HC Deb 07 July 1931 vol 254 cc1916-8
Captain W. G. HALL

(by Private Notice) asked the First Lord of the Admiralty if he is yet in a position to make a further statement as to the disaster to one of His Majesty's Submarines in Eastern waters?


asked the First Lord of the Admiralty whether a report has yet been received from the Commander-in- Chief, China, in connection with the loss of His Majesty's Submarine "Poseidon"; and, if so, what reference, if any, is made therein to the senior rating who showed coolness and presence of mind in organising rescue work?

The FIRST LORD of the ADMIRALTY (Mr. A. V. Alexander)

In answer to this question and that standing in the name of the hon. and gallant Member for South Portsmouth (Sir H. Cayzer) for written answer, I rise to inform the House that the Admiralty have received the following report from the Commander-in-Chief, China, respecting the recent loss of His Majesty's Submarine "Poseidon": On the conclusion of the various inquiries into the loss of His Majesty's Ship 'Poseidon' some interesting facts have become available about the magnificent behaviour of the men who were cut off from their fellows in the fore part of the ship, most of whom eventually were saved. When the collision occurred and the order 'Close watertight doors' was given, Petty Officer Willis, the torpedo gunner's mate, took charge of those in the fore part, calling on them to close the door of the compartment with themselves inside, as this might mean saving the ship. The operation was difficult, as the bulkhead had buckled, but by their united efforts the door was eventually closed, leaving only a slight leak. Whilst this work was in progress the ship lurched to starboard and sank with heavy inclination by the bows. At the moment of the collision the electric light leads were all cut and from that time until the final evacuation the imprisoned men were working with the occasional illumination of an electric torch. Willis first said prayers for himself and his companions and then ordered them to put on their escape apparatus, making sure they all knew how to use it. He then explained he was going to flood the compartment in order to equalise the pressure with that outside the submarine, and how it was to be done, telling off each man to his station. He also rigged wire hawser across the hatchway to form a support for men to stand on whilst the compartment was flooding. While the compartment was slowly filling, Willis kept his companions in good heart, while one able seaman, Nagle, passed the time in instructing the Chinese boy in the use of his apparatus, and was undoubtedly instrumental in saving his life. The other men worked cheerfully at the various valves for flooding and rigging the platform. During this time oxygen was running low in some of the escape apparatus; one able seaman told Petty Officer Willis that his oxygen flask was exhausted, as he could not longer hear it bubbling. Willis then tested his own and found it also was empty, and told the man, 'That is all right, you can't hear anything in mine, and there is plenty left.' This statement reassured the man and maintained the atmosphere of coolness among the party, which was essential to success. After two hours and ten minutes the water was about up to the men's knees, and Willis considered the pressure might be sufficient to open the hatch. With considerable difficulty the hatch opened sufficiently for two men to shoot up, but the pressure then reclosed the hatch, and it was necessary to await further flooding to make the pressure more equal before a second attempt could be made. The two men who first escaped were Able Seaman Lovock and Able Seaman Holt. The former came to the surface unconscious and died immediately, but his body was supported by Able Seaman Holt, himself in a state of great exhaustion, until both were picked up by boats waiting on the scene. After a further hour, by which time the men in the compartment were nearly up to their necks in water and the air lock was becoming very small, a second effort was made. This was successful and the hatch opened, and four other men came to the surface, Petty Officer Willis, Leading Seaman Clark, Able Seaman Nagle, and Officer's Steward Ah Hai, all of whom were picked up by boats. From evidence it is abundantly clear that the courage and fortitude with which all these men in the practical darkness of the slowly flooding compartment faced a situation more than desperate was in accordance with the very highest traditions of the Service. The coolness, confidence, ability and power of command shown by Petty Officer Willis, which no doubt was principally responsible for the saving of so many valuable lives, is deserving of the very highest praise. The question of suitable recognition of those concerned is under consideration by the Admiralty.


In view of the very striking and exhilarating statement which the First Lord of the Admiralty has just given to the House, will he say what mark of consideration is going to be conferred on Petty Officer Willis?


That is under consideration.


May I ask the First Lord whether, in consequence of these submarine disasters, affecting not only this country but other countries, he thinks that any useful purpose would be served by making representations in favour of the abolition of submarines?


The Government have indicated already their strong views on that question, last year.