"Royal Navy and Maritime Book Reviews" PROVIDED BY - Rob Jerrard


Avid Publications:Books Reviewed in 2008
Thetis “The Admiralty Regrets”
The Story of His Majesty's Submarine “Thetis” & “Thunderbolt”
Edition: 1997 ( 1st Published 1958 George Harrap and Co Ltd, London)
Forward by: Derek Arnold - a survivor's son
Format: Paperback
Author: CET Warren & James Benson
ISBN: 0952102080
Publishers: Avid Publications
Price:
Publication Date: 1997
 
Publisher's Title Information

 
His Majesties Submarine Thetis, a brand new vessel, left Cammell Laird's Birkenhead Yard for her sea trials in the summer of 1939, the very eve of World War II. She had never made a successful dive and was overloaded by almost 100% with various officials and others.
Through a combination of fate, human error and delay, the Thetis was lost and took 99 souls with her. In its time, the worst submarine disaster in the world.
 
The news stunned the nation, but initially all was expected to be well as part of the submarine was actually visible above the waves; just cut a hole in the hull and get them out.
Why wasn't this done? Why was there no urgency in the Admiralty's rescue system? Why couldn't anyone make decisions that might have saved those on Thetis?
 
The Admiralty Regrets is a minute by minute account of the whole tragic and sorry episode; the accidents, the mistakes and the awful waiting and waiting, instead of acting, that resulted in this terrible catastrophe.
 
This is the true account of the worst submarine disaster in British History, the loss of HMS
Thetis in Liverpool Bay, on a clear and warm summer day, in June 1939, the so called 'calm
before the storm' of World War Two.
 
It is a story of incompetence, indecision, poor judgement and quite incredible bad luck, a book that will leave the reader quite stunned and saddened. It was the Hillsborough of its day.
 
Thetis is a forgotten tragedy. Forgotten by historians, for whom the world at war from 1939 to 1945 eclipsed everything else, largely forgotten by the Royal Navy as an embarrassing chapter in its history, and forgotten by all but those still grieving and angry descendants of the 99 men lost onboard the submarine Thetis.
 
Thetis is a name that the rest of us should not be allowed to forget.
 
RESURGAM

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HMS Thetis - Secrets & Scandal, Aftermath of a Disaster
Edition: 1st
Format: Paperback
Author: David Roberts
ISBN: 0952102005
Publishers: Avid Publications
Price: £12.50
Publication Date: 1999 (Reprinted 2005)
 
Publisher's Title Information

After an exhaustive two-year search for the truth about the events and aftermath of this terrible Submarine disaster in Liverpool Bay, June 1939, David Roberts has at last found some shocking hitherto unpublished details. The sinking of Thetis costs 99 ( 100 counting a Royal Navy diver) men their lives and is still today the worst submarine disaster in British History. The book contains interviews with relatives of victims; sons, daughters, brothers, sisters and those very rare ladies, living widows.
 
Also here are never before seen documents from the time; Offers of outside help, Secret navy reports and even descriptions of bodies for identification.
 
Why did the Official Inquiry blame nobody, explaining it away as 'an unfortunate sequence of events'?
 
Why did the civil action on behalf of the widow's fail?
 
Did the Admiralty cover it up? How much did Churchill know?
 
How were those left behind treated?
 
A huge publicly subscribed disaster fund was collected for the relatives. How was this managed and distributed? Who got what and why? What ever happened to the money that was left?

In the last year of the millennium, on the 60th anniversary of Thetis, why did a handful of living widows still today get just £9.62 per month from the fund, in one case LESS TAX ! Whilst many thousands of pounds languishes as annuities in the coffers a well-known insurance company? Secrets and Scandal is a shocking revelation of the establishment, all the way up to Churchill, closing ranks whilst the 'lower orders' were treated in a manner that was simply unforgivable.
 
9.40am, June 1st 1939, His Majesty's Submarine Thetis sailed from Birkenhead under the command of Lieutenant Commander G.H.Bolus (RN).
 
The purpose of the day was to make a diving trial. On board were 103 persons, fifty more than her normal crew. Of the extra fifty on board 8 were Naval Officers some commanding their own Submarines anxious to see the performance of this new class of Submarine. The others were employees of Cammell Laird and Vickers Armstrong. Also there were two employees of a catering firm on board for the reception that usually follows the trials, and finally the Mersey Pilot, Norman Wilcox.
 
What went wrong?

Review

 
The author tells us in his Introduction that, 'If you have never heard of His Majesty's Submarine Thetis, don't buy this book'. Some may say “What a way to sell a book”. However, he is correct in asserting that you should first read “The Admiralty Regrets…” The Story of His Majesty's Submarine “Thetis” and “Thunderbolt”. Fortunately I have, because I own a first edition, which I have just re-read. “The Admiralty Regrets” has been republished by Avid Publications ISBN 0952102080 £9.50.
 
I would like to make a further suggestion that you should also read “Thetis Down the slow Death of a submarine” by Tony Booth and reviewed at http://www.rjerrard.co.uk/royalnavy/pen/pen2008.html
 
Let me start by putting a question to you. If you were the Commanding Officer of a new submarine going out on her first trial dive, would you dive with about forty-four extra people on board? Now add to that the fact that many had no training in the use of DSEA should it all go wrong. Because the boat dived with twice the normal complement it reduced the available air by half. On reflection this was not unusual because on her trial dive USS Thresher had 40 'riders' and she tested to 1,300 feet before coming up because her instruments indicated a problem, see 'The Death of the USS Thresher', Norman Polmar, The Lyons Press, 2004. However when the Thresher dived for the last time, the time she was lost she had 15 extra 'riders'. She had an experienced US rescue ship with her, USS Skylark'. The Skylark would escort the Thresher on her diving tests as was the custom in the Navy. The Skylark would provide a communications link to shore and, if the Thresher ran into trouble, try to assist her….Rescue ships have six anchors and several buoys so they can moor directly over a sunken submarine. (Unless of course the depth exceeds 7,200 feet, which it did). On board are divers and elaborate equipment to bring them down to investigate a stricken submarine and, if possible, to attach hoses to pump in air for breathing or to expel water from the submarine's main ballast tanks to "blow" the submarine to the surface. On the deck of every rescue ship is a submarine rescue chamber. This device, developed in the late 1920s, is a two-chamber diving bell that can be sent down to a stricken submarine, attached to a hatch, take on survivors, and carry them to the surface. In the firstand so far onlyuse of the chamber, 33 men were brought up from the sunken U.S. submarine Squalus in 1939'.
 
The first two books referred to, concentrate more on the actual disaster, whereas this book looks profoundly at the personal side of the men and also the families left to grieve and the treatment they received, which it seemed varied, depending on their station in life. It also questions what happened to the Disaster Fund - when was it shared out and more importantly how?
 
The part entitled 'Class: Officers, Men and Civilians' discusses the classifications of class in Britain. This mattered very much because it determined your whole future if you were the widow of an Able Seaman as opposed to a Lieutenant-Commander.
 
Something went terribly wrong the day Thetis made her last dive. Something went wrong with the rescue. I will not repeat facts here, suffice to say the review of 'Thetis Down' will fill in some of it and once you have read all three books you can form an opinion. However as David Roberts says 'This is not a book for the reader to enjoy, it is a book that makes the reader angry'. I agree.
 
Rob Jerrard


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