Today’s Illustration: A Really Bad Idea!


On This Day: November 14, 1916, K-1 Submarine Launched by the British Royal Army

    November 18, 1917, K-1 Submarine Scuttled & Sunk

Image caption follows


Facts & Information:

In 1913, The British Navy — “The Royal Navy” began designing and building a special class of boats called the K-class — specifically “K-class Submarines.

They were designed to replace the “J-class” of diesel propelled ships which struggled at speed — 22 mph on the surface.

The K-class submarines were steam-propelled.  They were powered by steam engines and able to travel at 24-29 mph on the surface.

Equipped with four torpedo tubes.

They were designed to be a large and fast fleet of submarines ships — to be able to keep up with the surface fleet.

Seventeen of these K-class ships were built — Twenty were ordered, only seventeen were actually built.

They were designated by their number — K1 through K17.  The last four were canceled.

Not one of these ships were ever lost due to enemy action.

However, it should be noted that only one ever participated in activity related to enemy engagement — K-7 — which attempted to torpedo and sink a German U-boat.  However, the torpedo failed to detonate.

The nickname for this K-class of ships was  “The Kalamity class” for being involved in so many accidents and failures.

 “The most fatal error imaginable would be to put steam engines in submarines.” — Admiral Jacky Fisher

“From their first appearance in mid-World War I, the Royal Navy’s K-class submarines were perhaps the most badly-conceived and ill-starred submersibles ever built by any nation. In both their original configuration and in the several derivatives that followed, the K-boats compiled an almost unbroken record of disaster and death, unredeemed by even a single instance of combat effectiveness. Spawned by a flawed tactical concept, implemented with immature and dangerous technologies, and kept at sea by the Admiralty’s stubborn refusal to admit the most obvious deficiencies, the K-class left in their wake a fascinating—even humorous—tale of operational and technical folly for which the query, “What were they thinking?” has seldom been more appropriate. ” — K is for Katastrophe

“The only good thing about ‘K-boats’ is that they never engaged the enemy.” — pg 209 British Submarines At War


Key Illustrative Thoughts:

• accidents & failures
• never really engaged the enemy
• What were you thinking?
• stubbornness — a refusal to admit the obvious
• flawed in the original design
• the most fatal error
• a calamity
• “Not a single instance of combat effectiveness.”
• Canceled!
• never lost because never engaged
• speed matters
• keeping up with the surface ships
• spiritual submarines
• a technical folly & spiritual follies
• never accomplished what designed to do — Samson
• design flaws
• collided & scuttled

Other Information & Links:

Wikipedia: The fate of the K-ships

  • K13 sank on 19 January 1917 during sea trials when an intake failed to close whilst diving and her engine room flooded. She was eventually salvaged and recommissioned as K22 in March 1917.
  • K1 collided with K4 off the Danish coast on 18 November 1917 and was scuttled to avoid capture.
  • Two boats were lost in an incident known as the Battle of May Island on 31 January 1918. The cruiser HMSFearless collided with the head of a line of submarines, K17, which sank in about 8 minutes, whilst other submarines behind her all turned to avoid her. K4 was struck by K6 which almost cut her in half and was then struck by K7 before she finally sank with all her crew. At the same time K22 (the recommissioned K13) and K14 collided although both survived. In just 75 minutes, two submarines had been sunk, three badly damaged and 105 crew killed.
  • K5 was lost due to unknown reasons during a mock battle in the Bay of Biscay on 20 January 1921. Nothing further was heard of her following a signal that she was diving, but wreckage was recovered later that day. It was concluded that she exceeded her safe maximum depth.
  • K15 sank at her mooring in Portsmouth on 25 June 1921. This was caused by hydraulic oil expanding in the hot weather and contracting overnight as the temperature dropped and the consequent loss of pressure causing diving vents to open. The boat flooded through open hatches as it submerged. Prior to this in May of that year the boat had survived shipping a sea into her funnel uptakes which had doused the furnaces and caused her to sink stern first to the bottom. In that case quick action on part of Captain and crew had prevented loss of life.
  • K16 and K12 were both trapped on the bottom of Gareloch; their crews were luckier than that of K13 in that after several hours submerged they managed to claw their way back to the surface.
  • K3 held the unofficial record for maximum diving depth (266 feet (81 m)) following an uncontrolled descent to the bottom of the Pentland Firth. The ship managed to surface without further difficulty despite spending an unrecorded period below ‘crush depth.’
  • K4 ran aground on Walney Island in January 1917 and remained stranded there for some time.

“K1 slowed down rapidly, as the cruiser swung away, and, as the line bunched up, K4, running immediately behind, rammed the boat ahead.  There was a sickening crunch of meta, and K1’s stern began sinking as water flooded in.  Prompt action by the crew in closing the watertight doors saved the submarine from the immediate danger of sinking, but it was clear that she was crippled.”  The crew was evacuated, and K1 was jettisoned to the bottom of the ocean. — pg 225 — British submarines at war


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