- A.N. Other
- Biographies and personal histories, History - WW1
- RAN Ships
- None noted.
- September 2011 edition of the Naval Historical Review (all rights reserved)
The maximum depth, owing to water-pressure on the hull, to which the ‘H’ class could dive with safety was about 150 feet.(Lieutenant Russell of Melbourne in H-11 went down in an emergency to 180 feet, but had great difficulty in bringing her up to the surface again). Forced to crash-dive when on our way to our patrol area off Norway, the needle on our depth-gauge was against the stop; we did not know how far she went below before we were able to bring her under control. The older boats would start to blow rivets below 120 feet. The Germans claimed to have gone from 300 to 400 feet in the deep waters of the Mediterranean, but experienced British submarine officers considered this depth doubtful. Some submarines rested on the bottom, if it was a suitable one, or if they were forced down in shallow parts of the North Sea, but I never experienced this in H-12. Returning, submerged, from patrol to Stornoway in thick, heavy fog above, we did use our anchor once as it was considered dangerous to continue, although I was not too happy about it. It was a mushroom affair which went into a cavity in the bow and was attached to a wire on a small winch; I had not a lot of faith in it. When it was possible for us to move on we tried to bring it up. However, it fouled an obstruction or a rock and the wire carried away so we were forced to leave it behind.
In rough weather, when it became useless to continue on the surface, the boat was taken to about 50 feet below, at which depth moderate motion could still be felt. When the weather was thought to be moderating she was brought up to about 30 feet where the motion felt would be an indication as to whether this was so or not. If the Captain decided to break surface he would come up still further and when the periscope was out of water he would have a quick look around. If reports from the operator of the hydrophones had already indicated no vessel in the vicinity, he would position the boat to break surface, always with the sea abeam, as with the sea ahead crashing on to the foredeck we would have trouble in levelling the boat off, and levelling off as quickly as possible after breaking surface was vital.
The officers slept in a very cramped area called a wardroom. A small table to seat three was the only furniture apart from a chart-table. The ratings made themselves as comfortable as possible near their stations in the boat. I had the top bunk of the three which was under the deckhead and after about four days at sea my top blanket was always damp due to condensation. When she was built the interior of the shell plating of the submarine had been treated with paint and fine cork to absorb some of the moisture, but after several days out this always made for discomfort.
H-12 carried a crew of 28 men which included the Captain, the First Lieutenant and myself. We three officers remained together in this boat until the end of the War. In the main, it was a one-man job; the final decision rested with the Captain. The captain of H-12, Lieutenant Fraser, RN, was a fair, rosy-complexioned young man, no more than 24 years old. He came from Loch Broom in the Western Highlands of Scotland where his people had a small estate. He had plenty of dash and more than his share of courage. He was very good at mental arithmetic and continually surprised me with the problems he could work out in his head. When breaking surface, he always borrowed a cigarette from the Coxswain who followed him up the conning-tower.
The First Lieutenant, Acting-Lieutenant Cookson, RN, was about 21 years old. He never seemed to worry about anything and when in harbour this old sea-dog was partial to a very select brand of Turkish cigarettes. At sea, the First Lieutenant kept a watch and was responsible, at all times, for everything in the boat. In harbour, he was responsible for any repairs or adjustments to be made to machinery, all of which he reported to the Commander of the depot ship for subsequent attention. If any difficulties arose in these matters the Captain would then take the matter up with the Commander and ensure that they were carried out to his satisfaction.