The war saw a huge building programme of new warships and submarines. It was the practice of the Royal Navy for the crews to join the craft as she was still being built. First the Engineering officer would arrive and be involved to some extent in overseeing the construction, enabling him to get an intimate understanding of the build of the vessel. Soon after the prospective Commanding Officer would arrive. Usually before the vessel was launched the whole crew would be assembled for the first time and would participate together in the first trials of the boat, and the ‘working up’ to operational readiness.
For a submarine commander there was no more demanding test than the first dive. Edward Young had been with HMS Storm, a brand new S class submarine since June, overseeing the final stages of construction and dealing one or two early mechanical difficulties. It had to be hoped that they had all been resolved. It was not unknown for submarines to develop catastrophic failures at this stage. Whatever his thoughts the commander had to remain confident, and communicate that confidence to his crew:
The great moment had arrived. I sent everyone below, shut the voice-pipe cocks (we had one each side of the bridge), and took a final look at Cutty Sark, now dropping back to take station on our port beam.
Turning aft, I stepped down through the hatch. There was no hurry, for this was to be a dive in slow time. I had no intention of diving on the klaxon until the crew had reached a higher state of training. Pulling the hatch lid down over my head, I pushed home the long- handled clips and inserted the safety-pins.
The conning-tower still smelt of fresh paint. Descending the ladder I was aware of a pleasurable excitement that was quite different from the anxiety I had felt when I dived P.555 on my first day in command.
In the control-room the bright lights shone warmly on the new paint, the gleaming brasswork and the white jerseys of the men waiting quietly at their diving stations. The Signalman reached up and pulled the lower hatch shut with a hollow thump.
“All set, Number One ?” I said, and Geoff, his invariably white face looking paler than usual for the occasion, replied that everything was ready. “Raise the for’ard periscope.”
As we were still on the surface, the top window of the periscope was thirty-two feet above the sea, and I seemed to be looking down at the water from a tremendous height.
“Right, are you all ready, Mr Morgan ?” “All ready, Captain.” This was it. I said: “Group up. Slow ahead together. Open main vents. Take her down to thirty feet.”
Until we met the enemy there would be no tenser moment for us than this first committing of our submarine to the deep. But the sensation of diving was limited, for everyone else in the boat, to what could be deduced from the movement of the needles moving on the depth-gauges.
Only I at the periscope could look down at the submarine rippling through the water, and, as the main vents banged open, see her slumping and settling, the bow wave easing, the sea bubbling up into the free-flood spaces of the casing and forcing the air out through the perforations along the deck.
It was as though I were mounted on the back of a great sea-beast plunging into his familiar element. Now the fore planes, tilted downwards like fins, were biting into the water, throwing up their individual flurries of spray, digging deeper, driving the submarine down by the head, until the deck was awash and the sea, spilling over it, a milky stream of disturbance, with little spouting fountains thrown up by the last escaping pockets of air.
At the next lift of the almost imperceptible swell, the whole of the fore part of the submarine was abruptly under water, the dark shape of her swaying and dissolving into the sea’s amorphous grey, the bow wave dying and only the taut jumping-wire still cutting through the water, but slipping down until it, too, was out of sight. As the surface came gliding steadily up towards me I felt a ridiculous impulse to hold my breath like a man caught on a rock with the rising tide up to his nose.
I turned away from the periscope. A quick glance at the depth-gauges and the hydroplane tell-tales showed me that Number One had everything under control. We were levelling out to the required depth as surely and condently as an old campaigner.
Storm was a submarine at last.
Edward Young wrote one of the classic memoirs of the war, a candid account of the whole operational life of HMS Storm from launch through to action, see Edward Young: One of Our Submarines.