HMS P311, Only Nameless British Sub, Finally Found

Chad Mitchell

The HMS P311 was the only submarine in the British fleet that did not have an official name. According to Uboat.net, the T-class sub was set to be renamed Tutenkhamen. However, she was lost before the ceremony was to take place sometime between December 30, 1942, and January 8, 1943. For almost 74 years, the HMS P311's final resting place was unknown. That all changed this past week.

Massimo Bondone, a Genoa-based scuba diver, was diving off the northeast coast of Sardinia next to the small island of Tavolara when he spotted a large object in the water some 262 feet below the surface. As Bondone examined the twin chariot torpedoes, he learned exactly what he had found. Instantly the Italian diver focused on the 71 souls that had been lost when the HMS P311 went down so long ago. He said so to Discovery News.

"I found the submarine in excellent condition, only the bow is damaged from the explosion. I immediately thought of the fate of those men who died down there."

Among the crew of the HMS P311 was Commander Richard Cayley. Cayley had set himself apart as a war hero. He was responsible for the destruction of 70,000 tons of shipments from the Axis Nations. This earned him the nickname "Deadeye Dick."

Despite the fact that the P311 has now been located, it is highly unlikely the ship will be reclaimed. The Royal Navy spoke of the possibilities of raising the ship and said that it would take an extreme circumstance of historical significance to take on that type of an undertaking. Therefore, the P311 along with the 71 crew members will remain in their watery grave, but Bondone is happy that there has been some closure for all of the families involved.

"I find this site as of absolute historical value, I think you'll all be agree. As I often say, another piece of the puzzle is in place."

The P311 was part of the Operation Principle. The sub, along with its sister ships HMS Thunderbold and HMS Trooper, launched from Scotland in November 1942. They made their way to La Maddalena on December 28 from Malta. Upon examining the wreckage, it seems the fate of the P311 was sealed when it struck mines.

The last signal ever heard from the P311 came on December 31, 1942. After being hailed and never reached, she was presumed to be sunk. She failed to return to port by January 8, 1943. It was then that she was officially lost at sea.

The HMS P311 was manned with two chariot torpedoes. The chariot torpedo was not a traditional torpedo. It was actually manned by two humans. The weapon traveled at slower speeds than the traditional torpedo.

The chariot torpedo would be directed by the divers toward enemy ships. When the torpedo got within range of the target, the warhead was deployed. The divers would then steer the vehicle away from the target. The tactic was predominantly used in the Mediterranean engagements during World War II.

European countries used manned torpedoes more than most other countries. Italy had more success than most, but there are records of manned torpedoes being used by the British Royal Navy with some success. The HMS Trenchant sank two Japanese vessels while docked at port in Thailand in October 1944.

[Image via Orso Diving Club/Massimo Bondone]

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