§ The Parliamentary and Financial Secretary to the Admiralty (Mr. James Callaghan)
With your permission, Mr. Speaker, I should like to make a further statement on the loss of the Submarine "Affray."
After it became clear that hope of saving life must be abandoned, a searching force using asdic equipment was formed to search on a 14-mile front along the probable course of the submarine. The search covers the area from just short of her diving position to the position where she expected to be the following morning—an area of 1,000 square miles.
The search is complicated because the bed of the Channel is littered with wrecks, and the asdic echoes from them cannot easily be distinguished from echoes from a submarine. More than 70 objects on the bottom have been pin-pointed, of which roughly one-half have been eliminated, but the House will realise that identification is a slow process. Divers, who go down in doubtful cases, are hampered by tides and the weather. The contacts they have investigated so far have proved to be old wrecks of surface ships. A considerable searching force is at work but it does not seem possible to cover the area thoroughly in much less than three weeks from now. The work of searching for her will be pressed on.
1959 The "A" class submarines have operated sucessfully and without loss for five years in all parts of the world. But as the reason for the loss of the "Affray" is still unknown and as she is the first of her class to be lost, a full examination of the design and characteristics of the class has been made. As a result I can assure the House that vessels of the "A" class are in every way satisfactory operational submarines when on the surface, submerged or resting on the bottom.
As regards escape, it is Admiralty policy to provide two methods, one through a small escape compartment situated just forward of the conning tower, which allows one or two men to escape at a time without flooding the main compartment. This is called a dry escape. Another method is through escape hatches which cannot be opened until inside and outside pressure is equalised by flooding the compartment in which they are fitted. "Affray" was fitted with both methods of escape.
Investigation shows that if an "A" class submarine is so severely damaged that two-thirds or more of the submarine becomes flooded with water, she may lie over on the bottom at an acute angle. With extensive flooding the number of survivors would be small in any case but the chance of escape of any left alive would be made more hazardous by the flooding of a further compartment for the purpose of escape. Future drill for escape from "A" class submarines will emphasise the importance of the dry escape method which avoids additional flooding.
I should emphasise that the foregoing can have had no bearing on the accident to "Affray." Indeed further analysis and interrogation throws considerable doubt on whether any message or communication was received from "Affray," and the absence of marker buoys, oil, wreckage or survivors seems to indicate that major flooding took place at once and that all were lost.
It has been decided to lift the temporary seagoing ban on "A" class submarines fitted with the dry escape equipment. Fitting of the remainder of the submarines in the class will be expedited and they will not be permitted to dive until this is done.
I am sure the House is grateful to the hon. Gentleman for the further news he has given about the mysterious disappearance of the "Affray." Are we to understand that no restrictions except those mentioned are now placed on the employment of the other "A" class submarines? Can we assume that the search will be pressed on with full vigour in view of the great interest in the Service, and particularly of those serving in submarines, in ascertaining the exact cause of the disaster? May I take this opportunity to pay a tribute on behalf of my right hon. and hon. Friends to all those who have taken part so tirelessly in this search, and to express the hope' that it may soon be brought to a successful conclusion?
§ Mr. Callaghan
As regards the first part of the question, no restriction will be placed upon sending the "A" class submarines to sea as soon as they are fitted with the dry escape methods. Those that are already fitted, will go to sea from now, As regards the second part of the question, the prosecution of the search will, indeed, continue. The number of ships now engaged in the task is, I think, the economical number to carry out the search properly—there can be too many on a job like this; but there is no intention at all of giving up the search. As far as the third part of the question is concerned, I am sure that those in the submarine service and in frigates and trawlers who have been taking part in the search will note with gratitude what the hon. and gallant Member has said.
§ Commander Noble
Is the hon. Gentleman aware that the lifting of this restriction will give great satisfaction in the sumbarine service, who are always ready to undertake this most dangerous service both in peace and in war?
§ Mr. Callaghan
They have for some days been bringing pressure to bear upon the Admiralty to lift this restriction.
Surgeon Lieut.-Commander Bennett
Is it a fact that the "A" class submarines show a certain amount of instability when trimmed down, awash, on the surface, and has there been any restriction on the handling of these submarines when trimmed in this way?