Lost Royal Navy sub found 73 years after disaster – with bodies of 71 crewmen inside


25 May 2016

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Seventy-three years after mysteriously vanishing in the Mediterranean, the legendary British P311 World War Two submarine has been found.

In a discovery that will help to lay decades of speculation to rest, an Italian scuba diver found the vessel 90 metres below the surface of the sea, not far from the Sardinian coast.

In doing so, 58-year old Massimo Domenico Bondone, an experienced diver from the city of Genoa, has unearthed the Holy Grail in his salvaging community, next to the island of Tavolara.

HMS P311 went missing in January 1943 along with 71 crew members. The discovery has confirmed that every one of them perished after Mr Bondone found them still inside the submarine on the Gallurese seabed, which acted as a huge steel coffin depriving them of oxygen.

“Now you think of the fate of those who fell to their death down there – a fate shared by many people of different nationalities, submariners in particular,” Mr Bondone told the Italian newspaper La Nuova Sardegna.

The submarine is thought to have sunk from colliding after fishermen reported a loud roar at the time of the disapperence, over the din of a stormy night. But, until now, nobody had been able to find it.

“I am a strong believer that the wrecks are still alive, they are a link from past to present”

Massimo Domenico Bondone

Mr Bondone began diving at the age of 18 and since then has discovered a wide variety of shipwrecks, many of which relate to the second world war including a UJ 2208 German anti-submarine vessel off the coast of Genoa.

And, for him, diving is a mission.

“I am a strong believer that the wrecks are still alive, they are a link from past to present,” he has previously said.

“If we don’t find them, identify them and document their story, we lose the history of the ships and the men who built them and sailed with them.

“We don’t have much time, maybe a few decades and then time and the elements of Nature will prevail. I believe that history is not only made by masters and admirals, the last sailor too must be remembered,” he said.

HMS P311 was a T-class submarine and the only boat of her class never to be given a name. She was to have been called Tutankhamen but was lost before being formally named.

Picture: A torpedo is loaded onto P311 from the Submarine Depot Ship HMS Forth at Holy Loch, Scotland, in 1942.


Pictures of P311 at her last resting place from

HMS P311 

HMS P311 was a T-class submarine of the Royal Navy, the only boat of her class never to be given a name. She was to have received the name Tutankhamen but was lost before this was formally done. P311 was a Group 3 T-class boat built by Vickers-Armstrong at Barrow-in-Furness and commissioned on 5 March 1942 under the command of Lieutenant R.D. Cayley. She was one of only two T-class submarines completed without an Oerlikon 20 mm anti-aircraft gun, the other being HMS Trespasser. The P311 submarine has found after 73 years sank to Tavolara, Sardinia, by Massimo Domenico Bondone.

Faces of the brave men on P311

Shorpy Historic Picture Archive 

The crew of H.M.S. Utmost, Feb.6th 1942. My grandfather Arthur Lee (born in 1909) is behind the officer at front left. The crew, under the Captain Cdr Richard Cayley, transfered to H.M.S. P311, a submarine presumed mined whilst on operations in the Mediterranean. Her last signal was received on 31st December 1942 and she was officially declared lost with all hands a few days later. My grandfather’s rank was Chief Petty Officer and his date of death is officially given as 8th January, 1943. The sub was about to be titled H.M.S. Tutankhamen on the orders of Winston Churchill, who insisted that all submarines should have names.

Commands listed for HMS P 311 (P 311)

Commander From To
1 Lt.Cdr. Richard Douglas Cayley, DSO, RN 8 Jun 1942 8 Jan 1943
History P 311 was the only unnamed T-class boat, she was due to have been named Tutenkhamen but lost before she could be renamed. She was fitted to carry 2 Chariot human torpedoes.

HMS P 311 (Cdr. Richard Douglas Cayley, DSO and 2 Bars, RN) was lost while engaged in Operation Principle, the Chariot attack on Italian cruisers at La Maddalena. HMS P 311 left Scotland in November 1942 with sister-boats HMS Thunderbold and HMS Trooper after addition of human torpedo deck-mounted watertight containers, direct for Malta. P 311 departed from Malta on 28 December 1942. She sent her last signal on 31 December 1942 from position 38º10’N, 11º30’E. After this signal she was not heard from again and she is presumed sunk by Italian mines in the approaches to Maddalena on or around 2 January 1943. She was reported overdue on 8 January 1943 when she failed to return to base.

General characteristics
Displacement: ·1,290 tons surfaced

·1,560 tons submerged

Length: 276 ft 6 in (84.28 m)
Beam: 25 ft 6 in (7.77 m)
Draught: ·12 ft 9 in (3.89 m) forward

·14 ft 7 in (4.45 m) aft

Propulsion: ·Two shafts

·Twin diesel engines 2,500 hp (1.86 MW) each

·Twin electric motors 1,450 hp (1.08 MW) each

Speed: ·15.5 knots (28.7 km/h) surfaced

·9 knots (20 km/h) submerged

Range: 4,500 nautical miles at 11 knots (8,330 km at 20 km/h) surfaced
Test depth: 300 ft (91 m)
Complement: 61
Armament: ·6 internal forward-facing 21-inch (533 mm) torpedo tubes

·2 external forward-facing torpedo tubes

·2 external amidships rear-facing torpedo tubes

·1 external rear-facing torpedo tubes

·6 reload torpedoes

·1 x 4-inch (102 mm) deck gun


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