The untold story of a huge submarine washed up on the Welsh coast


Monday September 16, 1935 was a normal day at Sully Point by everyone except the strong winds and tides offshore.

However, unbeknownst to the people of Sully, at this very moment an alarm was being broadcast by wireless radio across the Bristol Channel.

A huge submarine had come loose in transit, endangering anyone attempting to navigate the waters between Glamorgan and the west of England.

Read more: The night the Luftwaffe dropped bombs on a village in Rhondda, killing 27 people

The submarine, HMS L52, was then on its final voyage – en route from Portsmouth to Llanelli.

Originally built for the Royal Navy during World War I, the submarine was problematic from day one.

Built by shipbuilder Armstrong Whitworth in Newcastle, HMS L52 was first laid in 1917, launched in December 1918, but was not fully completed until 1921.

Carrying six torpedoes and armed with four deck guns, it was an intimidating machine.

A cable attached to the bow of the HMS L52 submarine after it was blown ashore at Sully Point

In his book “A Submariner’s Story”, former crew member Joel Blamey describes when a torpedo exercise at sea on the L52 went horribly wrong. During the firing, the engine of one of the torpedoes was started while it was still in its holster.

“The exhaust gases, mainly carbon monoxide, escaped into the torpedo compartment,” he wrote.

These deadly gases immediately began to invade the men, who were trapped without access to fresh oxygen under the sea.

“The gas quickly began to defeat the torpedo boats, and while on duty at the front blast station, I put on my gas mask to help pull these unconscious men out of the compartment,” added Joel Blamey.

Fortunately for the crew, as it was peacetime, the submarine was able to surface quickly enough to replenish the air supply and avert a potentially catastrophic situation for all on board. As they rushed to port, the affected submariners were treated for their exposure to the gases and resumed service a few days later. The submarine crew managed to escape without a single death.

Later in 1928, the L52 underwent a redesign at Devonport to keep it in a condition suitable for service, but the submarine was only seven years old.

On its way from Portsmouth to Llanelli in September 1935, HMS L52 was to be torn up and sold for scrap.

However, L52 did not make his last trip easy. On the morning of Monday 16 September, while being towed by another boat, it broke away adrift, free to float aimlessly between Wales and England.

It was not until three days later, on the evening of Wednesday, September 18, that the ship reappeared – sighted not far from the Glamorgan coast.

“Submarine stranded ashore,” read a headline in the Western Mail at the time.

To prevent L52 from disappearing again, the submarine was anchored.

Describing what happened, the Western Mail article continued: “She [the L52] first detached from the tug Pressman while being towed from Portsmouth to Llanelli for demolition. On Wednesday evening it was sighted and anchored at Barry Roads after drifting nearly 100 miles. “

Another newspaper, the Hartland and West Country Chronicle, also described what happened to L52: “On Monday, September 16, the obsolete L52 submarine drifted off north of Lundy while being towed away. from Portsmouth for the Llanelli demolition site. danger to navigation was broadcast.

The submarine was capable of carrying six torpedoes and weighed nearly 1,000 tons

After causing chaos for two days, at least now, the L52 was securely anchored and ready to resume its final voyage.

Or at least that was the plan.

In another twist, the next morning the submarine was gone again. As if trying at all costs to escape her fate, the L52 broke away from her anchor a second time, free to drift in the Bristol Channel.

“On Thursday morning, she broke her moorings again and drifted into the English Channel at high tide,” wrote the Western Mail.

But attempts to escape from the L52 were unsuccessful. Later that same day, the submarine ran aground at Sully Point, this time for the last time.

The exploits of the L52 were now also attracting interest in the British press, with the Daily Mail, the Daily Express and the Daily Sketch all covering it.

On September 21, the Daily Mirror featured a photo of the L52 driven ashore at Sully Point under the headline “Monster from the Deep”.

After being tossed onto shore, thrown casually against the unforgiving rocky shore around Sully Point, the L52 was now not only off-road, but worse for wear and tear as well.

Lavernock Point, near Sully

In fact, the sub was in such a precarious situation that he wasn’t even sure he could even leave Sully. The size of the submarine is hard to overstate. 235 feet long and weighing nearly 1,000 tons, the L52 was a huge ship that had run aground on the beach.

In the submarine’s accounts, there is no evidence that it ever reached Llanelli’s scrapyard.

“The abandoned L52 submarine was washed ashore on the west side of Sully Point on Thursday and left high and dry by the ebb tide,” the Western Mail wrote.

He continued: “Despite the efforts of the tugs and the Swansea Trinity House Warden, she was blown away at Sully. The tides are getting lower and lower and given the gales it will be extremely difficult to navigate. release it right now. “

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