- Smith, Peter
- History - WW1
- RAN Ships
- HMAS Otway I, HMAS Oxley I
- March 2003 edition of the Naval Historical Review (all rights reserved)
The next questions put to Bowerman were on the competence and qualifications of LEUT Manley with signals and with the lamp. The Board was informed that Manley had been with the Orient Line for many years and before joining the submarine was a qualified Trinity House pilot, who was fully capable of reading and making Morse. At the time he was ordered to make a signal he was using the hand flashing lamp with white light.
After assisting the Board in the plot of Oxley’s course LCDR Bowerman was then asked to withdraw and the second witness from Oxley was called and cautioned. This was Able Seaman Stoker, Herbert Sidney Guckes who was the relieving lookout on the bridge.
On giving his rank, name and official number Guckes was asked what time did he go to the bridge. His reply:
‘About a minute and half after nine pm.’
His next question was to tell the Board what happened after his arrival on the bridge. His reply was:
‘I went up to the conning tower and heard the Office of the Watch – Mr. Manley – call down the voice pipe telling the Captain there was a submarine on the starboard beam. I then heard Petty Officer Mingay say ‘Shall I make a challenge?’ A second afterwards I heard the report of the rifle and at the same time I got on to the platform to take over the port lookout and did not see any light from the grenade or any other lights.’
Guckes was then asked who did he take over from and did he point out the submarine? He replied:
‘Able Seaman Hopkins and he didn’t say anything – he just got down from the platform rather hurriedly.’
He was then asked:
‘What are you responsible for as lookout and the responsibilities of the other bridge watchkeepers.’
He replied that:
‘ he was the lookout from right forward to port quarter and that PO Mingay was responsible for both after quarters and the OOW was looking out from right ahead to starboard quarter.’
In the last question before withdrawing Guckes was asked who fired the grenade. He replied:
‘I did not see, only heard the report and assumed it was fired by PO Mingay.’
The last witness to be called was LCDR Bowerman again, who was questioned on the organisation for lookouts on the bridge and how the sectors were divided up. He replied:
‘The organisation was one officer and two ratings. The officer was on the starboard side and the sectors of lookouts were 120 degrees. The Officer of the Watch changed over every two hours, the ratings every hour. The sectors were right ahead 120 degrees each side and third sector right astern 120 degrees each side.’
In the Board’s report to Rear Admiral Submarines they reported that the loss of Oxley was caused by a torpedo fired from Triton and that the contributory causes were that Oxley was considerably to the eastward of her estimated position (shown by her final relative position to Triton) and a bad lookout having been kept in Oxley (as was evident by the challenges from Triton not being seen and the failure of the rifle grenade to burst in answer to Triton’s recognition signals).
The report also stated that:
‘We consider blame, but not to a degree greater than 10%, to be attributable to LCDR Bowerman RN for being to the eastward of his area. He was misled by his HTD giving him a range of 7¼ miles from Triton. The fact that he could see the glare of the shore lights should further have warned him of his easterly drift. We consider the OOW, Lieutenant F.K. Manley RNR to be to blame to the extent of about 90% in that he being in charge of the watch did not keep and see kept a proper lookout.
We do not consider LCDR H.P. de C. Steel RN in any way to blame. He realised the possibility of Oxley being in the vicinity and warned the OOW of that possibility. When he sighted the submarine, in order to make quite sure of her identity, he had the challenge made three times and in addition fired a rifle grenade and he then waited at least a further fifteen seconds, when all doubt being removed he gave the order to fire.’