came’.
Below is a full account of the circumstances of his death, which were brought vividly to mind with the sinking of the Russian Navy’s submarine Kursk in 2000 in which twenty-three submariners survived the initial accident but could not be rescued.
For those interested in the survival of this line, John (1907-1943) was the elder of Jack’s two sons. David, the younger son (1911-1983) succeeded Jack on his death in 1954, but never married or had children, terminating the direct male line of Arkwrights in the county.
The succeeding male line today, would therefore be that descending from Johnny’s younger brother, Revd George Arkwright (1836-1877). George’s eldest surviving son was Bernard who called his own son Cecil after his elder brother who died aged 4 months. Cecil died in 1980, leaving two sons and a daughter. The elder of those sons, Michael, was born and lives in Zimbabwe, and has a son, David Julian, who is today much involved in regional development in South Africa. There are also descendants in the male line from Johnny’s younger brother Arthur.
In the female line, there are many descendants both from Johnny’s sisters Caroline (married name Scudamore Stanhope) and Mary (m Bosanquet), and Johnny’s daughters Geraldine (m Chester-Master) and Evelyn (m Powell).
HM Submarine Untamed (P58) – 1943
In the clear early light of the morning of Sunday 30th May 1943, HM Submarine Untamed (a group II U-Class submarine, pennant number P58) slipped clear of her supply ship HMS Forth, in Holy Loch on the River Clyde and set out to rendez-vous with Armed Surface (A/S) vessel HMS Shemara for a day’s routine training.
The young Commanding Officer, Lt Gordon Noll had been given his orders on board the supply ship. Untamed was to head out to Kilbrannan Sound, a stretch of water between the Campbeltown peninsula and the mainland. There, having met Shemara, he was to take the submarine down to a depth of ninety feet. Fisherman’s buffs had been attached to Untamed’s conning tower so that Shemara could see on the surface Untamed’s position. Shemara was then to use Untamed to practise firing dummy ‘hedgehog’ projectiles. There were to be two exercises during the day; the first to run from 0950 hours until 1300 and the second from 1348 to 1648 hours.
To simulate real patrol conditions, there was to be no wireless or telegraph contact whatsoever. Pre-determined courses, speeds and surfacing times had been set.
The exercise would train Shemara’s crew to destroy enemy submarines, and give Untamed’s crew practice in the refined balances that had to be struck in surfacing and submerging their vessel. Beneath Lt Noll, as he descended the conning tower en route to the rendez-vous, his thirty-five man crew was busying itself in preparation for the exercises. By now, having been based at Holy Loch (also known as Sandbank) for around two months, they knew the routine. They referred to this sort of exercise as ‘playing clockwork mouse.’
The crew was the usual incongruous blend of men from all backgrounds who found themselves thrown together by war in a space just 196’ x 16’.
Several of the key ratings including Chief Engine Room Artificer ‘Chaff’ Challenor, Leading Signalman John Gilliland, Second Coxswain Wilf Tippet, Stoker Petty Officer ‘Spo’ Ball and the submarine’s Electrician with the unenviable wartime name of LTO Dennis ‘Gerry’ German, had trained together on an H class submarine in Ireland (photographed above at Londonderry). They had then joined Untamed during the final weeks of her construction at the Vickers Armstrong High Walker yard on the Tyne. Under Lt Noll, they had then sailed her round the north of Scotland to the Clyde, stopping at HMS Elfin at Blyth to collect the officers’ luggage. This was made more entertaining by the insistence of American Third Officer Lt ‘Hank’ Hunter on bringing his motorcycle with him on board. It wouldn’t fit through the torpedo hatch (the largest entry point in the vessel) in one piece, so he gave the job of dismantling the motorbike to one of the Engine Room Artificers, who quietly tossed various parts over the side in silent protest.
On arrival at Holy Loch, they had met the rest of Untamed’s crew. This later attachment included John Arkwright. Despite Arkwright’s officer background as the Eton and Oxford-educated son of Hereford’s former MP Sir John Stanhope Arkwright, John came to Untamed as a rating. In this he was not alone. One of Untamed’s stokers was Fred Cannon, also educated at Eton and trained at Dartmouth. He had loathed the protocol, however, and had run away and lived rough before joining the Navy as a stoker.
