Royal Navy Submarines

Noyal Navy Submarines

Royal Navy Submarines Stamps

Not for nothing is the Royal Navy Submarine Service known as the Silent Service. Its boats rely on stealth for their effectiveness. They quite    literally keep a low profile and lack the charisma of battleships or the panache of frigates and destroyers.

The Royal Navy has had over 600 submarines in the past century. Unlike heir German counterparts, they have been employed mainly in defensive roles, to patrol and protect the world's sea lanes rather than destroy enemy shipping; but the men who have engaged in hazardous operations have earned 14 Victoria Crosses and many other gallantry awards.

The popular attitudes towards submarines and the image they have created has been reflected in their coverage in stamps- precious few from the world as a whole and none from the UK, until this year when a set of four stamps was issued on April 10, to celebrate the centenary of the first sub in the service of the Royal Navy.

The irony of it is that the submarine was invented by a man who had, shall we say, a decided antipathy to the British. John Philip Holland was born at Liscannor, County Clare in 1840, studied in Limerick and qualified as a schoolmaster. He taught at Limerick until 1873 when he left Ireland and settled in the United States.

For six years he continued in his chosen profession, but secretly he yearned to do something to destroy the hated English. Growing up during the potato famine and the agrarian troubles left him with a lifelong hostility to the ruling classes and their colonial administration.

Probably before he left Ireland he enrolled in the Irish Republican Brotherhood, a secret society which continued in the footsteps of the Fenians whose uprising in 1848 had been crushed, just as their quixotic attempts to invade Canada from the USA in the aftermath of the American Civil War ended in farce.

Holland realised that Ireland was too poor and under-resourced to take on the mighty British Empire on equal terms. Somehow he had to devise a means of shifting the balance in Ireland's favour.

Royal Navy Submarines Stamps

The solution seemed to lie in inventing a vessel which could navigate under water and creep up undetected on British warships, to attach explosive devices to their hulls.

Ever since Viking divers had bored holes in 16 Danish warships 900 years earlier, men had dreamt of undersea boats which could sink a much larger enemy. A sheet of Millennium stamps from Palau last year traced the 1000-year history of man's attempts to operate safely below the surface of the sea.

These include various types of diving bell and self- contained breathing apparatus but practical vessels, capable of navigation under water, only go back about 400 years.

Most of the early experiments were doomed to failure because their inventors failed to understand the problem of fresh air.

Ingenious devices with leather- flanged rowlocks were all very well, but the oarsmen had a tendency to black out through lack of oxygen.

Ironically, in light of the eventual development of the modern submarine, the first man to crack the problem was David Bushnell, an American colonist whose underwater boat of 1775 was certainly capable of attaching a mine to the hull of a British frigate. The boat had twin hulls, one over the other, and was operated by one man who had sufficient air for 30 minutes submersion.

At the beginning of the War of Independence Bushnell's submarine manoeuvred itself below the hull of HMS Eagle with a magazine containing 150 lbs of gunpowder.

The ploy only failed because the submariner lost his nerve and did not tarry long enough to ensure that the charge was properly fitted.

The magazine was released and exploded an hour later, but at some distance from the enemy battleship.

Robert Fulton of steamboat fame also tried his hand at a submarine, conducting trials with such a vessel in 1809, but using twin screws manually operated by a crank. It was not until 1863 that a mechanically driven submarine was tested.

This was the Plongeur, built in France and propelled by a compressed air engine. The following year a hand-operated submarine was employed by the Confederates against the US Navy.

Royal Navy Submarines Stamps

Manned by a crew of nine, this sub successfully attacked the USS Housatonic and sank her with a spar torpedo.

Unfortunately, the sub sank in the attempt with the loss of three of the crew, so the attempt was not repeated in actual combat, although trials with a second submarine, the Intelligent Whale, showed that it was feasible to attach a torpedo manually and blow up a ship without endangering the submariners.

Two years after settling in America, John Holland produced a blueprint for a mechanically powered submarine.

In 1878, with funds from the IRB, he built a small experimental boat which incredibly embodied many of the features which became standard in the earliest operational submarines for controlled descent and ascent, balanced navigation and buoyancy.

Holland and his first practical submarine are shown on an Irish 25p stamp of 1981. The boat was propelled by a petrol engine, then in its infancy.

Poor engine performance was for many years the chief obstacle to perfecting the submarine, but vast improvements in internal combus­tion engines in the 1880s and 1890s finally made the fully mechanised submarine a practical proposition.

