Trapped in the sunken HMS Umpire

A U class British submarine from 1941 proceeding on the surface - HMS Umpire was of this type.

The newly built submarine HMS Umpire was on her way north out of Sheerness for her sea trials. She was proceeding on the surface with an out bound convoy when she was in collision with a trawler coming inbound – an accident partly attributable to the fact that all the ships were in darkness. The submarine sank almost immediately – leaving the commander and the three other men who had been on the bridge adrift in the sea. The rest of the crew were trapped on the sea bed in the damaged submarine, with water pouring in.

Edward Young was a junior officer on board:

The sea continued to pour in on us, with a terrible and relentless noise, and the water in the compartment grew deeper every minute. As the level crept up the starboard side, live electrical contacts began spitting venomously, with little lightning flashes. Vaguely I wondered if we were all going to be electrocuted.

In the half-darkness the men had become anonymous groping figures, desperately coming and going. There was no panic, but most of us, I think, were suffering from a sort of mental concussion.

I discovered one man trying to force open the water-tight door that I had shut earlier. “My pal’s in there,” he was moaning, “my pal’s in there.” “It’s no good,” I told him; “she’s filled right up for’ard and there’s no one left alive on the other side of that door.” He turned away, sobbing a little.

For some reason we decided it would be useful if we could find more torches. I knew there must be one or two others somewhere in the wardroom, so I made yet another expedition down the slope, wading through the pool that was now waist- deep and already covering the lowest tiers of drawers under our bunks.

I spent some time in the wardroom, shivering with fear and cold, ransacking every drawer and cupboard, pushing aside the forsaken paraphernalia of personal belongings — under-clothes, razors, pipes, photographs of wives and girl-friends. But I could find only one torch that was still dry and working. Holding it clear of the water, I returned to the control-room. It was deserted.

The door into the engine-room was shut. Had I spent longer in the wardroom than I thought ? Perhaps they had all escaped from the engine-room escape hatch, without realising that I had been left behind.

Even if they had not yet left the submarine, they might already have started flooding the compartment in preparation for an escape, and if the flooding had gone beyond a certain point it would be impossible to get that door open again. I listened, but could hear nothing beyond the monotonous, pitiless sound of pouring water.

In this terrible moment I must have come very near to panic.

Young was one of four men who squeezed into the conning tower. They then had to let water into the compartment (to equalise the water pressure) before they could release the top hatch and one after the other climb up to the exit and attempt to make it to the surface – they were in about 60 feet of water. Two of them failed to survive this free ascent. In total 22 men were lost in the accident.

Edward Young was to go on to have a distinguished career as a submarine commander himself. His story comes from the classic memoir of British submarine warfare that he wrote just after the war. See Edward Young: One of Our Submarines .

2 thoughts on “Trapped in the sunken HMS Umpire”

  1. My father was aboard Umpire and was one of the last to escape and and after being brought ashore, kitted out was given survivors leave.
    He eventually arrived home in the early hours with his new boots tied around his neck because they were so uncomfortable, all this having taken place on the day of my 6th birthday!

  2. My CO in HMS Totem in 1956/7 was Edward Young’s Navigator in HMS Storm in the med during WW2.

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