HMS Triumph (Photo provided by the Royal Navy Submarine Museum)

Quest for lost British Submarine HMS Triumph

During the second world war some 40 British submarines were sunk in the Mediterranean.

Many have been found, but HMS Triumph, lost with all hands in January 1942, is still unaccounted for.

HMS Triumph (Lt. John Symons Huddart, RN) sailed from Alexandria on 26 December 1941 to land a party on Antiparos Island, before making a patrol in the Aegean Sea.

She reported making the landing on the 30th, but did not show up on 9 January 1942 when she was to pick the party up again and was declared overdue on 14 January 1942.

HMS Triumph was probably lost due to Italian mines off Cape Sounion, the most southern tip of Attica, where the famous ancient Temple of Poseidon is located. Professor Gavin Don, the Triumph Association founder, which has been formed to carry out a search for the T-Class submarine HMS Triumph describes the efforts currently being made to locate the lost submarine and bring closure to the families of the drowned sailors.

Lt Robert Douglas Don RN DSC** (at age 12). Photo provided by Professor Gavin Don.
Lt Robert Douglas Don RN DSC** (at age 12). Photo provided by Professor Gavin Don.

Question: Why do you search for HMS Triumph? Is it to bring closure to the families of the lost sailors, because it is still one of the unsolved mysteries of WW2 or something different?

It began as a personal search to find my lost uncle.  His portrait (as a child) used to hang on our dining room wall so I grew up with the mystery. As I searched my motives changed – first I found her story, and brought it to light, and then as I collected photographs of the crew, my uncle stepped into the background (just one among 60) and the search has become more an act of collective memorialization.

Question: What are your plans? Reports are conflicting as to where the sub was lost. Do you have high hopes, or wait for more information to emerge?

My plan is to buy a high performance commercial sidescan sonar and simply cover the ground until we find her.

We have a start point (a “datum”) and circles of probability, which start small and grow large, but with a commercial sonar and enough boat time we will certainly find her.  I think we have all the available search information that there is to find – the task now is to comb the area thoroughly.

Question: Tell us a bit more about the HMS Triumph location team: Are you relatives of the deceased, friends of naval history, or just people with high interest in an unsolved mystery of WW2?

At present the location team is just me.  When we start searching I will bring in my friends (those who can spare the time, mostly ex Naval Officers like myself), probably some junior seamen from the current Royal Navy, perhaps some other friends who have been involved in searches, and of course my children.

Question: What would the best outcome be for you, obviously apart from locating the sub? 

I have three objectives – one is to find her and fill in the gap in the story of her last day.

The second is to collect photographs and biographies of all 60 crew members (we have 20 so far)The third is to publish her story in a book.

Question: Do you work with UK and Greek authorities? 

I am working closely with the Greek authorities.

HMS Triumph (Photo provided by the Royal Navy Submarine Museum)
HMS Triumph (Photo provided by the Royal Navy Submarine Museum)

The search is governed by the Ephorate of Underwater Archaeology in Athens but the Navy, the coastguard, the port police, the underwater institute and the foreign office are all interested to make sure that we are not “treasure hunters”, smugglers or other nefarious types.

I have received the blessing of UK authorities, who are primarily concerned to protect the “war grave” status of Triumph.  I will also be working with a Greek Academic Institution (not selected yet).

Question: What are your plans for the future?

Continue collecting crew, bring my boat over to Greece, buy my sonar, get formal permissions, then search!

When we find her we will hold a memorial service at sea with the descendants (probably one or two hundred people by then), and I have a bottle of 1960 port (my birth year) to open to toast her memory on the day we find her.