The Swedish armaments manufacturer Nordenfelt built a submarine in 1883 powered by a steam engine. Sufficient steam was generated on the surface to enable this boat to submerge for short periods and discharge a Whitehead torpedo mechanically. The steam engine was a major drawback, and the plume from its smoke-stack was a dead giveaway.

Royal Navy Submarines Stamps

Nevertheless, the US Navy took a keen interest in these developments and invited both Holland and Norden felt to submit designs to the Navy Board in 1887.

Nordenfelt dropped out and in the end it was Holland whose design was accepted. Holland's largest and most ambitious boat was the Plunger, commissioned in 1893 but not completed till 190

It was powered by steam on the surface, but switched to gas when submerged. She achieved speeds of 15 knots on the surface and 8 knots submerged, and was armed with two Whitehead torpedoes.

The USS Holland, a much smaller boat, was begun after the Plunger but completed before it, and thus had the honour of being the first submarine in the world to enter naval service.

The USA released a prestige booklet of stamps last year to celebrate the centenary. She was 59 feet in length and had a crew of three. She was followed by the USS Adder which was slightly larger (63 feet), and this became the prototype for the earliest submarines in the Royal Navy.

Royal Navy Submarines Stamps

The more far-sighted members of the Royal Navy realised the potential of this weapon and urged the Board of Admiralty to purchase Holland submarines, but there was considerable hostility towards this among the more senior admirals who felt that it was un-British.

One Sea Lord, Admiral Sir Arthur Wilson, went so far as to advocate that submariners captured in wartime should be hanged from the nearest yard-arms as pirates!

In 1900, however, plans to purchase Holland submarines were finalised and later Holland vessels were constructed under licence at Barrow in Furness.

The first Holland submarine entered service on October 2, 1901.

British submariners were mainly confined to the Mediterranean during World War 1 but saw service in all theatres of operation in World War II and played a | major role in the strategy of NATO during the Cold War. Over 5,000 British submariners have perished in the course of the past century, mostly in naval engagements, being hunted down by enemy destroyers using depth charges; but quite a number lost their lives in accidents.

The set of four stamps honouring the Silent Service was designed by Dick Davis. The second class stamp shows the latest submarine in service. HMS Vanguard, launched in 1992, operates as a UN peacekeeping 'sentinel', remaining submerged for long periods and carrying ballistic missiles with nuclear warheads.

Royal Navy Submarines Stamps
The first class stamp shows HMS Swift sure, built in 1973 and a typical submarine of the Cold War era, which was engaged in patrol work all round the world. The Unity Class submarine shown on the 45p stamp was a small (151 feet) but highly successful design, introduced in 1939 and employed mainly in the Mediterranean during World War II.

It cruised at periscope depth for long periods, hence the 'periscope view' graphic featuring an enemy ship. One submarine of this class, HMS Upholder sank or damaged over 100,000 tons of enemy shipping before it sank with all hands. Pride of place on the 65ptier airmail rate) goes to HMS Holland of 1901.

With a displacement of only 122 tons, she is a midget compared with the mighty Vanguard of 15,900 tons.

In addition to the stamps printed in conventional sheets of 100, there is a self-adhesive retail booklet containing four first class NVI definitives and two first class Submarine stamps in a self-adhesive version. The booklet went on sale April 17, a week after the ordinary stamps.

Dick Davis also designed a miniature sheet and matching prestige booklet released on October 22 to mark the actual centenary, containing four first class stamps featuring flags.

Three of them are the Union Jack, the White Ensign and the flag of the Chief of the Defence Staff but the fourth is the Jolly Roger or skull and crossbones emblem of piracy.

Royal Navy Submarines Stamps
Taking the comments of Admiral Wilson to heart, a British submariner hoisted the black flag as a badge of honour aftei sinking a German ship in World War I and the tradition has developed from that.

Each sub has its own unique Jolly Roger and the one shown on the stamp, with crossed tin-openers, is the flag of HMS Proteus. The Jolly Roger and White Ensign also appear in self-adhesive versions in a booklet with four ordinary first class stamps.

The Royal Navy's Submarine centenary is the subject of a omnibus issue from Liberia, St.Kitts, Sierra Leone,Uganda and Zambia, each of which has produced sheetlets of six with matching souvenir sheets depicting subs of the past century, together with some of the intrepid submariners.      

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