The Deadliest Warships Ever Made
At the start of the first world war German U-boats were sinking British merchant ships at such an alarming rate, they were threatening to starve Britain into surrender.
The British Royal Navy were desperate to stop this and, as a result, it was someones idea to call upon circus performing sea lions. They were trained to recognize the propeller noise from a submarine and, as with most sea lions, were rewarded with buckets full of fish when they did so. Unfortunately, in actual practise, the sea lions weren't able to discriminate between ships and submarines and followed anything that made a propeller sound. The sea lions also discovered how easily they could catch the fish themselves.
It would probably figure high up, should anyone ever produce a top one hundred list of "It Seemed Like A Good Idea At The Time"
Even higher up the list would be the other idea the admiralty had. This was to use remote control to blast open, strategically placed, barrels of fruit salts, laid on the sea bed, when a U-boat was known to be in the area. This would erupt the U-boat to the surface of the sea in a bubbling fountain of effervescence, leaving the submarine a sitting target for the waiting warships.
K-boats Are Born
By the summer of 1915, one year into the great war, the British navy came to the decision to build their own submarine. A big fast machine that could operate in tandem with a battle fleet. Enter the K-boat.
It was the safest war vessel you could ever encounter, unless you were in it, then it was the deadliest warship ever built.
It was a steam submarine, 330 feet long (100.58 meters), designed as a combination of destroyer and submarine, which proved to be a disastrous failure on both counts.
As the best form of defence when on the surface of the sea, the submarine commander uses the crash dive. U-boats were able to perform this procedure in about a minute and a half.K-boats, on the other hand, had to shut off all the steam, cool all the boilers, lower two big funnels and close nine doors and hatchets watertight shut. This meant the K-boats crash dive took between five to ten minutes.
Once below the surface, that's when the submarines problems really began. Due to its length and weight, being heavier than the navy's biggest destroyers, it was difficult to keep it going in a straight line. The smallest deviation out of trim sent it diving into uncontollable disaster.
King George VI
Thirty two lives were lost when the K-13 crashed to the bottom of Gareloch, in Scotland, on a diving trial.Fire broke out on K-2 on her first dive. The future King George VI, then a midshipman, was amongst the survivors of K-3 when it sank to the bottom of Stokes Bay on a test dive. K-4 ran aground; K-5 disappeared losing 57 lives; and K-14 sprang a leak in Portsmouth harbour.
Regardless of this catalogue of catastrophes and the multitude of lives lost,the admiralty carried on with the K-boats.
The Battle Of May Island
The final proof,if any proof was needed, that the K-boats were dangerously flawed came on January 31st, 1918. That evening two flotillas of K-boats sailed out Rosyth and the spot in the Firth of Forth, where this cataclysmic shambles took place, became known as the Battle of May Island. Here the K-boats travelling at full speed swerved in an attempt to avoid two minesweepers. The third boat, K-14, had its helm jammed causing K-22 to run her down. HMS Inflexible smashed into the carnage and bent K-22 into a right angle.
The forward flotilla led by HMS Itheriel turned back to help and the accompanying submarines followed. All of them were now heading toward battle-cruisers, destroyers and the light cruiser HMS Fearless.
Fearless ran over K-17; K-4 swerved to avoid the pair of them which caused K-3 to switch course right into the path of K-6, which ran it down. Then K-7 crashed into the sinking K-17.
Sadly the K-boat death toll was now 270. This was the last exercise and the lesson was clear.K-boats were abandoned. Despite all this, submarines did end up becoming one of the most effective sea-faring war machines ever invented and are now used by all navys the world over.