Able Seaman Arkwright had been trained to operate the Asdic set – a role known as ‘ping bosun’. At thirty-six years old, Arkwright was a good deal older than most of the rest of the crew, his senior officers included. ‘Gerry’ German, who had joined the Navy aged fifteen, having been orphaned, and was now twenty-three, described Arkwright as very nonchalant, laid-back and taking nothing very seriously – ‘a bit like having David Niven on board.’ German recalled how, one day when Arkwright was due to have been training on the ‘Attack Teacher’ on the depot ship, a facility in great demand and for which there was a tight roster, Lt Peter Duncan challenged him.
“Shouldn’t you be up in the Attack Teacher?”
In his languid manner, Arkwright replied
“I don’t know, should I?”
When not at sea, Arkwright was responsible for keeping the submarine’s control room clean and German remembered him ‘wafting about with a duster and a tin of ‘Bluebird’ polish.’
During their stay on Holy Loch, the submarine and her crew had played a less conventional role in the Ministry of Information’s 75 minute film Close Quarters, showing the routine patrol of a submarine. John Arkwright appears in the film in a control room scene. Reviews said that ‘the real life crew are very well directed by Jack Lee and brilliantly photographed by our old chum Jonah Jones. Close Quarters in many ways gives a better idea of what it must be like to dive and live under water than does its studio counterpart,’ the much better-known We Dive at Dawn, which came out at almost the same time.
Despite their differences, the crew all rubbed along together pretty well. The previous day, Lt Noll had reported to Commander Thomas Corfield Jenks, the Commanding Officer at Campbeltown that he was ‘well satisfied generally with his crew and his submarine.’ On 30th May, the crew had some changes; John Gilliland was on sick leave having his tonsils removed, and German was recovering after a hernia operation. Noll had promised German that he would keep his place in the crew.
In Kilbrannan Sound, Lt Noll took a last look from the conning tower before going below to the control room. The conning tower hatch was secured. Noll gave orders for Untamed to dive, and took her down to ninety feet as planned. The exercise began. At the Asdic set, Arkwright listened for Shemara’s propellers overhead and tried to identify the sounds of the projectiles as they approached. For’ard of the control room and mess quarters, Petty Officer Welford checked over the four torpedoes in their tubes and the other four in stowage. Aft’ of the Control Room, German’s replacement worked around the two vast electrical batteries of 224 cells in all which powered the submarine’s equipment. From the Engine Room beyond them, Chaff Challenor was summoned to the control room by Lt Noll to inspect a minor leak by the periscope.
At 1300 hours, Untamed resurfaced on schedule and made contact with Shemara. Lt Noll reported the leak on the periscope, but otherwise, all had gone to plan. At 1348, Untamed dived again for the next three-hour exercise. This began at 1358 and was due to end at 1648. The first two sets of projectiles were fired at 1400 and 1412 as planned. Then, at 1418, a white smoke candle – usually an answer signal to a charge from the Armed Surface (A/S) vessel – was seen. Shemara tapped her hulls to see if Untamed wanted to surface, but there was no response, and the practice continued.
By 1436 the buffs had disappeared and Shemara fired a small charge meaning ‘indicate your position’. Ten minutes later, a yellow candle was spotted 1000 yards astern, with a swirl of water, as if Untamed was blowing her ballast tanks. Shemara fired another three charges to indicate ‘exercise complete, surface at your discretion’, but no response came. At 1510, a hydrophone effect, as of propellers turning, was heard, and again at 1526. At 1615, Shemara again let off the ‘indicate position’ charges and at 1619 reported a problem to Campbeltown.
There, immediate action was taken. HMS Wolfe, Forth’s sister supply ship, HMS Boarhound with a Medical Officer, submarines Thrasher and Usurper (the latter identical to Untamed and as such a useful comparison), specialist diving vessel HMS Tedworth with her deep divers and experience of the 1939 Thetis submarine disaster, and Liverpool & Glasgow Salvage Association ships were all mobilised.
Shemara, on a flat calm sea, with good visibility continued to hear Untamed’s hydrophone and whistle effects like those of blowing her ballast tanks, until 1745. From that time, both sounds ceased. Shemara had, though, by now confirmed that Untamed was on the bottom at a depth of 150’, within sight of the foreshore at Campbeltown.
Beneath the water, the crew had had a problem with the Ottway log, a solid looking brass sleeve about three inches in diameter which had a little impeller that stuck out through the bottom of the ship. The impeller, turned by the current, measured distance and so the speed of the ship through the water. The log could be inspected by raising the instrument for repair through an outer sluice valve that was closed behind it so that an internal hatch could then be opened to look at the log. However, on this occasion, Petty Office Welford failed to lift the log completely clear of the sluice valve before unclipping the hatch. Therefore, when the inspection hatch was unclipped, the submarine was, effectively open to the sea.
