The K Class Submarine

The Royal Navy K-class boats were designed in 1913; a class of steam-propelled (!) submarines which were intended to have the speed and range to operate with the main battle fleet 

They were best known for their many accidents. 18 units were built, of which six were lost in accidents. Only one K-boat ever engaged an enemy vessel U 95, hitting her amidships, but the Torpedo failed to explode…!! 

K …. for Kalamity
Their function within the fleet was to conceived to be as an executioner for a retreating enemy fleet.  In 1913 an outline design was prepared for a new submarine class, which could operate with the fleet, sweeping ahead of it in a fleet action.

Steam power was chosen as the only means of the Fleet submarine being able to maintain the required 24 knots cruising speed. The oil-fired steam turbine plant required space and was heavy - this in turn dictated the impressive dimensions of the class.

The boats were 338 ft (103 m) long and displaced 1,980 tons (2566 tons submerged).

As such they were very large for a submarine and quite unwieldy for the technology of their time; most of the class at some stage hit the bottom of the sea with their bows at one time or another whilst the stern was still on the surface.

Dive time was around 5 minutes, with the record being 3 minutes 25 seconds, claimed by K-8.

Diving a K-class boat was a complicated affair; first the boiler fires had to be extinguished, funnel and boiler vent apertures shut and funnels folded, a number of fans and boiler vents closed as well as ensuring the engine and boiler room was evacuated of all personnel, all this whilst the heat and smoke was building to near intolerable levels. 
The Admiralty, misled by the size of the boats , deemed them to be self-contained, therefore the crews lived on their submarine full-time with no depot ships or shore side barracks. The lack of personal space, smell, oil and fumes can only be imagined.

*The subject of my model, HMS K13, shortly after completion *suffered an accident when heavy seas had damaged one of the funnels and water had nearly flooded her engine room .After repairs, on the last day of her sea trials she sank during a routine dive in early 1917 in Gareloch (Scotland) . Whilst salvage operations were being initiated, after 56 harrowing hours on the bottom, eventually 48 crewmembers were rescued; nevertheless the accident claimed 32 lives. 

Six weeks later the unluckily numbered K 13 was raised and after an extensive refit was re-commissioned as *HMS /K22/*, in a uncharacteristic Admiralty gesture to sailors superstition. 

A year after the accident, K13 now renamed K 22 was part of the 13th Submarine Flotilla that was involved in the "Battle" of May Island on 31 January 1918.

During night exercises off the Firth of Forth, together with 5 battle cruisers, 3 battleships, many light cruisers and destroyers, and 9 other K Class boats, K14's helm stuck fast and she collided with K22. Both boats were severely damaged. Battle cruiser HMS Inflexible then added to the pile up by crashing heavily into K22's starboard side. Although badly injured K22 did survive. That same night K4 and K17 were accidentally sunk and 4 other K Class subs were also damaged!

After some peacetime service including a visit with the first Flotilla to Algiers in 1924 K22 was finally scrapped in 1926.


I have depicted K 22 just after the war, tied up to Admiralty buoy in a strong tidal stream, common to both Scotland and Portsmouth and most UK ports.

The Pitroad Combat 1/350 Subs kit was sent to me by and languished in my to-build pile for 3 years.

An enforced break in a major battleship project, due to lack of critical PE, afforded me the opportunity of an ‘easy and quick’ build….

Despite the beautiful underwater hull shape, I decided upon a waterline display format, as Submarines can be visually not as interesting as surface ships.

From an online photographic dealer I acquired a couple of fine-but expensive (!) high resolution digital images of K-22, tied to an admiralty buoy with the telescopic RT aerials extended and all (harbour) guardrails in place.

This gave me also a definite colour scheme, as the demarcations of dark to light varied from boat to boat, as well as size and colours of ID numbers.

The first stage in this build was to waterline the hull; this was done as ever using my trusty belt-mounted belt sander.

Shortly thereafter, the upper hull having lost the stabilising mass the hull deformed quite dramatically, warping along the longitudinal axis.

