Fyne Pioneer, Loch Fyne

Site Name: HMS Vandal P64 - Kintyre Peninsula


HMS Vandal was a diesel-electric British ‘U’ class group II submarine built in November 1942 under the 1939 Supplementary Program. The original intention was for the ‘U’ class to replace the outdated ‘H’ boats for anti-submarine training. However as the second world war was taking its toll on the British submarine fleet the ‘U’ class boats were modified to enable them to perform operational duties in the North Sea and Mediterranean. Her dimensions were 197' x 16' x 12'9". At the surface she displaced 540 tons, increasing to 730 tons when submerged. She was powered by twin diesel 615bph engines and twin electric 825bhp motors with twin shafts, giving her a top speed at the surface of nearly 12 knots and 9 knots when submerged. She was armed with 4 x 21 inch Torpedo tubes, 1 x 3 inch gun and 3 machine guns.


HMS Vandal was launched by Vickers Armstrong on 23 November 1942, and was commissioned on 20 February 1943. HMS Vandal was originally named HMS Unbridled but was renamed at the order of Winston Churchill, who thought the letter V was more confidence inspiring. Many sailors regard changing the name of a ship as bad luck to this day, and the crew of HMS Vandal were no exception, perhaps with good reason. HMS Vandal has the unfortunate record of having the shortest career of any submarine in the Royal Navy. She was to survive only four days from commissioning.


On completion of her acceptance trials, the commander, Lt John Stirling Bridger RN sailed HMS Vandal from Barrow-in-Furness to join the 3rd Submarine Flotilla at Holy Loch in Scotland. On 22 February 1943 she left the depot ship HMS Forth to carry out a three-day independent exercise in the Clyde area, which was to include a deep dive on the 24th. The skipper had been directed to anchor as convenient on the nights of 22nd and 23rd February and, on completion of the exercise programme, to return to Holy Loch at about 19:00 hrs on the 24th. During the exercise the submarine was under no obligation to communicate with her base and no alarm was felt when she did not do so. All submarines joining the 3rd Flotilla immediately after construction and trials performed this exercise programme. It was regarded as a form of work-up patrol and simulated war conditions. The exercise took place in Kilbrannan Sound and was to be followed by a deep dive (60 metres) in Upper Inchmarnock on the 24th. Lt. Bridger had instructions to carry out a deep dive only if satisfied as to the water tightness of Vandal and the standard of crew training reached.


On 24 February 1943 HMS Vandal was observed leaving her anchorage at Lochranza at about 0830 hours, heading up the Kilbrannan Sound. This was the last seen of her. By nightfall she had failed to make her "surfacing signal", but due to pre-occupation with other matters it was not noticed until 09:15hrs the following morning (25th) that Vandal had not returned to her berth. Immediately the alarm was raised, all exercises in the area cancelled, and a search conducted in Kilbrannan Sound and Inchmarnock. 


By 13:30hrs on the 25th the HMS Breda and submarine Stubborn (later relieved by Kingfisher) were searching the Northern entrance to Kilbrannan Sound whilst a number of other vessels and submarines were searching Inchmarnock North. At 14:00hrs HMS Whitehall also arrived in upper Kilbrannan Sound and was ordered to carry out an independent search. Several sonar contacts were made but upon investigation they were considered to be “non-submarine”.


At 14:50 hrs an RAF aircraft that had been searching the area reported a small concentrated oil patch 2 miles northwest of Lochranza. With time desperately running out, Lieutenant Bridger must have given the order to discharge oil from the engines. Unless the slick was the result of damage to the submarine hitting the bottom, this would indicate an attempt to lighten the submarine and simultaneously mark its position. That position, where the oil slick was spotted, was within quarter of a mile of where the wreck now lies. The RAF aircraft also reported that the oil patch was not there at the beginning of the search. The aircraft continued her search until dark and reported that by 18:02 hrs (a little over 3 hours after the initial sighting) the oil patch had drifted northeast and disappeared. No trace of the vanished boat was found although the search continued in the Inchmarnock area until 27 February.


