The HMS Sunfish was a submarine from the S-class and was one of twelve. Made in Chatham Dockyard in 1935, it was launched in 1936 and began its adventure during the Second World War.
The HMS Sunfish was laid down 22 July 1935, launched 30 September 1936 and commissioned 2 July 1937. In 1944, the Sunfish was transferred to the Soviet Union and accidentally sunk by the RAF.
Second World War
In the early months of the war, the Sunfish undertook a series of refits as well as exercises off Rosyth, and it was here where she departed for her first war patrol. S-Class submarines were designed to patrol restricted waters, hence their smaller size. As a result, most S-class submarines remained patrolling the North Sea and Mediterranean Sea. The Sunfish’s first patrol was near the Doggerbank area in the North Sea.
Edward Astley Jones, Secretary to the Captain of the Flotilla, Captain Philip Ruck-Keene, recalls the order to patrol the North Sea at Christmas 1939, after months of enjoying the Mediterranean sea and sunshine. The submarines that formed the 3rd Flotilla were HMS Sealion, Snapper, Sunfish, Salmon, Shark, Sterlet and Spearfish. Jones claims:
‘That winter was very, very cold, and the Stour that river which comes out at Harwich was frozen over and I can see today HMS Sealion trying to come through the ice flows…’
The following month, she patrolled around Lister in Norway. In the months from October 1939 to January 1940, she patrolled around Norway, the Netherlands and Britain.
It was in February 1940 where she encountered adventure, as she fired four torpedoes at German U-boat U-14 under the captainship of Lieutenant Commander J.E. Slaughter, RN. The U-boats were located outside of Helgoland Seas in Germany. All torpedoes missed their target. In April 1940, Sunfish was ordered to patrol Denmark, and only a few days later she torpedoed and sank the German merchant ship Amasis south of Smögen, Sweden. The following day, she attempted to sink the German merchant ship Hanau and Leuna but failed on both accounts. Later that day they sank the German merchant ship Antares.
Submariners are known as the ‘silent service’ and hailed as heroes because of its dangerous nature. In South Africa, one of their World War Two heroes is Lieutenancy Alan Harold MacCoy, known for being the first South African to command a submarine. This has since been disproven, as there was plenty of South African submariners, but they were employed under the British Royal Navy, as the South African Navy was not formed until 1922.
Despite this, MacCoy is still hailed as a hero for sailing aboard the HMS Sunfish, HMS Pandora, HMS Umbra, HMS Porpoise and HMS Tantalus. It was the HMS Seaborne and HMS Unruffled that he commanded.
In April 1944 Sunfish was transferred to the Soviet Union, where it was commissioned in May 1944 and renamed V1. Unfortunately, the submarine was attacked and sunk by the RAF Liberator Crew. The official story initially was that the V1 crew had left their position and dived when they saw the Liberator aircraft, failing to fire recognition signals. However, documents released by the Admiralty highlight that the Liberator crew were at fault for not properly identifying their target, despite the warning that Allied submarines were patrolling the area.
All 50 Russians and One British crew member were lost in the attack. There is a memorial at the Dundee International Submarine Memorial which commemorates those lost in the HMS Sunfish sinking.
This month’s Warship Wednesday was written by Erika Balban, Final year History & Archaeology student at the University of Kent Employability Points work experience