Daily Event for October 3, 2011

In the 1920's the Marine Nationale had twelve so-called "600 ton" submarines designed by three different designers at three different yards. The design was based mostly on the UB-III class submarines of the Kaiserliche Marine, which included a double-hull. The design, thought safer than a single hull, limited working space inside and the small size of the boats limited the armament carried. The boats were fitted with seven 21" (550mm) torpedo tubes, but the arrangement was rather strange. Of the seven tubes fitted only one was internal, this was in the bow, four external tubes (2 bow, 2 stern) and a set of 2 tubes on a rotating launcher abaft of the conning tower. Inside there was room for only one reload. They were also fitted with either a 3" (76mm) or 4" (102mm) deck gun and a couple of machine guns.

The boats were between 200' and 216' long, about 20' wide and displaced between 609 and 615 tons surfaced. They could make about 14 knots surfaced and 7.5 knots submerged and had a range of about 2,300 nautical miles knots surfaced and 75 submerged. Although the boats had all been built at different yards with the machinery being provided by the individual building yards, they suffered breakdowns and were considered rather unreliable.

On May 8, 1925 Ondine was launched at Chantiers et Ateliers Augustin Normand in Le Havre, France, she was completed in October of 1928 and sent on her trial trip. She departed Cherbourg, France on Oct. 1, 1928 bound for Bizerta, Tunisia where she was due to arrive on Oct. 10.

On Oct. 11 the Ministry of Marine in Paris announced that Ondine had not arrived and had not been heard from since departing Cherbourg. All air and sea forces were alerted and the French ordered a number of ships to patrol the route between the two ports. On Oct. 12 it was announced that Ondine had been rammed and sunk by the Greek freighter Aikaterini M. Goulandris at about 11 p.m. on October 3, 1928 thirty miles off Vigo, Spain.

The sadness of loosing all forty-three men was soon replaced by anger amongst the French people when it was learned that the master of the Greek freighter failed to report the sinking and even tried to hide the fact by failing to turn in his log on time and even having his ship repaired to obscure the evidence. In fact the story of the loss was not directly reported, but crewmen from the Goulandris were overheard in a cafe in Rotterdam talking about the event, this news was reported to the French consul who in turn approached the Greek consul, who questioned the master.

At first he denied sinking the boat, but later admitted that he had run down a submarine which sank with all hands. Further outrage in France was caused when it was reported that the Greek crew only searched for survivors for two hours, leaving the scene at 1 a.m.

The Greek master, whose name I do not know, sent a signal at the time and the master of the SS Albert le Borgne confirmed that he received a distress signal, but the word "submarine" was either not mentioned or not heard. Owing to the Greek captains later actions it seems the former is most likely the truth. There were also reports that a faint distress signal coming from an unknown source was heard for up to 48 hours following the collision, but I have not been able to confirm whether this was true or one of the many rampant rumors which normally follow such tragic events.

It was later reported that the captain of the Ondine had a premonition that there would be a disaster, he supposedly wrote to his parents only hours before sailing, in this letter he wrote "I embrace you for the last time. Something tells me I shall not return". Sadly for him and the forty-two other men his vision came true. As far as I know the wreck has not been located to this day.
© 2011 Michael W. Pocock

October 28, 1928: Front cover of Le Petit Journal showing a drawing of sailors on the cruiser Edgar Quinet rendering honours to the lost crew of Ondine.