Escaping the death trap.
December 2, 2011 2:37 PM   Subscribe

Submarine escape: A WWII survival tale. 'Seventy years ago, off the Greek island of Kefalonia, the British submarine HMS Perseus hit an Italian mine, sparking one of the greatest and most controversial survival stories of World War II.' 'Despite being awarded a medal for his escape, John Capes's story was so extraordinary that many people, both within and outside the Navy, doubted it.' He 'died in 1985 but it was not until 1997 that his story was finally verified.'

"But having made the deepest escape yet recorded, his ordeal was not over.

His fellow injured stokers had not made it to the surface with him so he found himself alone in the middle of a cold December sea.

In the darkness he spotted a band of white cliffs and realised he had no choice but to strike out for those.

The next morning, Capes was found unconscious by two fishermen on the shore of Kefalonia.

For the following 18 months he was passed from house to house, to evade the Italian occupiers. He lost 70lb (32kg) in weight and dyed his hair black in an effort to blend in.'

'He was finally taken off the island on a fishing boat in May 1943, in a clandestine operation organised by the Royal Navy.

A dangerous, roundabout journey of 640km took him to Turkey and from there back to the submarine service in Alexandria.'
posted by VikingSword (9 comments total) 24 users marked this as a favorite
Fantastic story, though I was left wanting a little more by that article.

Another account of Capes' ecape and the subsequent discovery of the HMS Perseus.

The HMS Perseus (N36) was a Parthian Class submarine (apparently only differentiated from the Odin class by its bow shape). Here's a video (and another) of the submerged vessel.

Anyhow, I have continued admiration for the bravery of the seamen who choose a life of service in submarines. What Mr. Capes went through during the destruction of the HMS Perseus and his subsequent escape is the stuff of my worst nightmares.
posted by Joey Michaels at 2:57 PM on December 2, 2011 [9 favorites]

I'm having a hard time envisioning the whole business of opening the escape hatch and ensuring the pocket of air around it, as described in Joey Michaels' first link. Can anyone describe it more clearly, or point me to a better resource?
posted by mudpuppie at 3:56 PM on December 2, 2011

There's a bottom interior hatch and a top external hatch. One opens the bottom hatch (presuming the outer hatch is closed) and climb in closing the bottom hatch behind you. You then let water into the capsule with a valve. When the capsule is full and the pressure equalized you open the outer hatch go outside and close the outer hatch if there are folks behind you. The process is repeated as many times as possible.
posted by shnarg at 4:05 PM on December 2, 2011 [2 favorites]

A solemn vow not to eat the donkey.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 4:34 PM on December 2, 2011

Internet skeptics of unlikely tales take note.
posted by Sebmojo at 4:53 PM on December 2, 2011

mudpuppie, I think that description is one of those kind-of-misunderstood-by-the-journalist things. I think I'm getting from it that on that boat, there was not an "escape trunk" with an upper and lower hatch like modern boats have, or that since the flood valve was stuck, he had to leave the lower hatch open and flood the whole space.

Here's how it works: see bad drawing.

1) upper hatch is shut, lower hatch open. Flood valve shut, drain valve shut. 2 guys climb in (only one shown) as shown behind the bubble skirt, shutting lower hatch behind them. The guys are wearing hoods or full suits with bladders that can be filled with air from an external hose connection. They plug them in, and inflate them, and for now continue breathing on supplied air. Undog the upper hatch, which is still held shut by sea pressure.

2) open the flood valve. The flood and drain valves can be operated from both inside and outside the trunk. Water level rises until pressure of the air and water is equal to sea pressure. Water level at that point should be about as shown. Since the upper hatch is not dogged, it will pop open at this point and the air bubble will get out EXCEPT for the air trapped behind the bubble skirt where the guy is.

3) one at a time, the guys disconnect from supplied air, take a deep breath, and duck beneath the bubble skirt and out. The last guy tells the people still inside the boat that he's going, either by the intercom that's up under the bubble skirt, or by a tapping signal on the trunk itself.

4) inside, the remaining guys wait a minute, then crank back shut the upper hatch (they can do this from there), shut the flood valve, and open the drain valve. When the trunk is drained, they open the lower hatch and start all over.
posted by ctmf at 6:52 PM on December 2, 2011 [4 favorites]

If there was no trunk with a lower hatch, I guess you could make a sort of bubble skirt inside the space somewhere up high. The bubble is for everyone to wait their turn to escape without having to hold their breath or use up the air in their hood.
posted by ctmf at 6:55 PM on December 2, 2011

Flagged as fantastic for the bad drawing. I understood from the beginning but it's easy to understand how others might not be able to visualize things.
posted by RolandOfEld at 10:12 PM on December 2, 2011

Just to note - the second video link from Joey Michaels shows the inside of the submarine. Which is fascinating, but since the submarine is basically a grave, going inside it is seen as disrespectful of the people who died. It doesn't seem to be officially listed as a war grave (which would make it an offence for any UK citizen to enter the wreck), but I think the principle still stands.
posted by Coobeastie at 1:36 AM on December 3, 2011

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