Call for submarine investigation

Kevin Wood wants a full inquiry into his father's death on board the submarine HMS Affray in 1961.'
Kevin Wood wants a full inquiry into his father's death on board the submarine HMS Affray in 1961.'

THE son of a sailor who died when a submarine mysteriously sank 61 years ago is calling for a full investigation.

Kevin Wood was just two-years-old when his 27-year-old father Herbert, known as Jim, went to sea on HMS Affray - but never returned to his West Lynn home.

The A class submarine went missing while on a training mission in April 1951 and was discovered lying on the sea bed in the English channel two months later.

The Affray, the Navy’s last submarine lost at sea, showed no obvious signs of damage - sparking a mystery as to why the £1 million vessel had sunk.

The submarine and her 75-strong crew remain in the Hurd Deep, a trench off the Alderney coast. A memorial was finally unveiled last week.

Jim signed up to serve his country as a 15-year-old in 1939 and was among the sailors hunting for the legendary German ship Bismark.

But the circumstances surrounding his death have never been fully explained.

Calls are being made to re-open the investigation by Jim’s son Kevin and other relatives of the lost crewmen.

Kevin said: “I would like to know exactly what went wrong.

“I would support calls for a proper inquiry.

“It would mean a lot to have an investigation, as it would to all the people at the memorial.

“Not a day has gone past when I have not thought about my father.”

The Affray took part in the war game, Operation Training Spring, held at the height of the Cold War, when tragedy struck.

She was due to carry out mock shipping attacks along with dropping off and picking up four marine commandos.

The Affray signalled her intention to dive at 9.15pm on April 16 and stated that she would signal again at 8am the next morning - this was her last communication.

A search was ordered at noon on April 17 when it became clear The Affray was in trouble.

A total of 50 vessels searched the English Channel over two days but this was scaled down to just one ship when all hope of finding life was lost.

She was eventually found in the Hurd Deep on June 14, 40 miles from her last reported position.

A report was made by the Navy’s board of inquiry, which stated that there was insufficient evidence to explain the tragedy but cited some damage to a snort mast.

Kevin, a former ship’s master with the Merchant Navy, and other relatives are not happy with the investigation.

There have been many theories on the sinking over the years, including sabotage, but Kevin feels the problem was mechanical.

In the run-up to the tragedy The Affray had major engine repairs at Portsmouth and a number of problems were reported during her time in dock.

Jim, the leading engineer and mechanic on board, had even found a leak in the battery compartment on the night before.

The Affray was also carrying 75 crewmen when she sunk.

Only 50 of these were her normal crew while the remainder were trainee officers and their instructors. A submarine would only carry 61 people in peacetime.

Kevin, who owns Wisbech’s Elme Hall Hotel, said: “I feel the crew deserved better.

“They should have gone to sea in a sea worthy boat with an experienced crew. That was their right.”

MP Tim Farron called for a fresh investigation in the House of Commons on January 24.

But this was ruled out by Nick Harvey, Armed Forces Minister, who stated that he could not see any new evidence or realistic prospect to identify the cause after more than 50 years.

A memorial to the crewmen who died on Affray was unveiled in Aldernay last week.

Former Affray crewman Herbert Allen, who was transferred to a different vessel shortly before the tragedy, and his son Martin had led a campaign for the memorial.

Kevin, who laid a wreath over the wreck site last week, said: “I feel that having talked to sons, daughters, brothers, sisters and even a widow of a lost crew member, it is evident that many of us still grieve our loss.

“The memorial service and subsequent trip out to the wreck site afforded all the lost crew relatives to finally pay our last respects to our respective loved ones.”