Basic Site Facts
Period: 20th century (1911)
Reason for Designation: historical significance
Wreck History and Loss
The 'A1' was built by Vickers in 1902 and was the first British designed and built submarine used by the Royal Navy. The 'A1' sank twice in her career; the first time (in which all of her crew were killed) was in 1904 after a collision with the 'SS Berwick Castle' during exercises. The submarine was recovered soon after and subsequently employed for training and experimental work in anti-submarine warfare.
In 1911, she was rendered unfit for service by an explosion the previous year and was subsequently engaged in unmanned trials, operating under automatic pilot as a submerged target when she was lost off Selsey Bill. The position of her sinking was known and the wreck marked but when recovery operations were commenced the next day the submarine had disappeared. Efforts at the time failed to relocate her and were eventually abandoned.
It is likely that the submarine was only partially flooded when she foundered and the residual buoyancy in the hull allowed the strong tides that run around Selsey to move the wreck some five miles away to where she lies today.
Discovery, Investigation and Artefacts
A local fisherman snagged the wreck by chance in 1989 and his contact with diver Martin Woodward led to its identification. The vessel was purchased by Mr Woodward from the Ministry of Defence in 1994 and he recovered the bronze conning tower hatch in an attempt to make the wreck less attractive to trophy-hunting sport divers. Mr Woodward also asked Chichester British Sub-Aqua Club (BSAC) divers to replace the forward hatch cover found open in 1997 by the Government’s archaeological contractor during their initial inspection.
The 'A1' was subsequently inspected twice and on both occasions progressive degradation of the wreck due to diver theft and vandalism was been noted. Mr Woodward knows the identity of one individual who had taken items from the wreck and is aware that other non-ferrous items removed were sold for scrap.
Internal inspection of the wreck showed excellent preservation of some features, such as fitted wooden stowage lockers, but demonstrated that a number of fittings had been damaged or removed. Very little silt had accumulated in the forward part of the hull and externally, the casing on the forward edge of the conning tower has lost its leading edge, possibly abraded away by an anchor chain. One small circular deadlight had previously been reported stolen from the conning tower. The single remaining circular and four large elliptical deadlights have all been unbolted and removed. The condition of the freshly exposed metal indicated that they had only been taken a short time before the inspection.
An attempt was made to locate and identify an anomaly previously located by the archaeological contractor in very bad visibility close to the submarine. Although a target was located and inspected it proved to be a corroded buoy or mine casing and not the previously reported structure. This is thought to be associated with the towing arrangement at the time of loss.
The submarine lies at a depth of 11-12m, and is partially buried in a sandbank that has a gentle slope of 10 degrees up to its stern. The sediment is compact and ranges from fine sandy silt to clay silts with a high percentage of broken shell inclusions. It also has a high carbonate content. A scour runs underneath the bow and along the port side with complete mollusc shells and small stones exposed at its base.
The submarine is under threat from unscrupulous divers. Unless the openings in the hull are secured further damage and theft may occur. Publicity should be given to the unacceptable behaviour in the diving press. It would also be useful to erect signs at relevant boat launching sites and increase the radius of the designated area. A formal wreck buoy would also make it easier for observers to identify unauthorised activity.