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the sinking off.... or the truth behind the cloud of smoke!

Quick look before diving

Missed with the first.........


This event all kicked off on the evening of 21st June 1967 in Gibraltar when Dreadnought was still in dock and afloat.  Many of the crew were on shore leave, and the Captain had taken the opportunity to hop across to Tangiers and the Senior Technical Officer was in UK having meetings regarding the nuclear power plant.

During the evening, the duty officer, Lt Higgins, received a call from the operations staff of the Flag Officer Gibraltar asking the question, “how quickly could Dreadnought be got ready for sea?” (can you imagine the reaction to that?) Initial reaction was twenty-four hours. A conference with all senior staff and heads of departments that were onboard was called in the wardroom to address the situation.  Although the boat was afloat, the salt water cooling pumps that keep the reactor cool were out of action and some of the main bow sonar was still in a state of repair.

Operations staff followed up by telling the duty officer that a German tanker the Essberger Chemist had broken in half south of the Azores and was in danger of drifting to land and at the same time being a hazard to shipping. 

Gibraltar is a small place and the buzz soon got about and the crew with some shore patrol support began to get back onboard.  The Captain was telephoned in Tangiers and the Senior Technical Officer recalled from UK.

It was a busy night because as the boat was in dock the reactor was not allowed to go critical so a rapid cold move had to take place and move the boat out of the dock to its usual berth out on the South Mole.  The submarine went from a dock state to reactor critical with steam on the range in twelve hours.  That was one heck of a duty watch.

 The boat sailed from Gib at 1000 on the 22nd June with Captain and the Senior Technical Officer getting onboard 15 minutes before the boat sailed.  When the water was deep enough Dreadnought dived and steamed at speed for 1000 miles arriving early on the morning of the 24th.  It’s a large expanse of water to search for half a ship but Coastal Command provided a look down search using the Shackleton.  HMS Salisbury was also sent to the area to act as guard ship.

On arrival, Dreadnought surfaced and made contact with the Coastal Command Shacklebat and HMS Salisbury.  Dreadnought circled the Chemist and was informed it was about 280’ in length containing 600 tons of both acetone and alcohol – there was more than one volunteer to try and save her rather see all that lovely “stuff” go to waste.  Once happy with the situation, the Captain dived the submarine to get into a position to carry out a torpedo attack.  At one mile, a salvo of four torpedoes were fired.  The first torpedo was deemed to have missed (confirmed by the Shackleton) there followed three more explosions as the torpedoes detonated.  As the ship had not exploded as wished, the submarine surfaced and in communication with the Salisbury invited her to finish it off with some 4.5 gunnery practice.  After quite a few HE shells there was an almighty explosion and the liquid mixture caught fire – the big black smoke cloud seen on any video footage.  Dreadnought then dived and went back to Gibraltar to finish her docking period.

In messages later received were the following paragraphs:

From Captain S/M, Third Submarine Squadron.

“…I have much pleasure in forwarding HMS Dreadnought’s report of the sinking of the Essberger Chemist immediately on receipt, since I believe you may wish to make some early commendation to the Commanding Officer and Ship’s Company on this timely and well executed operation.”

From Flag Officer Submarines:


“…the operation was well conducted…exemplified the transition of a Fleet Submarine from a maintenance period in dock to full war readiness in twelve hours.


 When the submarine visited Keil the following February, the Essberger Chemist’s owner, Frau von Ranzau came onboard with the firm’s Managing Director.  In expressing her pleasure, Frau von Ranzau presented the boat with a silver gilt goblet and offered to take twenty of the crew on a free run ashore when the boat returned to UK.  This run ashore was looked forward to with keen anticipation as the closing chapter in one of the most unusual escapades of the First Commission.

True dit!

Arrival and rendezvous with Shacklebat

Alongside South Mole Gibraltar

Job Done...back to Gib!

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