A British submarine, lost in action over 90 years ago in the Baltic Sea has just been found. Part of an extraordinary naval operation authorised by Winston Churchill at the outbreak of the First World War, submarine HMS E18 never returned from a routine patrol in May 1916. As no one witnessed her sinking, no trace of her was ever found - until now.
For ten years a group led by Swedish historian-explorer Carl Douglas has been researching the operations of the Royal Navy Submarine Squadron that fought in the Baltic in World War 1. Having found many of the ships sunk by these submarines, they now turned their attention to the one British submarine lost in the Baltic: the HMS E18. Through the unique collaboration with an Australian descendant the submarine has been located. Melbourne-born Darren Brown's great-grandfather was the telegraphist on the ill fated submarine.
Listening to the stories told by his grandmother, he started to look into the history of E18. He became drawn into the fascinating story of bravery and derring do. For years he spent much of his spare time delving into the historical archives from Britain, Germany, Estonia and Russia.
Armed with this information, Swedish survey company MMT last week sent the MV Triad to a designated search area off the Estonian island of Hiiumaa. Using state of the art side scan technology the first contact with the submarine was made this last weekend in an area known to have been mined by Germany during WWI. A remotely operated vehicle (ROV) was then deployed and pictures of a submarine not seen since 1916 made their way to the surface.
E Class submarine expert David Hill on examining these first pictures: "Without a shadow of a doubt they do show an E class submarine and certain details indicate that it is probably E18."
The Baltic campaign is a long forgotten episode of the First World War but according to naval historian Eric Grove it was the most successful submarine campaign of the war undertaken by the Royal Navy. Its impact was out of all proportion to the number of submarines deployed (in total 5 E class subs and 3 C class subs), causing the Germans to completely rethink their use of the Baltic and forced them to be the first side in the war to introduce the convoy system to ensure vital iron ore supplies from Sweden made it through the Baltic to Germany. The British submarines' main role was to support the Russian Navy's efforts in the Baltic and since the crews spent much of the war in Russia they became unwitting witnesses to one of the greatest upheavals in world history, the Bolshevik revolution. E18 was the only one of this flotilla of submarines to be lost in action, the others were all scuttled to prevent them falling into the hands of the Germans when the Russia war effort collapsed in 1917. Their crews made it home to Britain but for the men and officers of HMS E18 theirs was a different fate in the cold waters of the Baltic Sea in May 1916. 33 men were lost, including 3 Russians serving on the E18 in a liaison-capacity.
For the Swedish historian-explorer Carl Douglas the discovery of Churchill's lost submarine E18 was very poignant moment: "This is the fruition of nearly a decade of work, this is a very emotional discovery for me and the search team. We will now complete our mission to document this wreck and inform the relevant authorities, We want to investigate the exact cause of the sinking - and to honour the fallen by telling their story."
E18 was captained by Lt Cdr R C Halahan, and the last known sighting of her was on the 28th May 1916 returning from a mission where she is reported to have torpedoed the German destroyer V100. Lt Cdr Halahan was awarded by Tsar Nicholas II, Russia's highest military honour, the Order of St George never normally awarded posthumously.
Further research by Jonas Dahm and LtCdr Gunnar Möller (RSwN). Search operations were led by Karin Gunnesson (MSc) and Ola Oskarsson (CEO) of MMT. In charge of the actual search were offshore manager Joakim Holmlund, PhD and Captain Anders Wranå. ROV-pilot was Joakim Ander (Lt, RSwN Ret).
Churchill's Lost Submarine is a forthcoming documentary, a coproduction between Mallinson Sadler Productions of Glasgow and Deep Sea Productions of Stockholm, Sweden.
LtCdr Robert Halahan (age 31), 1st Lt Walter Landale (age 27), Sub-Lt Leslie Ashmore (age 23), Sub-Lt Douglas Colson (age 25), Lt Vasiliy Mikhailovich Polykarpov, CPO Edwin Bagg (age 37), Leading Seaman William Bass (age 35), PO Frederick Clack (age 35), Stoker Percy Duffield (age 22), Leading Telegraphist Clement Edwards (age 22), Stoker Ernest Fox (age 24), ERA Maurice Fuller (age 28), Telegraphist George Gaby (age 29), ERA Cyril Godward (age 23), Stoker Thomas Guest (age 25), Stoker Albert Hall (age 23), Leading Stoker Herbert Harris (age 32), ERA Charles Holland (age 26), Stoker PO Charles Hunt (age 29), Able Seaman Frank Maddox (age 30), Chief Telegraphist Fyodor Nikolaevich Markovsky, Stoker Percy Nye (age 24), Signalman Ivan Yefimovich Pantyukhov, Stoker James Percy (age 28), Stoker Arthur Phillips (age 35), Leading Seaman William Powell (age 46), Able Seaman Horace Pritchett (age 23), Leading Seaman Ernest Ruaux (age 33), Stoker PO Samuel Sheppard (age 36), ERA William Spencer (age 34), PO Charles Turall (age 32), Able Seaman Sydney Welsh (age 29) and Leading Seaman Frederick White (age 24).