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A definitive account viewed from every conceivable angle.
on 12 June 2013
Ships' names are often re-used. In one instance, for example, I confused a British WW2 Tribal class destroyer (HMS Maori) with an earlier ship of the same name and class from WW1. I mention this to explain that the subject of this book (HM Submarine X1) has no similarity to or connection whatsoever with the X-Craft which famously attacked the German battleship Tirpitz in 1943. Whereas those X-Craft displaced 270 tons, this much earlier X1 displaced a much larger 2,700 tons. In a technical though fascinating work which is occasionally hard-going as a read, I learned a great deal not only about HMS X1 but also about many of the topics on the periphery of which I already had some knowledge. I did not previously know, for example, that David Beatty achieved Flag rank (i.e. two star admiral) at the age of 39 and was the youngest officer to gain such early promotion since Nelson - but I digress!
HMS X1 was an experimental submarine (hence the `X'). Launched in 1923 and commissioned in 1925, she was dogged by bad luck and mechanical misfortune throughout her career which, author and historian Roger Branfill-Cook aptly describes at one point as a `Litany of failures.' Indeed, she was so prone to anything and everything going wrong that when she finally capsized in dry dock in 1931, the event was viewed as a very good reason to ceasxe all spending on the boat. She was finally scrapped in 1936. All of which might have lead to a very boring read about a very uninspiring boat (all submarines being boats - not ships) - but not so. Instead, what we learn is the existence of a vessel which was many years ahead of its time. Both the concept and the design of this a very large submarine sporting four 5.2 in. guns - arranged in two turrets, in addition to six forward-facing 21 in. torpedo tubes was as sound as any. The appropriate machinery to power such a vessel was not yet, however, of the standard required and caused the vessel to become a very expensive nuisance. As is so carefully explained, it was that ongoing nuisance factor which lead to everyone overlooking the true worth of the vessel as they wrongly concluded she had no real place in what was then regarded as a very modern navy.
The book begins with the history surrounding the emergence of the first really big submarines and the perception which existed in some minds at the end of WW1 that future navies would include underwater-going cruisers, aircraft carriers and possibly more. In support of this, the K class and M class submarines are afforded full exposure complete with line drawings and photographs. The M class (circa 1917) being originally supposed to carry a single 12 in. gun of the type carried by Formidable class battleships but only M1 was so equipped. M2 was converted to carry a seaplane and M3 to mine-laying duties. It is from the inclusion of this peripheral information that we come to realise the depth of research and information included on every aspect of the story of HMS X1.
The following chapters are; 2. Design criteria, 3. Propulsion machinery, 4. Handling, 5. Armament, 6. Hull, fittings & complement, 7. Trials & Tribulations, 8. A Cushy billet, 9. A Litany of failures and 10. An Unlucky fall. That fall was the incident in which the boat capsized in dry dock and, ordinarily, might have brought the book to its conclusion. Instead of this, however, we find two more exhaustive chapters in which other navies recognised the value of the larger submarine with Chapter 11 covering the US, French, Japanese and German reactions. Chapter 12 allows the author to place his own thoughts into perspective by dwelling on `what might have been' amongst other topics.
Lavishly illustrated with plenty of line drawings and plans covering every element of the different craft under discussion, artwork and plenty of relevant historic photographs, the work concludes with three Appendices, Notes, Bibliography and Index and is as complete as one might hope to find.
Altogether a definitive account of a single vessel viewed from every conceivable angle.