Submarine tragedy to be remembered

Lyme man’s father was amongst the 60 men who died aboard the experimental M2 80 years ago

The 80th anniversary of a maritime tragedy that shook the nation will be commemorated in an act of remembrance off Lyme Regis on Saturday.

Relatives of some of the 60 men who died in the world’s first aircraft-carrying submarine disaster are planning to sail to the site, three miles out in Lyme Bay,

And sailing with them in sprit will be former Axminster businessman Jim Sweetland, 79, whose father, Cecil, was amongst those killed on board the vessel.

HMS M2 went down on January 26, 1932, with the loss of all hands and its two airmen.

It is thought an error in opening the aircraft hangar door led to the sub filling with water and sinking stern first.

The vessel was the first underwater craft to carry a two-seater biplane in a water-tight hangar on its deck.

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The M2 was built by Vickers in 1918 and was 296ft long.

She originally had a 12-inch gun on her forward deck, but this was removed in 1927 when she was adapted to carry a small folding-wing seaplane, manufactured by Parnell Peto. It is thought that the hangar doors were open when she submerged and this caused her to founder.

An abortive attempt to salvage the M2 was made soon after the disaster, but the weight of the vessel combined with bad weather beat the lifting vessels just as the M2 was about to break to the surface.

She lies in about 30 metres of water and sits complete and upright. Her hangar doors are wide open and it is possible to look into the silty interior.

Health problems prevent Jim Sweetland attending Saturday’s seaborne memorial.

He never knew his father, Cecil, who came from Chard, as he was not born until July – five months after the tragedy.

Mr Sweetland, who ran Axminster Printing Company for many years with partner Tony Rockett, said he had many documents and photographs relating to the sinking.

He said his understanding was that in their on-going attempt to beat the record time for launching the aircraft the crew had opened the hangar door immediately on surfacing while the deck was still awash, allowing water to flow inside and sink the vessel.

When the wreck was discovered eight days after her loss the hangar door was found open with the aircraft still in it.

Saturday’s memorial trip to the site is being organised by Portsmouth’s British Sub-Aqua Club.

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