Daily Event for June 15, 2015

Built in 1930 at Ateliers & Chantiers Dubigeon at Nantes, France, the submarine Phénix Q-157 was of the Redoutable class. She was 302' long and 1,384 tons (standard) displacement. She carried eleven torpedo tubes. Four 21" in the bow, three 21" in a rotating mount abaft of the conning tower and a quadruple rotating mount on the stern containing two each 21" and 15" tubes. This gave the boat only four tubes which could be reloaded while at sea as the external tubes were one shot only.

On June 15, 1939 Phénix was in the South China Sea off the coast of French Indochina (Vietnam) conducting exercises. She was operating normally and in communication with other units of the Marine Nationale. When the boat submerged all communication was lost. Apparently there was no immediate concern, but when she failed to arrive at the appointed destination later in the day fears for her safety were raised. It did not take long for all units on the sea and in the air to be alerted to be on the lookout for the submarine.

Searches were made in the area she was thought to have been, but nothing was seen or heard. Some reports stated that an oil slick was seen where she had submerged. However this was all academic as the French had no equipment for conducting a rescue at depth. To add some irony to this tragic story, only two days before her loss, naval minister Ceasar Campinchi announced that he was planning to buy four diving bells of the type used to rescue the men of USS Squalus SS-192, which had sunk less than a month earlier on May 23.

Sadly no equipment, even from foreign sources, could be marshaled to rescue the men in trapped Phénix. After thirty-six hours it was announced that all hope of rescue had faded and that the sailors were considered lost. In France flags were placed at half mast for the seventy-one men of Phénix. Message of condolence were received from around the world, including from the leader of Germany, Adolf Hitler. Lord Stanhope, First Lord of the Admiralty, telegraphed Minister Campinchi the "profound regrets" of the Board of Admiralty and the Royal Navy. Stanhope was quite aware of how much the loss of a submarine effected the services and the public. It was only two weeks earlier that HMS Thetis sank killing ninety-nine men.

On June 21 the French reported that they thought the wreck of Phénix had been located, but I have been unable to confirm if this was correct. To the best of my knowledge the wreck was not explored so the reason for the loss is still unknown. Perhaps because only two and a half months after the loss of Phénix, Herr Hitler invaded Poland and sparked the Second World War, the cause of the loss of this submarine became less important to understand as the world had bigger problems.

Phénix was the last submarine lost in peacetime 1939, three had been lost before her. HMS Thetis and USS Squalus have already been mentioned, the other boat was the Japanese I-63, which was lost in a collision on Feb. 2, however since Japan had occupied Manchuria since 1931 and was at war with China since 1937, the loss of I-63 can hardly be considered a peacetime loss.
© 2015 Michael W. Pocock