• Si Biggs

Loss of HM Submarine Affray & 4 Man SBS team

Unit/ Formation: SBS


Location: Great Britain


Period/ Conflict: 1950's


Year: 1951


Date/s: 16 April 1951


HMS Affray a British Amphion-class submarine was built in the closing stages of the Second World War. She was one of 16 submarines of her class which were originally designed for use in the Pacific Ocean against Japan. Affray was the last Royal Navy submarine to be lost at sea, on 16 April 1951, with the loss of 75 lives including 4 members of the SBS.


On 16 April 1951, Affray set out on a simulated war mission called Exercise Spring Train with a reduced crew of 50 from 61. They were joined by one sergeant, one corporal, and two marines from the Special Boat Service; a commander (Engineer), a naval instructor, seven lieutenants in the engineering branch, and 13 sub-lieutenants. The last two groups were undergoing essential submarine officer training. This made her complement 75 in total.


Her captain's orders were unusually flexible: the Marines were to be dropped off somewhere along the south west coast of England—the captain told the Admiralty he had chosen an isolated beach in Cornwall—come ashore and return under the cover of darkness. The exercise was expected to continue until Affray was due to return to base on 23 April for essential defect repairs including a leak in a battery tank.


Affray left her home base at about 1600 hrs, and made normal contact to confirm position, course, speed etc at 2100 hrs, and indicated she was preparing to dive, and submerged about 30 miles south of the Isle of Wight at 2115 BST, but failed to resurface when it was due at 0830 BST off Start Point. The last ship to see her on the surface was the 'Co' Class destroyer HMS Contest returning to Portsmouth that evening. As they passed each other, both vessels piped the side.


“Affray” was due to make her surfacing signal by 0900 hours the following day, 17th April. No such signal was received.


11:00 hours – “Subsmash One” was ordered. This signal was dispatched with full priority to all pre-arranged addresses and authorities concerned with the search and rescue of sunken submarines were immediately brought to “Standby”. Constant attempts were made to contact the missing submarine by powerful W/T transmitters.

12:00 hours – “Subsmash Two” was ordered. This signal signifying beyond doubt that “Affray” was in serious difficulties. Effecting the instant dispatch of search vessels with supporting rescue craft to areas designated.


A search and rescue operation was launched, with 26 ships and submarines and every available aircraft involved.


The search area, 77 x 20 miles = 1540 square miles, was monitored as quickly as possible by ships, aircraft and submarines. Of the many submarines involved in the search, “Sea Devil”, “Sirdar”, “Scythian” and “Ambush”, all separately reported picking up on their A/S listening equipment, hull tapping and faint intermittent distorted signals, which were unreadable and assumed to be transmitted from “Affray”.


Continuous sweep searches were made to obtain a precise fix, but without success. Repeatedly, during the next forty-eight hours, false hopes were raised that “Affray” had been located. The action of vessels dropping intermittently batches of grenades, which was the accepted emergency signal to a submarine crew to escape, made the location and a fix more difficult to obtain. The last signals were reported by the submarine “Ambush” at 1439 hours, 18th April. The code letters which represent “We are trapped on the bottom” were clearly identified by experienced operators. The chronological sequence of these signals was recorded in the S/M “Ambush” control room log and in the Commanding Officer’s official report which was forwarded to Flag Officer Submarines Rear Admiral S.M. Raw, and subsequently to the Board of Enquiry.

All hope of saving life was finally abandoned on 19th April. Search vessels were dispersed except for H.M.S. “Reclaim”, a submarine rescue and diving ship, which was ordered to carry on the search until the submarine “Affray” was found.


Wreck of the Affray, as seen on the television screen on board the salvage vessel

It was eventually found 7.5 miles north west of Alderney two months later.


The 4 members of the SBS team were:


  • Mne. A.H.G. Hooper (SBS) R.M.

  • Mne. D.W. Jarvis (SBS) R.M.

  • Sgt. T.J. Andrews (SBS) R.M.

  • Cpl. E.N. Shergold (SBS) R.M


Extracts from Portrait of a Disaster (A reasoned account to explain what may have happened to H.M Submarine “Affray” by Les Baker – a highly experienced ex-submariner and electrical artificer.)

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