Berwick Castle

BERWICK CASTLE was built in 1902 by Wm. Beardmore & Co. at Glasgow with a tonnage of 5883grt, a length of 398ft 2in, a beam of 50ft and a service speed of 14 knots.

Sister of the Alnwick Castle she was built for similar deployment.

On 18th March 1904 she rammed and sank the British submarine A1 off the Nab lightship with the loss of all hands.

The A1 was the first of 14 petrol driven submarines with the peculiarity that stopping was achieved by shorting out up to six of the 16 cylinders and allowing compression to slow the engine revs.

The submarine appeared to stop but then surged ahead and was hit by the Berwick Castle.

During the First World War she continued to operate for Union-Castle and in October 1919 was burnt out at Kilindini, Mombasa.

See account below by G H Griggs

She was towed to Durban where she remained at anchor until she was purchased by Soc. Anon. Andora of Genoa and renamed Andora Castle.

The machinery was repaired and she was taken to Italy where she was laid up and eventually broken up in 1925.

Original and unique postcard from the archive of Oscar Parkes .

Postcard is a diagram of the courses taken by the Royal Navy submarine A1 and the Union Castle Line vessel Berwick Castle on 18 March 1904.

A1 was undertaking a practice attack on HMS Juno .

The collision occurred in the Solent .

Directions of all three vessels are shown with collision point and all three vessels are named.

Oscar parkes was editor of Janes Fighting Ships until 1935 he was also director of the Imperial War Museum photographic archive .

Oscar Parkes died in 1958

The A-1 was a very unlucky ship. It was sunk twice, the first time taking its entire crew to the bottom with it in 1904. The sub went down in shallow water, however, was recovered, rebuilt and put back in service, only to be sunk a second time in 1911. The second time the vessel was unmanned so there were no casualties.

The first disaster occurred on Friday, March 18, 1904 while participating in a mock Naval battle off the Isle of Wight. During the exercise, A-1 was tasked with "attacking" HMS Juno, a navy cruiser.

As the submarine moved into position for its fake torpedo shot, it was struck by the passing steamship Berwick Castle on the starboard side near the conning tower. The A-1 was fatally damaged in the crash and sank in 37 feet of water taking all 11 hands to the bottom with it.

The Berwick Castle was steaming from Southampton to Hamburg, Germany, that day and its pilot had not been informed of a submarine operating in the area. During an inquiry that followed, the ship's master said he believed that he had been struck by a practice torpedo and continued on his journey.

The disaster went unnoticed until A-1 failed to return to the harbour that evening. An investigation revealed the full scale of the disaster that had occurred under the waters, but right before the eyes of Naval officials.

Thus the A-1 is remembered as the first naval casualty involving a submarine at sea.

One result of the disaster is that all Royal Navy submarines built after that were equipped with a watertight hatch at the bottom of the conning tower, to give the crew a chance to escape in the event of a similar incident.

The submarine was raised, rebuilt and utilized by the British Navy until August, 1910, when A-1 was severely damaged in a fuel explosion. It was repaired once more but never used as an active submarine. Instead it was use as a test-bed for the Admiralty's Anti-Submarine Committee. It was lost in 1911 when running submerged but unmanned under automatic pilot.

From B&C Review  August 1964

Union-Castle Home Page
Previous Page Next Page Home Page   The Group Register