John E A Hodges

Late of Epsom & Ewell Sea Cadets and HMS Affray
1930-51

Memorial to the crew of HMS Affray, unveiled on Gosport Esplanade in April 2013.
Memorial to the crew of HMS Affray, unveiled on Gosport Esplanade in April 2013.
Image © Paul Gillett and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence.

HMS Affray was lost at sea with all hands in April 1951 and was the last British submarine to suffer that fate. There have been only two major British submarine disasters since then (HMS Sidon in 1955, which sank in Portland Harbour with the loss of 13 of its crew after a torpedo explosion, and HMS Artemis in 1971, which foundered in Portsmouth Harbour owing to water entering a torpedo hatch, without loss of life). Note: Like HMS Affray, Artemis was an Amphion class submarine, but in her case she sank in only 9 metres of water, because of incompetence, and everyone on board was rescued.

Stoker Mechanic John E A Hodges P/SKX 850727 was one of the 75 men who died in HMS Affray and he is the reason that the story of the catastrophe appears on this website. John, a Chessington lad (probably resident at 35 Church Rise, Chessington), had been a member of the Epsom & Ewell Sea Cadets before joining the submarine service.

Epsom & Ewell Sea Cadets

We know very little about the Epsom and Ewell Sea Cadets, so if any reader has relevant information, photographs etc, please contact the webmaster and, if we receive enough material, we would hope to compile a separate page for them.

The unit was founded in 1942 and was initially based in Depot Road, Epsom; its headquarters was known as Training Ship (TS) Foxhound, named after HMS Foxhound (H69), a destroyer which was eventually transferred to the Royal Canadian Navy and renamed HMCS Qu'Appelle. HMS Foxhound was 'adopted' by the Borough of Epsom and Ewell.

HMS Foxhound, photographed at Freetown, Sierra Leone in August 1943.
HMS Foxhound, photographed at Freetown, Sierra Leone in August 1943.
Image © IWM (A 18776)

Lt. Cdr. Norman King Sanders, RNVR, first Commanding Officer of TS Foxhound, with Canadian personnel, inspecting the local Sea Cadets.
Lt. Cdr. Norman King Sanders, RNVR, first Commanding Officer of TS Foxhound,
with Canadian personnel, inspecting the local Sea Cadets.
Image courtesy Philip Sanders ©2016

Lt.Cdr. Sanders (centre) with other officers and dignitaries.
Lt.Cdr. Sanders (centre) with other officers and dignitaries.
Image courtesy Philip Sanders ©2016

In 1966 the unit moved to a new TS Foxhound in Blenheim Road: the building cost 13,500, which had been obtained via strenuous fund-raising efforts under the stewardship of Mr Tom Pratt MBE, chairman of the Unit Committee from 1952 until 1982.

Old building, Depot Road
Old building, Depot Road.
Image courtesy of Bourne Hall Museum

New building, Blenheim Road
New building, Blenheim Road.
Image courtesy Epsom and Ewell History Centre

Epsom and Ewell Sea Cadets disbanded in 2004; their building was demolished in that same year and replaced by business premises with flats on top, although the new property retained the name of TS Foxhound for a time – the site is now known as Maritime Court in Roy Richmond Way (Longmead Industrial Estate).

HMS Affray

John Hodges' connection to the Epsom and Ewell Sea Cadets came to my notice via an item in an Irish newspaper, dated 29 January 2004, which told of how Mike McLoughlin, who was long associated with the unit, had found a plaque commemorating John on the wall of the Blenheim Road building after it had been vacated. In due course he managed to reunite the plaque with John's brother, Phil. If anyone knows what happened to the plaque after that and/or where it is now, please let us know.

John was born in 1930, the elder son of Lancelot Joseph E C Hodges (1906-76) and Emily Grace (nee Layton, 1906-86). Younger brother Phil came along in 1933. John joined the Royal Navy and sailed with HMS Affray when she embarked from Haslar Creek, Gosport for a training exercise on 16 April 1951. The Commanding Officer was Lt John Blackburn DSC, aged 28.

HMS Affray after launching at the Cammell Laird Shipyard, Birkenhead, April 1945.
HMS Affray after launching at the Cammell Laird Shipyard, Birkenhead, April 1945.
Image © IWM (A 28195)

HMS Affray (P421), an Amphion class submarine, was a relatively new boat and after commissioning she had been stationed at Rothesay with the 3rd Submarine Squadron, subsequently joining the British Pacific Fleet. The Amphion class boats had been specially designed for operations in Pacific waters in the light of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor but, even though they were built very quickly, only two were ready for sea by the time the War ended and neither of them saw action. Those not already built by the end of the War were cancelled. The new role of the completed boats in the 1950s, going in to the Cold War era, was intended to be the monitoring and interception of Russian submarines.

