A search has begun for a long-lost submarine from the First World War, believed to be buried beneath a public park in Dartmouth.
HMS E52, which was 180 feet long and almost 23 feet wide, was one of more than 50 in her class. Launched in 1917, she saw a brief period of service during the final year of the war, and was responsible for sinking the German U-Boat UC-63 near Goodwin Sands.
She was sent to the city’s breakers’ yard at Coombe Mud in 1921, three years after the war ended. Although the submarine’s conning tower was removed, E52 was never fully scrapped.
Instead, experts believe she lies buried beneath Dartmouth’s Coronation Park. The public space was created in the late 1920s, after the town council bought an area of mudflats and dumped thousands of tons of soil on top. The park was opened in 1937 to mark the coronation of King George VI.
Now, Simon Roffey, Reader in Archaeology at Winchester University, is heading to the city to help pinpoint the exact location of the sub. Accompanying him is David Ashby, manager of the university’s Soil Laboratory for the Archaeology, Anthropology, Geography and Forensics Departments.
Roffey is an ex-submariner himself, having served five years in O-Class submarines in the 1980s as a weapons technician, including onboard HMS Onslaught.
‘Onslaught was a diesel electric submarine built in the 1960s but in many ways, it was not that much different to the E52,’ Roffey explained.
Although his main area of expertise is medieval archaeology, Roffey says he has retained an interest in submarines over the years and was excited to read about the hunt for E52.
The search was triggered by the work of Lt Thomas Kemp, a training officer at the nearby Britannia Royal Naval College, who found evidence indicating E52’s location – at the foot of the hill occupied by the college – while trawling through archives.
‘I wrote to Tom offering to help and he was really keen for us to get involved,’ Roffey said.
The team will use Ground Penetrating Radar (GPR), which can send sound pulses through the concrete and tarmac, to provide a clear picture of where E52 is buried, how much of her remains, and how deep.
‘The “Submarine under the Park” is a local legend, and it could make a wonderful tourist attraction if we could identify its exact location,’ Roffey added.