Craig Weir set aside his heavy commitments to, and involvement with, Amble’s recent successful Puffin Festival to deliver his talk, Nasmith’s E11, to the Western Front Association at Alnmouth.
To support Allied landings on the Gallipoli peninsular, Turkey, 32-year-old Lieutenant-Commander Martin Eric Nasmith was tasked to take his submarine E11 and ‘go and run amok in Marmara’.
It may be difficult, now, for people to understand that in 1915 submarines and submarine warfare were still in their infancy – the very first Royal Navy submarines, three Holland-class boats, dated only from 1901-1903.
E11 could make 15 knots on the surface and nine knots underwater, dive safely to 200 feet and stay under for up to 20 hours.
But navigation was by compass and chart, there was no radar or sonar and only a weak transmitter to send Morse code messages back to base.
There were three officers and 27 ratings.
Nasmith was a veteran submariner, innovative and resourceful. His second-in-command, Lieutenant Guy D’Oyly Hughes, was an equally adventurous spirit. Craig described how Nasmith successfully worked out how to suspend the submarine between layers of fresh and salt water enabling him to hide the boat for long periods under water without having to keep moving, his crew could rest and his batteries did not get exhausted.
On the first patrol he hid the submarine for several hours behind a captured dhow and he personally dived into the water to retrieve and disarm an unspent torpedo.
Craig gave his talk almost 100 years ago to the day after E11 set off to dive under the deadly Turkish minefields.
After a difficult and eventful journey she spent three weeks scouring the Sea of Marmara torpedoing and scuttling craft large and small. Nasmith managed to take E11 into Constantinople harbour and sink a large troop transport at her moorings. Apart from the practical value of disrupting supplies to the Turkish battle front, the daring attack had great propaganda value.
E11 returned to Marmara for two more highly successful patrols. Over the course of the three patrols, May to December 1915, E11 destroyed 86 ships. For her historic attack on Constantinople harbour Nasmith received the Victoria Cross. His officers were each awarded the Distinguished Service Cross and the entire crew the Distinguished Service Medal.
The WFA’s next meeting on June 24, will see Peter Hart, oral historian at the Imperial War Museum, deliver his talk, Jutland, 1916.
The speaker on July 22 will be Mavis Sellers with Nellie Splindler, the Pride of Yorkshire.
WFA meetings are held at Alnmouth Ex-Servicemen’s Club and start at 7.15 pm for 7.30 pm. Visitors and new members will be made most welcome. The suggested minimum donation is £1, to include a light buffet supper.