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Location: Solent
Age / period: 20th century (1911)
List entry number: 1000043
Reason for designation: historical significance
Depth: 12m

Wreck history and loss

The A1 was built by Vickers in 1902 and was the first British designed and built submarine used by the Royal Navy. 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 used for training and experimental work in anti-submarine warfare.

By 1911, she had been rendered unfit for service by an explosion. She was engaged in unmanned trials, operating under automatic pilot as a submerged target when she was lost off Selsey Bill. The position of her sinking was known and the wreck marked but the next day the submarine had disappeared. Efforts at the time failed to relocate her and were eventually abandoned.

It is likely that the submarine was only partially flooded when she foundered and the residual 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.

Wide area RESON multibeam survey of submarine HMS A1
Wide area RESON multibeam survey of submarine HMS A1 © Wessex Archaeology

Discovery, investigation and artefacts

A local fisherman snagged the wreck by chance in 1989 and his contact with diver Martin Woodward led to its identification. The vessel was bought by Mr Woodward from the Ministry of Defence in 1994 and he recovered the bronze conning tower hatch in an attempt to make the wreck less attractive to trophy-hunting sport divers.

Mr Woodward also asked Chichester British Sub-Aqua Club (BSAC) divers to replace the forward hatch cover found open in 1997 by the Government's archaeological contractor during their initial inspection.

The A1 was subsequently inspected twice and on both occasions progressive degradation of the wreck due to diver theft and vandalism was noted.

Internal inspection of the wreck showed excellent preservation of some features, such as fitted wooden stowage lockers, but it also revealed that a number of fittings had been damaged or removed.

The submarine lies at a depth of 11-12m, and is partially buried in a sandbank that has a gentle slope of 10 degrees up to its stern. The sediment is compact and ranges from fine sandy silt to clay silts with a high percentage of broken shell inclusions. It also has a high carbonate content. A scour runs underneath the bow and along the port side with complete mollusc shells and small stones exposed at its base.

Further work

The submarine is under threat from unscrupulous divers. Unless the openings in the hull are secured further damage and theft may occur. It would also be useful to erect signs at relevant boat launching sites and increase the radius of the designated area. A formal wreck buoy would also make it easier for observers to identify unauthorised activity.

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Please click on the gallery images to enlarge.

  • Tube with Fish
  • Periscope Mount
  • Mount for Vent
  • Hinges Hatch
  • bolt and fish
  • Bolt And Fish