HMS UNITY (Lt. F. J. Brooks – on the first day of his first patrol, in his first command) was lost in an accident in the North Sea, while operating out of Blyth, in collision with Norwegian SS Atle Jarl.

At 1730 on 29 April 1940, UNITY sailed from Blyth for Norway. The weather was poor, with visibility down to 300 yards as UNITY moved out of the harbour; in the main channel, where the Atle Jarl was proceeding inbound on her way from Methyl, Scotland to the Tyne, visibility was down to 100 yards: Neither vessel was aware of the other until the submarine spotted the ship at 50 yards and on a collision course.

At 1907 a prolonged blast of a ship siren at 50 yards was heard on UNITY’s bridge. There was just time to shut the bulkhead doors and order the engines astern before the Atle Jarl smashed into the submarine. The order to abandon the submarine was given at 1910 and Unity sank only five minutes after the collision.

Most of the crew made their way topside and were crowded on the bridge. HMS UNITY had taken an angle of 25 degrees and sank within four-five minutes. Although all the members of UNITY except for the 1st Lt., Lt J N A Low and AB Miller, escaped from the stricken vessel, Leading Seaman James Hare and Stoker 1st Class Cecil Shelton were not picked up by the crew of the Atle Jarl during the subsequent search.

A subsequent investigation revealed a breakdown in internal communications between the submarine and the fact that the Methyl-Tyne convoy had not been due off Blyth until at approx 1930.

Lieutenant Low and Able Seaman Miller were the two men on duty in the submarine control room. They were instrumental in helping almost every member of the submarine to escape but lost their own lives by this act. They were each awarded a posthumous Empire Gallantry Medal, later (Sept 1940) exchanged by their next-of-kin to the George Cross.


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