The Blyth Submarine Base Story PREFACE


I first researched ‘Fight and Abide Fortune’ for the Blyth and Wansbeck branch of the Submarine Old Comrades Association back in the 1990s. Since that date much new information in terms of official sources and personal experience material have become available. What follows is an update of this original work.
The two world wars have forced a strong but little-known bond between the North East of England and the Submarine Service which crystallised in the granting of the Freedom of the Borough to the Service in 1979. Ever since the growth of German naval ambitions at the close of the 19th century, the British Admiralty had long recognised that the North Sea was likely to the be key theatre in meeting the threat posed by the German High Seas Fleet. During the Great War units of the Seventh and later the Tenth flotillas were based at Eston on the Tees around the depot ship Lucia. Meanwhile a second depot ship, Titania and the Eleventh Submarine Flotilla took up war stations at Blyth.
The story of the Blyth (and Tees) Flotilla during the Great War deserves a separate treatment well beyond the scope of this work. The Great War could not be accommodated because unlike the Second World War aspect, there is so little in the way of personal experience material. Even with regard to the Second World War very few ratings wrote of their experience and almost all of the autobiographies are written by commanding officers. Growing fears of a future war with Germany led to the selection of Blyth as a war station for the coastal submarines of the Sixth Flotilla in the Second World War. Faced with imminent declaration of war, the Sixth Flotilla took up war station in August 1939. The Flotilla based upon the base HMS Elfin remained operational until March 1941 and carried the war first to German shores and then to occupied territories. A dreadful price was exacted to the extent that by the end of 1940 the Sixth had suffered the worst losses of any British submarine flotilla. Thereafter Blyth became a training base and most of the submariners who fought in the war either served or trained here. Their memories form a significant part of this work.
There are few published work from which to draw information, therefore within a determining framework of official documentation gleaned from that National Archive at Kew and related sources, I have attempted to construct the narrative in the words of the men and women who were there. What follows then is the story of a town at war, a handful of submarines – and the brave young men who crewed them.

© P Armstrong