On this day in history : 12th January 1950 – A British submarine and Swedish oil tanker collide in the Thames Estuary – resulting in the sinking of the submarine – and 64 deaths….

HMS Truculent was returning to Sheerness having undergone trials at Chatham following a refit…. As well as her usual crew the submarine was carrying an additional 18 workers from the dock yard….

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HMS Truculent 1942 – Image from the collections of the Imperial War Museums

It was 7pm and Truculent was making her way along the surface of the Estuary – when a ship showing 3 lights appeared ahead in the Channel…. Crew on board the submarine believed the vessel to be stationary – and aware they could not pass on the starboard side, for fear of running aground – the order was given to turn to port…. Too late it became obvious the ship was not anchored and was in fact moving – and the extra light was to indicate she was carrying explosive material….

The two vessels collided; the bow of the 643 ton Swedish oil tanker – the ‘Divina’ – striking HMS Truculent – and the two remained locked together for several seconds before the submarine sank to the bottom of the Estuary…. The crew of the Divina – which was on route to Ipswich from Purfleet with a cargo of Paraffin – immediately went into action…. Ropes and life belts were thrown to the men thrashing in the water…. Divina’s lifeboat was launched and 15 men were picked up – a further 5 were rescued by the Dutch ship ‘Almdijk’….

 

Ironically very few died as a direct result of the immediate impact….the majority managed to escape. Out of the 64 men who died most lost their lives through drowning or by perishing in the freezing conditions on the mudflats of the Estuary….

The 1,000 ton submarine was salvaged on the 14th of March 1950 – and 10 more bodies were recovered. In May 1950 she was sold as scrap….

An inquiry into the incident put 75% of the blame on to HMS Truculent…. Later the disaster was to lead to the introduction of the ‘Truculent light’ on the bow of British submarines – to make them visible to other ships….

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HMS Truculent Memorial Service 2014 – Image credit : Matthew via Flickr

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