See also: Prométhée (homonymy)
The Prométhée , number of hull Q153 , belonged to the class of submarines French Frightening , also called 1500 tons because of their Displacement, built during the Years 1920 and 1930 for the National marine 31.
Long of 92,30 meters, broad of 8,20, they had a Tirant of water of 4,70 meters and could reach the 80 meters depth. They moved with the maximum speed of 17 nodes on the surface and 10 in diving.
One year and half after launching, the submarine is almost finished and starts series of tests before the delivery with the National marine.
The test of July 7th 1932 consists in calibrating the two engines diesel Schneider of 3000 horses.
About midday, it is with nearly 7 nautical miles of the Cape Lévi, with broad of the commune of Fermanville. According to the witnesses, the submarine was put to be inserted quickly by the poop (back) and finally to disappear in hardly thirty seconds. There were 15 people on the bridge at this moment. Seven survived until the arrival of a small fishing boat of Cherbourg.
42 sailors, 16 workmen of the arsenal and 5 engineers and workmen come from the Creusot for the driving tests, is 62 people, are absorbed with the ship. As no diving was programmed and that the Prométhée was not equipped for this type of operation, the military authorities and civil of Cherbourg quickly had to go death of the crew obviously.
The impact that the shipwreck of the Prométhée produced in France and Europe is comparable with that which followed the shipwreck of the Russian submarine Koursk in August 2000. The ceremonies of the July 14th are cancelled in many communes, to start with Cherbourg. Funds come from all the France allowed the erection of a monument Fermanville, at the ground point nearest to the place of the shipwreck.
Attempts of rescue and reinflation
Very quickly, of the international means are coordinated to try to save the crew. One calls in particular upon two Italian ships of rescue, the Artiglio and the Rostro which were made famous in the Années 1920 while intervening on many shipwrecks. Respectively based with the Harbor and Brest, the two ships arrive at Cherbourg in the morning of July 9th.
July 8th, a building of the Navy reference mark the telephone buoy of the Prométhée without it being possible to know if it were started automatically or deliberately by the captive crew.
At the time of a diving on the wreck, which to lie with a 75 meters depth, divers strike the hull to try to return in liaison with possible survivors. They do not obtain an answer.
Experts of international repute are consulted to know if it is possible or not to reinflate the ship and to return the bodies to the families. All conclude quickly with the impossibility of the company: the depth and the force of the currents of the area would make any attempt long, difficult, very expensive but especially dangerous taking into account average the techniques of the time.
Causes of the shipwreck
A board of inquiry was named in order to elucidate the reasons for which the submarine plunged so abruptly without such an order being given. But in the absence of material proofs, the commission could establish its work only according to the hearing of the survivors, the first of which figure the commander of Prométhée, the lieutenant Couespel of Mesnil.
According to the commander, the tests on the electrical motors, whose role is to ensure the propulsion in diving, were completed little before midday, on July 7th. The Prométhée is with the stop and the commander orders to launch the tests diesel. He hears noises of compressed air which he interprets to be failures in the starting of the engines. A few seconds afterwards, he hears agitation on the bridge of the submarine and goes up on the kiosk. During its rise, he intends clearly the purgings of the ballasts to open without he seeing somebody at the electric control unit. When it leaves, it notes that its ship is inserted quickly by the back. It orders the closing of the panels of bridge which allow the communication between the interior and the outside of the submarine. About fifteen people are then on the bridge. The submarine is inserted more and more quickly with a maximum angle that Couespel of Mesnil estimates at approximately 80° compared to the horizon: the Prométhée is sinking with the vertical.
In a constant worry of effectiveness, the engineers worked much to make the diving of the submarines fastest possible. The 1500 tons could plunge in a little more than thirty seconds. The submarine was in phase of test. It was one of its first exits. As the commander did not see anybody at the control unit and that the accident occurred whereas one had just ordered the startup diesel engines, the commission concluded with a “unexpected, fast and general opening” of the purgings which make it possible to fill the ballasts with water, which causes to weigh down the submarine and to make it plunge. This unexpected opening could be due to an error of connection in the electrical panel or the oil and air systems.
The divers made the turn of the panels of bridge and noticed that they all were closed. However, the strong slope of the Prométhée at the time of its disappearance lets suppose that a panel located at the back was left opened, or at least badly closed, thus letting water infiltrate and weigh down of as much the submarine.
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