Built by Vickers in 1903, the A1 was the first British designed and built submarine used by the Royal Navy. Having been rendered unfit for service by an explosion in 1910, she foundered the following year off the north-east coast of the Isle of Wight while being towed from Portsmouth to the Solent for use as a target craft.
Built by Vickers in 1903, the A1 is the first British designed and built submarine used by the Royal Navy. Although she never saw active service, the A1 sank twice in her career; the first time (in which all of her crew were killed) was in 1904 after a collision with the SS Berwick Castle during exercises.
The submarine was recovered soon after and subsequently employed for training and experimental work in anti-submarine warfare. During unmanned trials in 1911, operating under automatic pilot as a submerged target, she was lost off Selsey Bill. The position of A1's sinking was known and the wreck marked but when recovery operations began the next day the submarine had disappeared. Efforts at the time failed to relocate her and were eventually abandoned. It is most likely that the submarine was only partially flooded when she sank, and the remaining buoyancy in the hull allowed the strong tides that run around Selsey to move the wreck some five miles away to where she lies today at a general depth of 9m. She was discovered again by a fisherman in 1989 and sold by the Ministry of Defence in 1994.
Designation Order: (No 2), No 2708, 1998
Made: 4th November 1998
Laid before Parliament: 5th November 1998
Coming into force: 26th November 1998
Protected area: 100 metres within 50 44.52 N 000 55.19 W
Designation Order No 2393, 2004
Made: 12th September 2004
Laid before Parliament: 14th September 2004
Coming into force: 5th October 2004
Protected area 300 metres within 50 44.5511 N 000 55.2792 W
No part of the restricted area lies above the high-water mark of ordinary spring tides.
Up to 1900, the British Admiralty stolidly refused to have anything to do with submarines. However, as France and America began to build up their submarine fleets, five submarines were ordered and built at Barrow by Vickers, under licence from the Holland Torpedo Boat Company of America (later to become the Electric Boat Company). Ordered as H6, The A1 was launched on the 9th February 1902.
HMS/m A1 was engaged in a practice attack on the cruiser HMS Juno and was not aware of the liner Berwick Castle. The master of the Berwick Castle reported to Captain Roger Bacon, head of the submarine service observing from the gun boat HMS Hazard that she believed that she had hit a practice torpedo. The significance of the report was realised when the A1 failed to surface. HMS/m A1 sank following a collision on the 18th March 1904 with the Berwick Castle, with the loss of her 11 crew. Sunk at a depth of 7 fathoms, she was raised by the Neptune Salvage Company of Stockholm a month later. She was put back into service after repairs but an explosion in 1910 caused by a build-up of gases injured 7 men. She was towed out of Portsmouth and sunk as a target. The two officers and nine men of her crew are buried at the Royal Navy cemetery at Haslar near Portsmouth. On a separate occasion the crew had to abandon the ship when sea water entered the batteries filling the submarine with chlorine gas. In August 1911 she was towed out of Portsmouth and was sunk as a target.
The A1 was confirmed as being 'found' on the 12th May 1989 following a net-snag by a local fisherman and was sold in 1994.
Lying at a depth of around 12m, the A1 was assessed by the Archaeological Diving Unit (ADU) in August 1997 who reported that the vessel lies virtually intact and partially buried in a soft seabed. The bow section torpedo hatches were closed. However, the hull was reported to be badly corroded in some areas with sections missing while some pipe work was exposed, especially aft of the conning tower, leaving the pressure hull beneath apparently intact. There was evidence of interference on the site from divers, fishermen or anchoring vessels.
Increased vandalism was evident on the wreck by 1999: Both forward torpedo loading hatches, previously secured by divers from Chichester BSAC, had been forcibly opened, allowing access to the hull interior. An internal inspection revealed that wooden fittings like stowage lockers were in an excellent condition, but a number of fittings had been removed. Consequently, Clearance Divers from Southern Diving Unit Two successfully sealed access to the A1.
Following sub-bottom profile, magnetometer, and multibeam sonar surveys in 2003, Wessex Archaeology (acting in their capacity as the Government's archaeological contractor) undertook a series of dives between September and October 2005. Two anomalies lying close to the site were investigated, one of which turned out to be a corroded metal buoy, perhaps part of the A1's towing mechanism, and the other an unidentified metal object but not belonging to the A1.