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  • Writer's pictureShaun Lewis

Could early submariners escape?

Following the BBC TV series Vigil there has been much interest in submarines and I have been asked many questions on various matters of detail. My WW1 submarine novel The Custom of the Trade opens with a collision and the sinking of a submarine. One of the questions people have asked me is if it is true that it was possible to escape from a submarine this early on. It was. Captain Hall and Fleet Surgeon Rees patented their own form of breathing apparatus, the Hall-Rees Rebreather, in 1908 and it briefly went into production and trials were conducted in British submarines. The first successful submarine escape was from a German submarine in 1911 using Dräger breathing apparatus.

Sadly, for Royal Navy submariners, the Hall-Rees escape suit was too bulky for practical use in a submarine. It comprised a hard, domed helmet, a belted, long-sleeved tunic and a canister of sodium peroxide to give off oxygen whilst absorbing carbon dioxide. Submarines are acutely short of storage space and many submarine commanding officers opted to land the escape suits. It was not until 1928 when the more compact Davis Submarine Escape Apparatus was introduced that British submarines carried escape equipment as a matter of routine.

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