History 2: The A7 in Service
By 1914, the tiny A class submarines were obsolete and had been reduced to a training role as the E class fleet submarines available at that time were much larger and much better equipped.
The first Royal Navy submarine HM Submarine No 1, or Holland 1, was launched in 1901, she was an American design with a displacement of 104 tons, length 19.2m (63ft) beam 3.3m (11ft) and a crew of 7. Development was swift; the first A class boat had been laid down before No. 1 had undergone diving trials.
HMS/M A7 alongside other A and B class submarines in Plymouth (SHIPS Project Archive)
The A class were the first Admiralty design with A7 launched in 1905, 180 tons displacement, 30.2m (99ft) long and 3.8m (12.5ft) beam with a crew of 11. Almost immediately afterwards the B class appeared, much larger vessels at 41.2m (135ft) long and 280 tons, and the C class launched between 1906 and 1910, larger still at 290 tons. These first submarines were short range weapons designed for a defensive role, but the arrival of the D class in 1910 added a new overseas role to the submarine. These vessels were twice as large being 49.4m (162ft) long and 604 tons, with a crew of 25. Designed to operate far from base the D class had twin screws powered by two 1200hp diesel engines and external saddle tanks for ballast leaving much more room inside the pressure hull. By 1913 the successful E class submarines had joined the fleet, larger again at 660 tons and 53.7m (176ft), 56 were made and many saw action in the First World War.
The A class submarines were very small, had very little reserve buoyancy and floated very low in the water. An Admiralty official memorandum remarked that the principle defect of the A class was their want of buoyancy.
Since the A7 sank in January 1914 and was a vessel being used for the training submariners for the widely perceived forthcoming hostilities its loss can legitimately be placed within the historical context of WW1 military casualties. This is especially true since the RN was coming to a higher state of readiness in early 1914, reflecting the view in both the military and political establishment that war with Germany was a very real possibility at that time. The RN was experimenting with the development of tactics for operational deployment of new sub maritime technology and the A7 appears to have been a casualty of this development as part of preparations for war. Its loss therefore had a developmental connection with WW1 and culturally should be seen as such.
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