Hampshire & Isle of Wight

Remembering the M2 submarine disaster 80 years on

The M2 submarine and aircraft
Image caption HMS M2 was found with the aircraft hangar door open

The submarine sits silently on the seabed.

Inside, the bodies of 58 sailors still rest, 80 years after the vessel sank in the English Channel off Dorset.

Now some of their family members hope to sail out to the wreck to mark the anniversary of the tragedy.

HMS M2 was the world's first underwater aircraft carrier, but it went down with the loss of all 60 hands - including two airmen - in 1932.

It is believed that disaster struck three miles off Lyme Bay, Portland, when the hangar door opened too early and the vessel was still submerged.

Only two bodies were ever recovered and now the British Sub-Aqua Club (BSAC) at Portsmouth keeps watch on the protected site and designated war grave.

'Mum screaming'

Families of the men who died want to pay tribute to their loved ones on 26 May by sailing out to the wreck with members of BSAC who will take part in a wreck dive.

Visiting the wreck is a "lifelong ambition" for 86-year-old former sailor Sydney Estcourt, from Clacton-on-Sea in Essex.

He was just six years old when his father George was killed on the experimental submarine.

"Every year I visit the Royal Navy Submarine Museum in Portsmouth and I put some flowers on the memorial at the chapel in Gosport. But it would be nice to visit the site.

"I don't think they [the crew] would have known much about it, I hope not, I like to think it would have been quick.

"My father was on watch-keeping duty in Portsmouth, but he was asked to go on the M2 because the petty officer went off sick.

"He was made up to acting petty officer, which was an extra sixpence a day I think, but he had premonitions about the boat, he had a feeling something was going to happen."

So uneasy was he, the 30-year-old father of five left his wedding ring at home because he feared he would not return.

"I remember my Mum screaming when she got the telegram," Mr Estcourt said.

"I had to go and live with my grandmother for a couple of months after she got the news."

Jane Maddocks, BSAC's wrecks and underwater cultural heritage expert, said the hangar door was open when the vessel was found in 1932, suggesting it was the cause of the accident.

Image caption George Estcort was a 30-year-old father of five when he died on the M2

"But it has never been confirmed beyond doubt - it's possible there could have been a gas escape, a leaking battery, we cannot be certain," she said.

"Even though the hangar door is still open no-one is allowed to enter the vessel, which is the property of the Ministry of Defence and protected under legislation."

Mark Beattie-Edwards, programme director for the Nautical Archaeology Society, is in touch with about seven family members of the crew who would like to visit the wreck to pay their respects.

The group is now trying to find a suitable boat to make the trip.

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