HMS Vandal was not found until December 1994 when a team of technical divers dived it following a request from the Scottish branch of the Submarine Old Comrades Association, working on information provided by local fishermen who complained of an underwater obstruction which kept snagging their nets. The wreck of HMS Vandal was positively identified lying in 100 metres of water about one and a half miles North West of Lochranza off the Isle of Arran. She was designated a war grave in 1995, and accordingly is a protected place under the Protection of Military Remains Act 1986.


How did she sink?


Only one member of the Vandal's crew survived. 22 year old Larry Gaines was a stoker in HMS Vandal's engine room but did not sail with his ship on exercise as he was in military hospital with an ear infection. For decades he blamed himself to the loss of his ship as it was one of his jobs to close the aft hatch prior to diving. Larry thought that his younger, inexperienced replacement had forgotten to shut the hatch before diving and believed that this had caused the submarine to flood. It was later proved that this could not be the case when the dive team found the aft hatch firmly closed.



Until the wreck was eventually located and dived, there were many other theories about how the Vandal came to sink so tragically, and indeed even now we can only speculate as to what happened. Some suggested that she had had a problem with her pressure hull or an open hatch during a dive, others suspected sabotage.



Her mooring lines were still wound around the bollards and her forward hydroplanes were in the stowed position. Therefore, it seems most likely that she met with some issue on the surface, perhaps whilst carrying out the hazardous task of log calibration. The area that Vandal lies in is known as area "Quebec", and was used by submarines performing log calibrations over a measured mile. This might suggest why she only travelled two miles (4 km) in one-and-a-half hours. Maintenance of the log on a submarine can be very hazardous as raising it for inspection can potentially breach the pressure hull and cause a serious flood. In the case of HMS Untamed (which sank three months after Vandal) incorrect procedure whilst carrying out log maintenance was the main contributing factor to the boat and her entire crew being lost. Two such losses in a very short time forced the Admiralty to investigate in detail.



Please click here for a list of all those who lost their lives in this tragic sinking.

Dive Site Info

The wreck site is designated a protected place under the Protection of Military Remains Act 1986 as the final resting place of 37 Royal Naval personnel. This means that divers may visit the site, but may not penetrate, touch or disturb the wreck, remove anything from it or interfere with it in any way whatsoever - "look but don't touch".


The wreck lies in pitch darkness on a muddy slope 100 metres down with a 35 degree list to port. The wreck is covered with a fine layer of silt. Visibility is on average 2 metres on this site. Parts of the wreck, including her 12 pounder forward gun, remain draped with a silt covered trawler’s net. The net should not be touched and divers must be careful to avoid entanglement and disturbing the silt.


 Some of the outer plating has rotted away from the bow, revealing more of the torpedo tubes and the torpedo-loading hatches, both clearly closed. The forward hydroplanes are in their stowed position but the forward escape hatch is open. However, divers are not allowed to penetrate the wreck.


Amidships, a section of the conning tower has broken off, probably dragged off by trawlers. The conning tower section, upon which the brass letters VANDAL are clearly visible, now lies on the seabed. The attack periscope, ladder and binnacle are still visible. The mooring lines were neatly stowed around both amidships and stern bollards.


The aft engine room escape hatch is closed. A large section (about 4 ft) of the stern, known as the duck's tail, is missing.

When to dive

Slack water only.

HMS Vandal P64 - Kintyre Peninsula - Fyne Pioneer

Crown Copyright expired

HMS Vandal P64 in her prime

HMS Vandal P64 - Kintyre Peninsula - Fyne Pioneer

© Andrew Abbott, licensed for reuse under CC BY-SA 2.0

The memorial to the crew of HMS Vandal at Lochranza

HMS Vandal P64 - Kintyre Peninsula - Fyne Pioneer

The emblem of HMS Vandal