Of all the branches of men in the forces there is none which shows more devotion and faces grimmer perils than the submariners.

Attributed to WINSTON CHURCHILL(1874-1965)


Captain Schlitt's Treacherous Number Two

Second World War U-boats were fitted with a high-pressure submarine toilet. These directed waste from the toilet bowl through a series of chambers to an airlock where it was expelled by compressed air into the water. Using the device was so complicated that it required special training and the operative had to remember the exact order in which to open and close various valves to ensure the waste went out and the sea didn’t come in.
On the 14 April 1945, the German submarine U-1206 was ten miles off Peterhead in the North Sea. Captain Karl-Adolph Schlitt decided to go to the lavatory. What happened when he finished is a matter for debate. Captain Schlitt claimed that the toilet malfunctioned. The second, more widely reported version had it that the bashful Captain refused to call the crew member who had been trained in high pressure toilet use and instead had a go at flushing it himself. He got the order of valves wrong and found himself being showered with high pressure sewage and sea water which began flooding into the toilet compartment.
By the time the valves had been shut, seawater was draining through the lavatory compartment into the battery room below. When the water came into contact with the battery acid it began forming highly toxic chlorine gas and Schlitt was forced to give the order to rise to the surface, whereupon the sub was spotted by a British aircraft and bombed. Schlitt was forced to scuttle his vessel, making his the only submarine ever to be sunk by its own toilet. 

H. G. WELLS (1866-1946)

I must confess that my imagination refuses to see any sort of submarine doing anything but suffocating its crew and floundering at sea.

Submarine Stories

  • In 1774 an English mechanic called John Day bet members of a Pall Mall coffee-house that he could submerge in his home-made submersible in Plymouth harbour and stay underwater for 12 hours. The submarine failed to reappear, so the gamblers placed a new bet on 'the position Day's body will be found in when recovered'.


  • During the 1990s the Russian navy developed concrete submarines capable of operating at much greater depths than conventional ones. They are undetectable by sonar because when they’re sitting on the seabed they’re indistinguishable from a lump of rock. 


  • In 1914 sailors on picket boats guarding Scapa Flow were ordered to swim out to enemy submarines, put a bag over the periscope and smash the lens with a hammer. 


PAUL PERRIS (US Navy Submarine Service)

Submarine life most of the time is hours and hours of boredom with intermittent terror thrown in to keep you on your toes!

Radio waves

You could listen to a radio on the Moon, but it's virtually impossible to do so aboard a submarine.
Radio waves travel much more easily through space than water.

The first practical submarine was invented in Germany.

Submarines and the Jolly Roger

Before the First World War, submarines were regarded as dishonourable and unworthy of Britain. In 1901, Admiral Sir Arthur Wilson characterised them as 'underhand, unfair, and damned un-English' and proposed that we should 'treat all submarines as pirates in wartime ... and hang all crews'. By 1914 opinion had shifted enough to allow the deployment of submarines, but their reputation as buccaneers was so persistent that Lieutenant Commander Max Horton hoisted the Jolly Roger when he sunk two German warships.
By the Second World War it had become common practice for Royal Navy submarines to fly the Jolly Roger when returning from a successful mission, which practice continued until 2003. The submarine HMS Conqueror flew one after sinking the Belgrano in the Falklands (the Belgrano is still the only ship ever to have been sunk by a nuclear submarine). The last two submarines to be permitted to fly the flag were HMS Trafalgar in 2002 and HMS Splendid in 2003 after launching Tomahawk Land Attack Missiles at Iraq during the Second Gulf War.
There are two reasons why the custom has now been prohibited. Firstly, it’s feared that flying the Jolly Roger could be seen as a celebration of war. Secondly, and perhaps more importantly, from an operational perspective the consideration is that most submarine operations are meant to be covert (intelligence gathering and Special Forces Ops), so they shouldn’t be advertised.

The MOD killed 126 goats between 2000-08 by placing them in depressurised chambers to simulate submarine emergencies.

EDGAR DIJKSTRA (1930-2002)

The question of whether computers can think is just like the question of whether submarines can swim.

There are four sunken nuclear submarines at the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean.

Submarines communicated with each other using a modified violin.

British submarines don't have a big red button to deploy missiles. It’s actually a left mouse click.

The only ship ever to have been sunk by a nuclear submarine is the Belgrano - sunk by the British in the Falklands War.

K Class Submarines

During the First World War Britain’s 'K-Class' submarines were known in the navy as 'Kalamity Class'. Of the 18 built, 6 sunk in accidents and only one ever engaged an enemy vessel - hitting a German U-boat, though the torpedo failed to explode.
The problem was that in order to keep up with a convoy of surface vessels, the subs had to run on steam. This required funnels, and hence when the subs manoeuvred, seawater poured down the funnels and flooded the boilers. The fate of K-1 illustrates this: manoeuvring to keep up with HMS Blonde, K-1's boilers flooded. She lost engine power, and sister-sub K-4 piled into her, piercing her hull. Seawater poured in and reacted with the batteries, producing clouds of chlorine gas. The crew was transferred to the Blonde, which sank the K-1 by gunfire so that she wouldn’t fall into enemy hands.
K-Class subs had another fatal design flaw. They were 339 ft long, but could only dive to 200 ft, meaning that if they were at a 30 degree angle, one end would be at maximum depth whilst the other end was still sticking out of the water.


There are two types of naval vessel: submarines and targets.

The world’s worst maritime disaster was the sinking of the Wilhelm Gustloff by a Soviet submarine in 1945, with the loss of 9,343 lives.