THE LOST SUBMARINE
By David Chamberlain
At the beginning of the 20th century, submarines were being developed for the British Navy. Although many in the Admiralty felt that these vessels were not a gentleman’s way of fighting sea warfare, they soon became accepted … with some reservations. In 1902, A Class type submarines were followed, two years later, by the slightly larger B Class at the cost £47,000 per vessel. The 143 feet C Class submarines were in commission by 1906 and were crewed by up to 16 officers and ratings.
Richard Ivor Pulleyne was promoted to the rank of Lieutenant in 1911 and a year later was second in command of the submarine B2. The crew of these new craft were enthusiast and the small fleet of B and C Class submarines were on constant manoeuvres throughout the English Channel. They practiced changing over from the crafts surface petrol engines to the electric motors when submerged. On the 4th October, 1912, Puleyne, with his captain, Percy O’Brian, and their crew of 13 were with a flotilla of other B and C submarines out from Dover. They had been on duty in the Downs and had caused some concern from the masters of steam ships; as some near misses had occurred with the low profile craft.
The German ss Amerika was an Atlantic liner of 22,621 tons, on voyage to America with a full complement of emigrants and other class passengers. As she passed the South Goodwin lightvessel and turned towards Dover to pick up mail and any last company orders; her lookouts failed to see the small submarine that had just surfaced in the choppy sea on her bow. Hardly anyone noticed or felt the collision, as Amerka hit the B2 amidships.
Lieutenant Richard Pulleyne had only just lifted up the coning tower hatch to breathe in the cold October air and attain the B2’s position. His vessel lurched on her beam ends as she scraped alongside the hull of the liner. The glancing blow of the large passenger ship had ripped a six foot hole in the submarine where the seawater flowed in uninterrupted. Below deck, the B2 was in chaos with the seamen struggling to comprehend the situation and save themselves. Immediately, the doomed craft sank to the seabed in 16 fathoms (96 feet) with 2nd Lieutenant Pulleyne huddled at the bottom of the coning tower ladder. The cries of the crew were soon stifled as the last bit of air was forced out of the submarine and Pulleyne was blown out of the coning tower hatch towards the surface.
Half an hour on, and over a mile away from the sinking, the sister submarine B16 found Pulleyne - barely clinging onto life. He was the only survivor of the tragedy.
Two days later, destroyers from the 6th Flotilla found the remains of the B2, three miles off the South Foreland. With the submarine almost cut in half and the dead naval personnel inside, it was deemed to leave the sunken vessel on the seabed and hold a burial service above the wreck as respect for the dead.
The First World War saw twenty-nine year old Pulleyne in command of his own submarine, the E34, which was lost with all hands just before the cessation of the conflict on the 20th July, 1918.