The Twentieth Century Society

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War memorials

London: National Submarine War Memorial

Status: Listed Grade II
Architect: A. Heron Ryan Tension, Frederick Brook Hitch (Sculpture), E.J. Parlanti (Founder)
Location: Victoria Embankment, London, England

Submarines changed the nature of the war on water into a game of stealth, creating dense coverage of the sea by both sides and the increased vulnerability of battleships and supply fleets. Despite submarines abilities to hide, their underwater position also meant that once struck the vessels were more likely to become submerged coffins rather than rise and be rescued. Thus the Submarine service suffered heavy casualties, losing a third of its personnel in the Great War, the largest proportion of fatalities than any other branch of the armed forces.

The memorial is a complex mixture of narrative and symbolism. The central figures are set in deep relief, recreating the scene inside a submarine, though exaggerated into a small claustrophobic tunnel. The crew use charts and follow dials, the captain braced at the centre. Around the vessel a shallow relief depicts an array of sea creatures or mermen appearing to trap and haul the submarine in fishing nets, reminding us that the submarines were as much prey to the tempestuous elements as they as they were to the enemy. To the top of the monument is a naval anchor set between dolphins, at either end children supports the prows of the boats. Flanking each end of the panel are allegorical figures, Truth (holding her mirror) and Justice (her eyes bound and holding weighted scales). The memorial was opened in December 1922 and amended in 1959 to include the casualties of the Second World War.

Jon Wright & Joanna Moore

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