Long immersion in hot water, thereafter being taped to a stout piece of timber failed to effect a permanent cure, so I resorted to a 3mm stainless steel plate—into which countersunk holes had been pre-drilled in feasible intervals and positions for the submarine. I then pre-drilled the hull with a 3mm bit and then drew the hull down to the plate using No 8 Pozi-drive self-tapping screws into the resin hull body.

Once I had established that all was not lost—and the hull was capable of being pulled back into its correct plane… it was removed, and with just a central screw inserted handled with a large spring clamp for easy access.
The hull was well proportioned, with a smooth finish, however the angle of the ‘Swan bow’ was to my eye and plan interpretation not sufficiently pronounced, so as I knew the hull to be flexible (!), a shim of Styrene was added under the forefoot; which when drawn down to the base plate would raise the bow angle slightly.

The conning tower was well shaped, however the distinctive wind/spray deflector around the top perimeter was missing. An alternative to cutting a elliptical shape with straight run out in brass, a tricky and painstaking shape indeed, was to make the shape in easy to bend thin solder-wire, and then flatten the wire in flat-faced jewellers pliers to preserve the shape prior to attaching to the top face of the previously lightly sanded conning tower coaming.

The main hatch fwd, ahead of the officer’s quarters was often seen in photographs to have a canvas structure over it, presumably to prevent rain and spray from entering.

I drilled out the position of the hatch, added a PE hatch in an open position and the made the canvas structure from scrap PE and sprue to form a metal frame, and then infilled with white glue to simulate the saggy and loose canvas.

The 3 in AA gun and the 4 in Deck gun both had their barrels replaced with 1/700 NNT brass RN 6 in and BKM 8in respectively. The AA guns cast pedestal was cut away and a new item fashioned of CA infused paper.

The hatches on the after superstructure were also opened, a galley stove pipe was added, a depth charge thrower( !) was made of aluminium tubing and paper, along with a number of smaller details such as bollards and fairleads etc…

I could not see any way in which a PE railing could be attached without the end result looking clunky, as the entire vessel was really quite plain, and photos showed the guardrails to be very lightweight in appearance. 

I therefore decided to cut stanchions from 1/350 PE railing longitudinals and insert them into pre-drilled holes. Once set and straightened they were spanned with fine grey stretched sprue using matt varnish and Polystyrene liquid cement. 

The remainder of the build was straightforward affair, I replaced the funnels with aluminium tube versions, and furnished with folding brackets of PE scrap. The only other items of note being the retracted forward hydroplanes and the telescopic RT masts, the latter being made of 0.4mm brass micro-tubing with drawn brass wire upper masts. These were left off until the last possible moment, as they are very fragile! 

The model was set into a sea of previously crumpled artists watercolour embossed paper, and painted in enamel paints with a wet-on-wet technique, whereby the darker colour was laid over the lighter toned initial layer heavily thinned. 

This ensured that the embossed dimples would fill with the darker paint, whilst the high points dried off very quickly. This gave a pleasing soft dimpled effect, not dissimilar to a stiff breeze gusting across flat water. 

The admiralty buoy was made of a piece of round wood dowel; the rubber fender strips being made of styrene micro-strip. I painted the antifouling onto the buoy at an angle, so as to convey the impression of the strong tide dragging the K-boat and the buoy somewhat downstream, hence the water gurgling down the sides of the hull and piling up against the aft hydroplanes. 

The sea was given a few coats of Humbrol Klear-kote varnish to give some depth.

The Pennant numbers (small) were from a WEM RN decal sheet, whilst the larger items came from an old Matchbox Stranraer Flying boat kit, the shape of the K and the numbers conveniently being of RN pattern! 

The flags came from my dwindling supply of Dunagain decals, crumpled up within paper to prevent cracking. The vessel was crewed with some resin figures from l’Arsenal.

A most enjoyable project that I found educational as well as challenging. 

An essential read, technically interesting as well as stirring is : 

K Boats by Don Everitt.

Along with various internet sources the following books were used for photographic references:
A Century of Submarines  Peter Lawrence
Submarines Anthony Preston
Submarines (War beneath the Waves)  Robert Hutchinson
HM Submarines in Camera   J J Tall / Paul J Kemp
British Submarines of World War1  Paul J Kemp
Warship Volume 2 (article)  John Lambert

 More of Jim Baumann's work.