On the night of 31st January 1918, in the final year of the First World War, a British flotilla of ten submarines and a convoy of battle cruisers set out from Rosyth naval base on a night exercise.
The vessels were sailing without navigation lights and under radio silence when, just off May Island in the Firth of Forth the helm in submarine K14 jammed to starboard causing her to swing around and collide with submarine K22 (1). The two boats became locked together and K22 was struck by HMS Inflexible.
In the confusion that followed submarine K6 plunged into submarine K4 sending it to the bottom upside down with the loss of all hands; and submarine K7 was struck by HMS Fearless. The crew of K7 managed to evacuate but were run down as they swam to the surface. Four of the remaining submarines also sustained damage.
A total of 105 men died that night making it Britain's worst ever submarine disaster.
At the time the British Admiralty denied that the disaster had occured due to its desire to maintain the secret nature of the K-class submarines. But on 31st January 2002, the eighty-fourth anniversary of the tragedy representatives of Fife council and the Royal Navy unveiled a memorial to those that died in the disaster. At Anstruther harbour a three foot high stone cairn, with a brass plaque now serves to honour those sailors whose remains still lie at the bottom of the Firth of Forth.
(1) Which was originally the K13, but renamed the K22 after she had drowned most of her crew on her maiden voyage.
(2)The K Class boats were designed as high-speed fleet submarines, built in the years 1916/1917 with the specific intention that they would be fast enough to cruise along in convoy with surface ships. At the time, they were both the largest and the fastest submarines in the world. The Forth disaster effectively sealed their fate and they were taken out of service at the end of the First World War.
(3) Sourced from www.submariners.co.uk/index.html and a news story from the Daily Telegraph at www.portal.telegraph.co.uk/news/. However both sources conflict in terms of the details, such as the number of submarines involved and whether it was the K14 that struck the K22 or vice versa. In such situations I have preferred the www.submariners.co.uk version.