Submarine Heroes of the Great War
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The first patrol of the E11 through the Dardanelles

Updated 02-27-06

From: Dave Brown
Sent: Sunday, February 26, 2006 7:37 AM
Subject: When you were offline (via Bravenet HumanClick)

Robert Brown was my great grandfather.
I have a picture of the E11, and also have his medals including  the DSC he was awarded for the Dardanelles patrol.

On the 25th April 1915 allied troops landed at Gallipoli peninsula. The aim was to seize Constantinople and link up with the Russians.

To support the invasion the Royal Navy sought to attack the Turkish line of supply across the Sea of Marmara. But to get to Marmara, warships had to run the gauntlet of the Dardanelles straits. These straits were narrow and were heavily defended by minefields and heavy guns on both shores. It had proved to be an impossible task for the Royal Navy's ships. The responsibility to penetrate the straits fell to His Majesty's Submarine E11.

On the 19th of May, 1915  in the dead of night, HM submarine E11 slipped quietly out of her base on the island of Imbrues. Her skipper was the 32 year old veteran submariner, Lieutenant Commander Martin Nasmith. Nasmith was credited by his crew to have the best periscope eye in the "trade" (the nickname of the early submarine service).  The E11's three patrols through the straits to Marmara would make her the most celebrated submarine in the Royal Navy and would win her captain the Victoria Cross!

The E11 was 181 feet long and weighed 807 tons. She could make 15 knots on the surface and 9 knots underwater. She could dive safely to 200 feet and stay under for up to 20 hours. Navigation was by compass and chart. They had no radar or sonar and only a weak transmitter for morse code transmissions. She was crewed by 3 officers and 27 ratings. The officers shared two bunks and the crew slept on the deck, using buckets for washing and sharing two toilet buckets. The mess was comprised of a small kitchen with an electric cooker.

The ship's Navigator, one of the 3 officers on board was a reserve Lieutenant from the Merchant Navy named Robert Brown. (Brown was a colorful officer in his own right who had been born on a sailing ship rounding Cape Horn!) 

E11 dived to 80 ft to transit the straits just as dawn broke on 20th May. The plan was to remain submerged throughout the transit to avoid the shore guns and to dive deep enough to avoid the minefields.

During the transit, the E11 scraped herself past several mines with one of them becoming lodged briefly in the screw guards before she cleared the mine field. Finally, by 9.30 pm the long transit was nearly over. E11 had been submerged for 17 hours, oxygen levels were low, and circulation fans were barely keeping the the crew from succumbing to carbon dioxide poisoning.

"Mingling with the all pervading smell of oil there was a sour smell from the batteries and un-emptied sanitary buckets standing in rows behind the engines.....Grey mist rose from the bilges darkening the interior of the boat like London fog." (From Dardanelles Patrol)

Nasmith had bee ordered to "go and run amuck in Marmara" and so he did. For the next three weeks E11 scoured the Marmara, torpedoing large vessels and scuttling smaller craft. On the 25th May, Nasmith took E11 directly into Constantinople harbor, and sank a large troop transport at her moorings. E11 was the first hostile warship to enter the harbor in 500 years!

Apart from the practical value of disrupting supplies to the Turkish battle front, the daring attack had great propaganda value. During the E11's three patrols Nasmith successfully worked out how to suspend the submarine between layers of fresh and salt water. This allowed the E11 to hide for long periods under water without maintaining constant way, conserving the boat's batteries, and permitting the crew to rest. Nasmith ordered torpedoes to be set to float so that if they missed the "fish" could be recovered to use again. (Nasmith personally dived into the water to retrieve and disarm the first torpedo recovered.)

The E11 was nearly three weeks into her first patrol when she again dived to transit the straits for the return journey. Approximately an hour and a half after diving for transit they heard a scrape against the hull and the submarine started to behave strangely. Nasmith took her up 20 ft and raised the periscope.

E11 had snagged a mine on her forward hydroplane and was dragging it along through the water. Nasmith said nothing to the crew and ordered E11 deeper. He went up in the conning tower and peered into the sea through the tiny scuttle windows.

"The water cleared as the mine was pulled under. It surged from side to side and in friendly waters when Nasmith blew the stern tanks and ordered full speed astern. The stern rose out of the water while the bow remained submerged and soon the mine floated clear. HMS GRAMPUS escorted her to Mudros.

Lieutenant Commander Dunbar-Nasmith was awarded the Victoria Cross with other decorations for his officers and men.