A flight over the stricken Thetis

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Below is a personal account of a photographic sortie over the stricken Thetis by a staff photographer of the then newspaper "The Weekly News" - Fred Ramage. This account was published in the Weekly News on December 8th 1962.

It was submitted by his Grandson, Stephen Ramage of London to whom thanks are due.


Although a photographer , my Grandfather was given a couple of pages to write his memoirs upon retirement from the Weekly News. This extract is from December 8 1962.

'' .....Take the case of the Thetis submarine disaster for instance. This was a brand new sub on her trials outside Liverpool.

The cameramen covering the tragedy flew out to the sub from Speke Airfield. I got there late - not unusual for me - and found they'd all gone out and come back again!

Newspapermen in those days were invariably fond of their draught "wallop" and I gambled this bunch would spend a couple of hours over a pub lunch before flying back to London.

As soon as I noticed there was only one petrol pump on the airfield - that the other planes hadn't refuelled - I had a brainwave.

I would tank up to the top,fly out to the Thetis,and straight back to London!

...Leaving the others at the starting post was the sort of idea which appealed to me.

I knew the other planes would have to queue for juice and wouldn't be able to get back to London for another three hours.

It wasn't difficult to find Thetis. Her tail reared above the waves like some crazy beacon. Inside the air was getting more foul every moment. In fear and terror men were suffocating to death.

A grim memorial to the officers and crew who proudly sailed her out for trials.

I told Jerry, the pilot, to dive at the sub and then pull out within a few yards of the water. He looked at me oddly. ''Impossible'' he yelled.''We'll go straight through to the sea bed!''

I tried it another way . I put the camera beside his ear and suggested he pulled out of the dive when he heard he shutter click. We went for a dummy run. Tried it three times. Each time I dropped the shutter a little later.... and the plane pulled out sweetly. I told Jerry the next time I'd actually be taking the pictures. He nodded, and pulled the stick back into a steady climb. He circled once, took a look around, then began our dive. Steeper, faster the small plane bucked as it hit a couple of air pockets. Down we went - with the tail of the Thetis our target. The camera was held steadily besides Jerry's ear. The airscrew began to scream in protest.The wings shuddered. Still we plunged downwards. The Thetis loomed hugely out of the sea. We could see every rivet, every detail of that gleaming coffin.

I dropped the shutter.

But Jerry didn’t pull up! We kept going down!  It seemed we were actually going to ram her! Looking a bit white, Jerry hauled desperately on the stick.The plane wallowed for a second. Then we began to climb again.

''Bit late on the shutter weren't you?'' he said bitterly.

I couldn't help a smile . He had been concentrating so hard on flying the crate he just hadn’t heard it!

I got back to Fleet Street a good hour ahead of the others.

Popular? nobody spoke to me for over a week! But when it comes to getting pictures , I've got a thick skin.''

(a personal contemporary account by Fred Ramage)

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steve@cyberheritage.co.uk