H.M. Submarine P36 had a very short life.  She left Portsmouth for Gibraltar in December 1941, then proceeded to join the famous 10th Submarine Flotilla at Malta (15 January 1942), which played so much havoc with convoys bound for North Africa during WWII.  P36 was sunk on April 1, 1942. U-Boat Navigator’s team explored this wreck. During the expedition, we collected valuable materials for the future episodes of the project “The mystery of Britannic”, produced by U-Film Ltd.

The Loss of H.M. Submarine P36

On March 29, 1942, P36 returned to Malta after her third patrol, in the Gulf of Taranto (14-29 March) and at 9.45 a.m. entered Marsamxet harbour where she moored alongside H.M.S. Talbot, as Lazzaretto was then called.

Three days later, heavy air attacks by the Luftwaffe were a feature all day.  These were directed against the submarine.  Between 2.30 – 3 p.m. a heavy raid of Ju88s followed by Ju87s developed on the harbour area and resulted in the sinking of H.M. Submarine Pandora.  At the same time P36, alongside the oil barge, was near-missed by a medium sized bomb which fell three feet from the port forward end of the engine room between the submarine and Lazzaretto building.  The officer and two ratings who were on board abandoned her successfully, having ascertained that the control room after bulkhead was fractured, all lights extinguished and chlorine gas driving them from the compartment as she began to sink.  Luckily there was no loss of life.

Among those on board were Stoker Petty Officer Fred Mathews (who joined P36 at a moment’s notice before she left Portsmouth because her own SPO had reported sick).  He confessed that ‘contrary to orders from the captain to clear the boat, the coxswain and myself were drinking a couple of tots of Navy Rum in our mess, situated immediately aft of the forward torpedo space.  When the heavy bomb exploded we both made it to the control room and up the conning tower in about ten seconds flat.  Then we scrambled ashore.’

Unlike Mathews, Kenneth England was obeying orders in remaining on board, for him and the torpedo officer had been detailed to stay behind as a maintenance party, while the rest of the crew were at rest camp at Ghajn Tuffieha.  England, the Outside ERA, wrote:

“I shall always remember watching three bombs leave the bomb bay of a diving Ju88 as I looked up through the conning tower hatch.  As the bombs grew larger and larger, I was quite sure that they would come straight through the hatch and into the control room.  They straddled the boat, moved it some twenty feet along the jetty and blew the bottom in, as well as doing major damage inside the boat.”

Fig. 1.    The submarine berthed alongside the arches of Lazzaretto is believed to be P36.
Fig. 1. The submarine berthed alongside the arches of Lazzaretto is believed to be P36.

Her ship’s company, led by her then commanding officer, Lieutenant H.N. Edmonds, left the sanctuary of their rock shelter in an effort to save the boat.  Every effort was made to keep P36 afloat.  A three-inch wire was passed around the conning-tower to hold the submarine upright and to the piers of Lazzaretto arches in an effort to stop her from sinking.  It was soon realized, however, that there was a likelihood that her weight would cause the arches to collapse.  To avoid two disasters taking place, Lieutenant Edmonds ordered his men to let go.  It was bad enough losing a submarine without being sued for destroying an ancient monument as well.

The 650-ton submarine foundered on a ledge between 70 and 80 feet deep.  Divers sent to her immediately after the raid, soon found that the salvage of the boat entailed a full-scale operation, impossible to carry out in those days.  Therefore, the submarine had to stay in her temporary grave for another 16 years, her position marked by occasional diesel oil slicks and air bubbles.

 Her Aftermath

A British civilian diver from H.M. Dockyard was killed on the morning of 30 October 1957, while carrying out survey work on P36.  The body was recovered and a Board of Inquiry was being held into the circumstances of the accident.

Salvaging operations on P36 began in the middle of June 1958 under the direction of P.F. Flett, Senior Salvage Officer in Malta.  Two special lifting crafts, LC 23 and LC 24 were used.  After some nineteen separate lifts, P36 arrived on the surface on August 7.  She was then beached near the Royal Malta Yacht Club, patched up and refloated.  Two weeks later she was towed out to the north of the island and sunk for the second time.


Fig. 2.   The hull of P36 is raised in 1958.
Fig. 2. The hull of P36 is raised in 1958.


By Joseph-Stephen Bonanno