XE class submarine

XE4 at Sydney, 1945
XE4 in Sydney Harbour, 1945
Class overview
Operators: Royal Navy Ensign Royal Navy
Preceded by: X class
General characteristics
Displacement: 30.25 tons surfaced
33.5 tons submerged
Length: 53.25 ft (16.23 m)
Beam:   5.75 ft (1.75 m)
Draught:   5.3 ft (1.60 m)

Single shaft
One Gardner 4-cyl diesel engine 42 hp (31.3 KW) @1800 rpm

One Keith Blackman electric motor 30 hp (22.3 KW) @1650 rpm
Speed: 6.5 knots (12.0 km/h) surfaced
5.5 knots (10.1 km/h) submerged
Range: 500 nm (926 km) surfaced
82 nm (152 km) @ 2 kts submerged
Test depth: 300 ft (90 m)
Complement: 4–5
Armament: Two × 4,400 lb detachable explosive charges

Six XE-class midget submarines (HMS XE1 to XE6) were built for the Royal Navy during 1944. They were an improved version of the X Class midgets used in the attack on the German battleship Tirpitz.

They carried a crew of four, typically a lieutenant in command, with a sub-lieutenant as deputy, an engine room artificer in charge of the mechanical side and a seaman or leading-seaman. At least one of them was qualified as a diver.

In addition to the two side charges (each of which contained two tons of amatol explosive), they carried around six 20-pound limpet mines which were attached to the target by the diver.

They and their depot ship HMS Bonaventure arrived at Labuan in July 1945. Four of them managed to see action before the war ended.


Operation Struggle

In August 1945, HMS XE1 and XE3 executed a joint attack on Japanese cruisers within Singapore harbour. XE3 was tasked with mining the cruiser Takao. The approach along the Straits of Johor and through the various harbour defences took 11 hours plus a further 2 hours to locate the camouflaged target. Despite several opportunities for Japanese defenders to spot the vessel, XE3 successfully reached the Takao, fixed limpet mines and dropped its two, 2-ton side charges. The withdrawal was successfully made and XE3 safely contacted HMS Stygian, the escort submarine.

Meanwhile XE1 had failed to find its target, the cruiser Myōkō. Instead, and knowing that the explosives already laid could explode, XE1's own charges were also laid under the Takao. XE1 escaped successfully.

The Takao was severely damaged and never sailed again. Lieutenant Ian Edward Fraser RNR, and Leading Seaman James Joseph Magennis were awarded the Victoria Cross (VC) for their part in the attack; whilst Sub-Lieutenant William James Lanyon Smith, RNZNVR, who was at the controls of XE3 during the attack, received the Distinguished Service Order (DSO); Engine Room Artificer Third Class Charles Alfred Reed, who was at the wheel, received the Conspicuous Gallantry Medal (CGM). XE1's C/O, Lieutenant John Elliott Smart RNVR received the DSO, and Sub-Lieutenant Harold Edwin Harper, RNVR received the Distinguished Service Cross (DSC); and ERA Fourth Class Henry James Fishleigh and Leading Seaman Walter Henry Arthur Pomeroy received the Distinguished Service Medal. ERA Fourth Class Albert Nairn, Acting Leading Stoker Jack Gordan Robinson, and Able Seaman Ernest Raymond Dee were Mentioned in Despatches for their part in bringing the two midget submarines from harbour to the point where the crews that took part in the attack took over.[1]

Operations Sabre and Foil

These were a pair of operations to cut undersea telephone cables connecting Singapore, Saigon, Hong Kong and Tokyo. The intention was to oblige the Japanese to use radio and render themselves open to message interception.

Operation Sabre was carried out by XE4, which was towed to within 40 miles (64 km) of the Mekong Delta by the submarine HMS Spearhead, where she looked for the two telephone cables by using a towed grapnel. She eventually snagged the first cable, and managed to haul it about 10 feet (3.0 m) off the seabed. XE4's diver, Sub-Lieutenant K.M. Briggs, used the net/cable cutter to sever it. The second cable was soon found as well, and was severed by the second diver, Sub-Lieutenant A. Bergius. Two divers were carried due to the operating rule that a diver should not spend more than 20 minutes in depths over 33 feet (10 m) and no more than 10 minutes over 40 feet (12 m).

Operation Foil was carried out by XE5, against the Hong Kong end of the cable, after being towed into position by the submarine HMS Selene. Operating close inshore near to Lamma Island, working conditions were poor, XE5's divers having to work in thick mud under the constant threat of oxygen poisoning. Despite this, the operation was successful.

List of XE-Craft

First group
  • XE1 — built by Thomas Broadbent and Sons, used in Operation Struggle, scrapped 1945
  • XE2 — built by Thomas Broadbent and Sons, scrapped 1945
  • XE3 — built by Thomas Broadbent and Sons, used in Operation Struggle, scrapped 1945
  • XE4 "Exciter" — built by Thomas Broadbent and Sons, used in Operation Sabre, scrapped 1945
  • XE5 — built by Thomas Broadbent and Sons, used in Operation Foil, scrapped 1945
  • XE6 — built by Thomas Broadbent and Sons, scrapped 1945
  • XE7 — built by Thomas Broadbent and Sons, scrapped 1952
  • XE8 "Expunger"[2] — built by Broadbent, sunk as target 1952, recovered 1973 and preserved at Chatham Historic Dockyard, on loan from the IWM
  • XE9 — built by Markham, scrapped 1952
  • XE10 — built by Markham, cancelled incomplete 1945
Second group
  • XE11 — built by Marshall, collided with boom defence vessel in Loch Striven after drifting out of her exercise area and lost 6 March 1945. Three crew were killed in the accident but two managed to escape.[3][4] The boat was later salvaged.
  • XE12 — built by Marshall, cannibalised for spares 1952
Third group
with minor improvements, built 1954-5. See
  • X51 Stickleback - to Swedish Navy as Spiggen
  • X52 Shrimp
  • X53 Sprat - to US Navy
  • X54 Minnow


  1. ^ London Gazette: (Supplement) no. 37346. pp. 5529–5530. 9 November 1945. Retrieved 2008-04-11.
  2. ^ WW2- page 1
  3. ^ Kemp, Paul (1999). The Admiralty Regrets British Warship Losses of the 20th Century. Sutton Publishing Ltd. p. 251. ISBN 0-7509-1567-6. 
  4. ^ Submarine Casualties Booklet. U.S. Naval Submarine School. 1966. http://archive.rubicon-foundation.org/8200. Retrieved 2009-09-08. 

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