I think it is fair to say that in the period between Pearl Harbor and the mid-1950s submarine development was somewhat disjointed - inevitably so, since the boats and ships planned for in the early 1940s needed to be designed, built, trialled etc and, by the time they were ready, events had moved on considerably and requirements had changed. Affray was one of the boats caught up in this conundrum.

The crucial issue with Affray apparently stemmed from the Dutch invention of the snorkel or snort. In the early days of the Second World War, submarines largely stayed on the surface to avoid detection by ASDIC sonar, but they were then sitting ducks for an attack by aircraft or ships. The other problem was that when the boats were submerged their speed was severely hampered. The snorkel idea, embraced by the Kriegsmarine for U-boats, meant that the boat could travel submerged at periscope depth, taking in fresh air and recharging its batteries. I will not go into all the technicalities here but naturally something was needed to stop water coming in through the snorkel and flooding the engines, and this took the form of an automatic valve. The system was far from perfect and was subsequently much improved and refined, but in the period just after the War it was new for British submarines.

Affray was fitted with a snort in 1949: this model was designed both as an air intake and an exhaust vent. Then, the system was changed so that the snort only took in air and another mast at the rear of the conning tower dealt with the exhaust. After that she was sent off to the Mediterranean. Part of the enduring mystery and debate concerning this boat has been fuelled by the fact that, whilst in the Mediterranean, she was reported as leaking like a sieve when diving and the diesels were said to leak oil.

In 1951 she was brought out of the Reserve and given to Lt Blackburn, his task being to train up the crew and bring her to a state of operational readiness. The exercise, called Spring Train, was to last one week, after which she would return to base for essential repairs, including attention to a leak in a battery tank. All this suggests that she was not in optimum state, but the exercise did not seem that onerous. All she had to do was land a party of Royal Marines on a Cornwall beach, pick them up again at night-time and return to base.

HMS Affray cast off at 4.30 pm on Monday, 16 April 1951 and just before 9 pm had reached the Isle of Wight, from which position she signalled that she was going to dive and proceed westwards up the English Channel. Nothing further was ever heard from her. The following morning Operation Subsmash was launched to find her. Over a period of several weeks a large contingent of ships and aircraft failed to find any trace of the lost submarine. Finally, on 14 June 1951, the frigate HMS Loch Insh made a sonar contact near Hurd's Deep, in an area which had already been searched. Hurd's Deep is a submerged valley and is the deepest part of the English Channel, with a maximum depth of 571 feet (174 metres), compared to the average of 207 feet (63 metres). It lies 30 miles (48 kilometres) west-northwest of Guernsey. Loch Insh sent down an underwater camera and there was Affray, 17 miles (27 kilometres) northwest of Alderney; she was completely intact and undamaged apart from a broken snort mast.

There were and still are theories galore about what might have happened to the boat, and the broken snort mast, which was recovered, was found to be faulty, but this should not have accounted for her sinking. We are unlikely ever to find out what really happened, since such submarines have long been obsolete and there are no useful military lessons to be learned from the wreck. The official verdict was that she flooded because of a faulty snort mast. All 75 crew members are still inside the boat and she is now effectively a war grave under the Protection of Military Remains Act 1986, lying in controlled areas 'which are situated within a distance of 400 metres of the point at Latitude 49° 50.023' North, Longitude 02° 34.533' West, which contains the remains of the vessel known as HMS Affray.'


Hurd's Deep indicated by marker


HMS "AFFRAY" - CHANNEL SEARCH SCENES
Source: British Movietone via YouTube

Coda

HMS Affray was carrying a significant number of Sub-Lieutenants, who were regarded as potential submarine commanders. One of these was 21 year old William F Linton. His father, Commander John Wallace 'Tubby' Linton, was also in the submarine service, latterly commanding officer of HMS Turbulent (N98). During his career he was awarded the DSO, DSC and, posthumously, the Victoria Cross; in Turbulent he was credited with the destruction of 90,000 tons of shipping and had been depth-charged more than 250 times. In March 1943 she failed to return from patrol and was thought to have hit a mine off Maddalena, Sardinia, although there have been other theories as to her exact fate. Neither the boat nor the bodies of her crew have ever been found.

Linda Jackson, January 2016



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