21 Robert Patrick Coppinger
Robert Henry’s son, Robert Patrick Coppinger also joined the navy. He was serving as a lieutenant on the submarine H.M.S. Oxley when, seven days into the war, on 10th September 1939 it was sunk by torpedoes by H.M.S. Triton in the Norwegian Sea. The incident was reported in the Liverpool Daily Post on 9th November 1939 as "HMS Oxley having been sunk as a result of an accidental explosion on board a few week ago".
His death is noted on Panel 33 Column 1 of the Portsmouth Naval Memorial.
The following is the testimonygiven by Lieutenant-Commander H. P. de C. Steel, Royal Navy, HMS Triton; at the Board of Inquiry into the circumstances of the loss of HMS Oxley;
“I surfaced at about 5 minutes to eight on the evening of 10th September and fixed the position of the ship Obrestad Light 067°, Kvassiem Light 110°. That position put me slightly west and south of my patrol billet which was No.5. My intention for the night was to patrol to the southward on a mean course of 190° and in order to get on that line I steered 170° zigzagging 30°, 15° each side of the mean course at about three to four knots, slow on one engine, charging on the other. The submarine was trimmed down. Before I went below I gave orders to the Officer of the Watch that if he saw a merchant ship he was to keep clear of her and in any case attempt to get end on. At the time there was one merchant ship coming south well away on my port quarter, and that was the only ship in sight at the time. The officer of the watch took over and I went below. Actually, we could not see this ship on the port quarter with the naked eye – only with binoculars.
Shortly before nine o’clock I was in the control room and there was a message from the bridge: Captain on the bridge immediately. I went straight up. The night was dark and there was a slight drizzle and I could see nothing except the shore lights. The Officer of the Watch informed me that there was a submarine fine on the port bow which for the moment I could not see. The ship was swinging to starboard and the officer of the watch was in charge. The signalman was sent for. In fact I am not certain whether he followed me up. I then made out through binoculars an object very fine on the port bow and I gave orders for the bow external tubes to stand by – Nos. 7 and 8 tubes.
At the same time the crew went to diving stations. I broke the charge and got on the main motors at once and it was at this moment that I recognised the object as a submarine. I took the ship and kept Triton bows on. From what I could see I appeared to be on a broad track, I should say about 120 degrees, and the object was steering in a north-westerly direction. It occurred to me that it might be Oxley and I dismissed the thought almost as soon as it crossed my mind because earlier in the day I had been in communication with Oxley and I had given her my position accurately, which was two miles south of my billet, No.5, and Oxley had acknowledged this, and I had also given him my course which was at the time 154°. By this time the signalman was on the bridge and I gave him the bearing of the object or the submarine. I told him not to make any challenge until he got direct orders from me. He knew the challenge and the reply. I then ordered the challenge to be made as soon as my sights were on and I knew the armament was ready, and the signalman made it slowly. No reply was received. After about 20 seconds I ordered the challenge to be made again. During this time I had been studying the submarine very closely indeed. She was trimmed down very low and I could see nothing of her bow or shape and the conning tower did not look like Oxley’s, and I could not see any outstanding points of identification such as periscope standards, etc.
Accordingly, I ordered the second challenge to be made; received no reply to the second challenge. Receiving no reply to the second challenge, I made a third challenge again after a short interval. Receiving no reply to the third challenge I fired a grenade which burst correctly. I did not see the grenade actually burst although I knew it had burst because of the light as I had my eyes fixed on the submarine. By this time I was completely convinced that this was an enemy submarine. I counted fifteen to myself like this: and-one, and-two, and three … When I had counted fifteen to myself I gave the order to fire; No.7 and No.8 tubes were fired at three-second intervals. About half a minute after firing, indeterminate flashing was seen from the submarine. This was unreadable and stopped in a few seconds. The Officer of the Watch also saw this. It gave me the impression that somebody was looking for something with a torch – it was certainly not Morse code. Very shortly afterwards, a matter of a few seconds after the flashing had stopped, one of my torpedoes hit. I told the Officer of the Watch, Lieutenant. H. A. Stacey, to fix the ship, and he fixed the ship as follows: Obrestad Light 035° Egero Light 105°. This fix placed the ship 6.8 miles 189° from No.5 position, which put me 4 miles inside my sector. I took the bearing of the explosion and proceeded towards the spot at once. The sea was about 3 and 2. Very soon we heard cries for help and as we came closer we actually heard the word ‘Help’. There were three men swimming. I manoeuvred the ship to the best of my ability to close the men and kept Aldis lights on. Lieutenant Stacey and Lieutenant Watkins attached lines to themselves and dived in the sea which was covered in oil and succeeded in bringing Lieutenant Commander Bowerman and Able Seaman Gukes to safety. The third man who afterwards transpired to be Lieutenant Manley, RNR, was seen swimming strongly in the light of an Aldis when he suddenly disappeared and was seen no more.”
The court found that Triton's Captain had followed the correct procedure and that had he delayed his attack he could have put his boat and crew in danger.
No blame was apportioned to HMS Triton; HMS Oxley was found to have been out of position and her watchkeeping had been at fault – ultimately all the blame fell on the unfortunate Lieutenant Manley, RNR.
The court also exonerated Bowerman on his evidence that Oxley's signal lamp and grenade projector had both failed at the critical moment.
The real cause of the disaster was kept a close secret until the 1950s.
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