LOOKING BACK: Perkins’ role in submarine story

A mini-submarine powered by a Perkins engine
A mini-submarine powered by a Perkins engine
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Reader David Boulton was prompted to get in touch after seeing the picture of HMS Sprat on the Nene.

David is a founder member of the Perkins Heritage Group and is also the author of the company’s history A Square Deal All Round.

Bridge Street carnival in the early 1950s

Bridge Street carnival in the early 1950s

With his expert knowledge he revealed how Perkins had a vital role to play in the story of mini-submarines.

He told me: “Your picture in the Telegraph will remind many old timers who worked at Perkins Engines in the 1950s of a special connection with the men of the Royal Navy.

“The story actually starts in the early days of the war when a secret project was launched to develop small submarines which could be used to penetrate deep into enemy territory and attack shipping.

“The first prototype was launched in March 1942 as ‘X3’ and was fitted with a Perkins P4 engine.

Cathedral Square around 1970

Cathedral Square around 1970

“Tests proved promising and X4 was launched later in 1942, having grown in length, weight and number of crew.

“After some successful trials a small production batch of craft was completed and numbered X5 to X10.

“Unfortunately for Perkins these craft were fitted with Gardner engines, as was a later batch designated X20 to X25. These craft took part in raids, including the famous successful attack on the German navy’s ‘Tirpitz’- this raid has been well-documented in book and filmA bove Us The Waves. The two Perkins-powered prototype craft remained in service and were used for training, eventually being scrapped in 1945.

“This was not however the end of the Perkins part in the story. A reawakening of interest in small submarines in the early 1950s saw the Admiralty commission the design of a new craft. The X-51 Class was designed and four subs were built by Vickers Armstrong Limited in Barrow-in-Furness.

Naval craft moored at the Custom House

Naval craft moored at the Custom House

“These craft were all fitted with the iconic Perkins P6(M) engine and were launched as ‘HMS Stickleback’ (X-51), HMS Shrimp (X-52), HMS Sprat (X-53) and HMS Minnow (X54).

“They each carried a crew of four or five and could carry delayed action mines or limpet mines.

“The little flotilla saw service with the Royal Navy, before being disbanded in the late 1950s.

“HMS Stickleback was sold to the Swedish Navy on 15th July 1958 and renamed ‘Spiggen’ - she was operated for anti-submarine training for some years before being donated to the Imperial War Museum in 1976.

“Even that is not the end of her story because the partially-sectioned submarine is on display at Duxford today with the venerable P6 engine clearly visible.

“Your photograph shows HMS Sprat tied up at the Customs House after a voyage up the Nene in November 1957 on an official visit to Peterborough and, of course, to Perkins.

“The company and workers adopted the flotilla and members of the crews visited the Eastfield plant and the offices at Peterscourt.

“For many years a large picture of ‘Sprat’ was on display at Peterscourt and a badge from Sprat is in the possession of the Perkins Heritage Group, along with photographs of these submarines.’’

David has kindly supplied, with the permission of Perkins, another picture of one of the submarines, and also some general pictures of city life.

One picture shows Bridge Street carnival in the early 1950s.

The next picture is of Cathedral Square taken round 1970.

The final picture shows the Custom House and old naval craft.

Many thanks to David for the information and pictures.