HMS XE-8 (Expunger)
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Dec. 10, 2011

I was a crew member of the midget submarine XE-8 in early 1950's, due to ill health I was transferred back to General Service to finish my time (7 years). Never thought much about her fate, sold for scrap maybe, but a few years ago I was attending a meeting in the Royal Navy Submarine Museum and I found out she was in Chatham Dockyard, Kent. It took me a while to arrange a visit, but I did get there last month (Nov). My son Robert drove me down and we stopped for the night.

What a magic moment, it was a few months short of sixty years when I had seen her last, battered and bruised maybe, but my XE-8. There was a big lump in my throat, plus a tear not far away. It was something I thought would never happen, to see my "Old Ship" after sixty years. To cap it all I went onto your outstanding site today and what did I see, you guessed it pictures of XE-8, what a bonus.

I am going to try to give you an idea what it was like serving aboard an XE craft. We were based in Devonport Devon and did a lot of exercises just off Plymouth Sound, mainly anti submarine warfare, only lasted 4 or 5 hours. I tended the engine while it was running and helped out at the helm, but mainly making cups of tea!

When back in port my job was to charge the batteries, prepare the craft for next day. We did a lot of work in Scotland, that was when the hard work came in. Any long distances and our old depot ship HMS Gateshead towed us to our destination, as she was a coal burner it would take 4 days to reach Scotland. Prior to setting off the tow rope was attached to the craft, it was about 6 inches thick, Nylon with a telephone line through the centre and roughly two hundred yards at a guess.

The craft was made up into 3 compartments, the fore ends held batteries, then came the wet and dry compartment which also was the main entrance to the craft. It was used by the Frogman to exit and re-enter, it could be flooded and pumped out. Oh the toilet was in there. Control room came next, first thing the steering gear, then the periscope in the middle, next diving controls and escape hatch then the engine room.

Now came the tow, once in the open sea we dived to 80ft and that was it, every 4 hours we surfaced for 15-20 minutes, run the engine to clear the foul air, dive again and so on. The only thing I did not like was the condensation, it dripped from all places, your clothes, blankets were soaking.

No cooking facilities, just a kettle and a small pan for warming soup, the Chef aboard Gateshead would cook chickens and hard boiled eggs. The only trouble we got on passage to Scotland was all that water coming off the land, one minute you would be going along nicely then you would hit a pocket of fresh water and the craft drops like a stone, the Navigator had to work hard to get her back to 80ft, heart stopping stuff but it kept you awake!!

Incidentally when I first joined X craft the Flotilla Skipper was Lieutenant Commander Don Cameron, V.C. of Tirpitz fame, he was strict but fair, quite a nice guy. Most officers were a joy to serve with. I hope this will give you some insight of life in XE craft.

Before I sign off Michael, I would like to congratulate you on your site, I cannot get enough of it, I have learned so much regarding two of my old ships namely Implacable and Illustrious. I hope you can understand all this, I didn't think I had it in me to type all this, after all I am a (doddrey) 82 year old.

Yours faithfully,
Gerald Bevan

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Page published Sept. 18, 2008