Water poured in at a pressure of at least 35lbs per square inch, at a rate of about 2 tons per minute. Unable to stem the water, PO Walford and Sub Lt Acworth, with him, withdrew behind what should have been a watertight door. In fact, the door was distorted, allowing the whole of the forward part of the submarine up to the watertight door of the control room itself, to fill with water. The submarine nosedived.
For Untamed to have been saved, the main ballast tanks should have been blown at once. It appears, though, that the seriousness of the situation was not immediately grasped. All too quickly, Untamed came to rest on the seabed. Once there, the crew tried for too long to lighten the submarine and move her off the bottom – the hydrophonic sounds, whistling and swirling water that Shemara detected on the surface. Untamed bottomed soon after 1418, but it was not until after1800 that, with four hours already lost, the decision was taken to abandon ship. No sounds were heard from Untamed by Shemara after about 1830, but bubbles were seen rising from her.
Escape through the conning tower was considered but rejected and Lt Noll led the remaining crew of 34 into the small engine-room beneath the aft’ escape hatch. The control room compartment was sealed behind them, and the lighting cut, leaving only the equivalent of a miner’s lamp in which to work. Davis Escape Apparatus (DSEA) breathing sets were donned. The crew were familiar with these as training with them was the first that was received on joining up – partly to ensure that the men were temperamentally suited for their role in a claustrophobic submarine. Now, though, it became clear that some sets had not been brought from the control room, leaving ten men to go without. Also, counter-intuitively, the valve on the DSEA sets had to be switched to ‘off’ to make oxygen available, a fact that might easily be forgotten in an emergency, and indeed was by several of the confused crew.
Next, an air lock had to be created beneath the hatch, by dropping a canvas twill trunk from above and lashing it to the plates (floor). The engine room was sealed for flooding up to equalise the pressure inside and outside the submarine to enable the hatch to be opened. The flooding lever was thrown. However, no water entered the compartment as required for escape. In the cramped conditions, the dark and confusion, it could not be understood that the lever had been incorrectly reassembled, probably after cleaning, and was 90 degrees out of phase. Even now, a variety of other methods was used to try to flood the engine room, but to no avail.
In a final, desperate attempt to secure escape, the Chief Stoker, “Chaff” Challenor (one of those whose DSEA wasn’t switched on correctly) climbed up to the escape hatch and unclipped it, but, given the pressure of the sea above him, failed to throw it open. His fellow crew members were unable, through their poisoned stupor, to help him. They were now entirely dependent on salvage from above.
On the surface, divers arrived soon after midnight and tried to go down to Untamed at 0100. The tidal stream of up to 4 knots only afforded an opportunity of doing so for about 5 hours in every twenty-four. They tried again at 0600 and 1100 on 31st May, but were again forced back. The weather then deteriorated. They finally reached Untamed at 1128 on Tuesday 1st June and found her lying on an even keel. There was, though, no response to tapping her hull. The weather prevented further exploration until 5th June when a diver went the full length of her and reported that the aft’ escape hatch was not secured. Challenor’s body was recovered beneath it and he was buried at Campbeltown.
By 15th June, the lifting wires were all in place around Untamed and by 26th June, four weeks after she sank, she was safely inside the boom of Campbeltown. From there she was relocated to Dunoon. Lt AJW Pitt, the CO of HMS Taku currently refitting, was brought to the scene to record her precise condition, from which the chronology of the tragedy could be reconstructed. The foundering of HMS Untamed caused alarm, particularly coming, as it did, after a sister submarine, HMS Vandal, had sunk irretrievably in the Clyde on 24th February 1943, just three months before Untamed. Untamed’s crew had heard of her ‘disappearance without trace in those waters, while on independent exercises’ on their arrival at Holy Loch, and had been, Dennis German recalled, ‘somewhat discomforted’. HMS Untiring, also a Vickers-built submarine had suffered a battery explosion, and HMS Unswerving had fallen off her blocks during building. Admiral CB Berry raised the question of sabotage.
The Prime Minister himself asked questions on hearing of the loss of Untamed. On 16th July, after reading the Preliminary Report, Churchill memo’d
“To complete this tragic picture, let me know
a) the depth at which the submarine bottomed and
b) time between first accident and probable death of crew.
