A Royal Navy officer believes he has solved an urban legend that has fascinated a city for nearly a century.
Since the 1930s, the residents of Dartmouth – home to the training of naval officers for more than 150 years – have believed that the wreck of a submarine lies buried beneath a coastal park.
Lieutenant Tom Kemp, an officer with the Britannia Royal Naval College (BRNC), believes he has solved the mystery.
Lt. Kemp, who is teaching navigation to future generations of naval leaders at college, has been poring over documents and photos and believes he has identified the submarine, which was unceremoniously buried alongside rubble and other landfill beneath Coronation Park.
The five-hectare park at the foot of the hill on which the Naval Academy is located was once a mudflat.
After the end of World War I, the UK had a surplus of ships and submarines, including many confiscated from the defeated Germans.
Many were washed ashore, leaving streams and anchorages in their wake, and forgotten as they decayed over decades.
Two German destroyers stranded on Whale Island in Portsmouth were forgotten for a century until historians officially identified them.
Coombe Mud and neighboring Sandquay at Dartmouth became a similar crushing shipyard for unwanted warships, including at least two U-boats.
The site was purchased by the local authority in the late 1920s and filled in to create the park, which opened in 1937 in time for George VI’s coronation.
In oral and written histories of the city of Devon, residents have since referred to the submarine beneath the park, sometimes claiming it to be a British boat or a German submarine.
“The story of the ‘Submarine Under the Park’ has intrigued and intrigued visitors to Dartmouth for years – and I count myself among them,” said Lt. Kemp.
“This was a case where we followed a very cold trail of breadcrumbs. I was desperately hoping to find a bill of sale or something with a name on it, but I had to go a little further off the slopes to find my answers.”
He went through old documents and records and came up with two names as possible candidates: HMS A8 and HMS E52.
The smaller A8 was largely dismantled by 1923, while the larger E52 presented more of a challenge to dismantle.
Without excavating the park and formally identifying parts of the boat, Lt. Kemp that this is the end of his options.
“The ‘Submarine Under the Park’ has a name and a story worth telling,” he added.
“It’s another invisible but enduring link between the BRNC, Dartmouth and the Royal Navy’s submarine service.”