River-class submarine

The River class, or Thames class, were a class of submarines built for the Royal Navy. Operating during the Second World War, the three boats of the class comprised Thames, Severn and Clyde. All the submarines were named after rivers in the United Kingdom. One was lost during the war and the rest taken out of service following it.

HMS Thames
Class overview
Name: River class
Operators:  Royal Navy
Preceded by: S class
Succeeded by: Grampus class
Completed: 3
Lost: 1
Retired: 2
General characteristics
Type: Submarine
  • 2,206 tons surfaced (Thames 2,165 tons)
  • 2,723 tons submerged (Thames 2,680 tons)
Length: 345 ft (105 m)
Beam: 28 ft 3 in (8.61 m)
Draught: 15 ft 11 in (4.85 m)
  • 2 shaft diesel electric
  • 2 supercharged diesels 10,000 hp (7,500 kW) max
  • 2 electric motors 2,500 hp (1,900 kW)
  • 22 knots (41 km/h) surfaced
  • 10 knots (19 km/h) submerged
Complement: 61


The River class was the last attempt by the Admiralty to produce "fleet submarines", submarines fast enough to operate as part of a fleet, which at the time meant being able to manage somewhere around 20 knots (37 km/h) while surfaced. The previous attempts had been the steam powered K-class submarines and the large 12-inch (305 mm) gunned M-class submarines. The M class were K-class hulls re-engined with diesels and modified to take a single 12 in (305 mm) naval gun directly forward of the conning tower.

A design was drawn up in the late 1920s and three vessels were built by Vickers in Barrow : Thames in 1932, Severn and Clyde in 1935. The latter two were a little larger than Thames. Initially 20 were planned but changes in thinking and cost limited the building to just the three.

The design compromised on diving depth to keep weight down and speed up. They had a safe diving depth of some 300 feet (90 m) compared to the Odin class before them which had managed 500 feet (150 m). They were powered by two diesel engines delivering 8,000 bhp (6,000 kW). Two Ricardo engines drove generators that supercharged the diesels up to 10,000 bhp (7,500 kW). This gave them a surface speed of 22 knots (41 km/h).

Operational history

During the Second World War they initially operated in the North Sea and Mediterranean.

Thames was lost off Norway on 23 September 1940. Clyde was used to deliver supplies to the besieged island of Malta in September 1941. Severn and Clyde were in service in the Far East when they were taken out of service in mid to late 1945.



    • Conway's All the World's Fighting Ships 1922–1946
    • D.K. Brown - Nelson to Vanguard, Chatham Maritime Press ISBN 1-86176-136-8

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