The official reply estimated that ‘the crew probably died at about 0800 on May 31st, that is about 18 hours later.’
The official enquiry concentrated on the faulty internal door that resulted in so much of Untamed flooding, and on the fault with the engine room’s flooding valve lever that had foiled the crew’s escape. Personnel failings were also pointed out, but in defence of the crew, the Admiral reminded the board that these were “partially attributable to the comparatively short time which can now be devoted to training and the consequent inexperience of a proportion of submarine crews.”
Untamed had been a new submarine and, having been raised, was refitted and renamed (apparently with no hint of irony) HMS Vitality twelve months later. Like Untamed, she was berthed off HMS Forth on the Clyde. She made her first War Patrol in the North Sea, via Lerwick, Shetland, from 12th to 29th October 1944. The patrol report reveals a routine trip, surfacing during the days for 5 minutes at a time “for sights” and then, at night, at about 1930 for some time. In a chilling reminder of Lt Noll’s last message from Untamed, Lt KS Renshaw reported a major defect on the periscope, because of “excessive leaking past the hull gland” which was put right at sea.
Renshaw’s crew was of course aware of Vitality’s previous history. On his return, Renshaw noted that, although disappointed to see nothing of the enemy, “the patrol had considerable value as a ‘shakedown’ for the crew, many of whom had never previously been to sea in an operational submarine… The whole crew have shown a remarkable keenness to do operational work in the submarine.” Informally, other tales survived: the crew was spooked by hearing heavy boots overhead. On another occasion, the salvage clips on the outside of the escape hatch, which should evidently be unscrewed before any dive, were found, on surfacing, to be screwed down. Vitality survived the war and was sold in February 1946. She was broken up in Troon in a month later.
Most of the wartime population of Britain was completely unaware of the loss of Untamed. Even Gerry German, who had been with Untamed since she was still being finished at the shipyard, but who had to leave her for a month to undergo a hernia operation at an RN Auxiliary Hospital between Holy Loch and Glasgow, was oblivious. He returned to Holy Loch in the days after she sank, arriving at 4pm, just in time to meet the liberty men going ashore on leave. On passing him one said ‘your boat’s gone’. Confused, he handed his papers to the duty officer who commented ‘It’ll be a long time before you see Untamed again.’
The newspapers of the day maintained complete silence. The Daily Sketch of 3rd June boasted that May had been the best month yet in U-boat sinkings. The Daily Mail the following day had a cartoon of a U-boat sinking to the bottom of the sea, releasing bubbles and saying ‘This U-boat is invincible, and the Atlantic life-line will be cut, the Allies will be starved out, we now command the seas.’ The only detectable clue to the tragedy unfolding in the Clyde appeared in the Dunoon Herald and Cowal Advertizer on 25th June, when the salvage operation was underway. Announcing Wings for Victory Week it was added that “It would have been more appropriate had the campaign been for submarines this week rather than planes.”
In July 1943, John RS Arkwright was buried in a war grave alongside his fellow ratings in Dunoon cemetery. Gerry German attended the ceremony for his crewmates and recalled meeting Arkwright’s mother, Stephanie, Lady Arkwright. Arkwright’s headstone, following the form for all war graves, bears the naval badge, his rank, name, submarine name, date of death, and his age – 36 years. His parents chose a verse from Psalm 18 to inscribe both on the gravestone and beneath his commemorative window at All Saints’ Church, Kinsham, Herefordshire:
“He drew me out of many waters.”
* * * * * * *
I remain immensely grateful to Dennis ‘Gerry’ German, whom I met in April 2000, for sharing his remarkable story with me, and his memories of the crew of Untamed.
My thanks are due too to Tex Golding of the Submariners’ Association, who provided me with a list of veterans from Untamed and Vitality, which enabled me to make contact with Dennis.
The Hereford Times, 19th June 1943
Crown Film Unit, 1943. Imperial War Museum Film Archive, All Saints’ Annexe, Austral Street
John Drummond A River Runs to War (WH Allen, London) 1960
Edwyn Gray Few Survived (Leo Cooper) 1986
Public Records Office, Kew, Ref: ADM1/15066
PRO Kew Ref: ADM199/1816 Patrol Report HMS Vitality
The commemorative stone beneath John Arkwright’s window at All Saints’ Church, Kinsham, Herefordshire. The window depicts St Nicholas, patron saint of sailors, cradling a ship.
© Catherine Beale 2009
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