Distinguished Service Medal, GV, African General Service Medal, EVII, bar Somaliland 1902-04, British War Medal and Marine Society Reward of Merit, 208778 Petty Officer C.J. Colbran, Royal Navy, a veteran Seaman serving as a Submariner on H.M. Sub H5 earning the DSM for the sinking of U-51 on 14th July 1916 and was killed in the tragic sinking of H5 whilst patrolling the Irish Sea by British Merchant ship SS Ruthlerglen who believed them to be a German U-Boat on 2nd March 1918, the accident being officially ‘covered up’ by the Navy.
Distinguished Service Medal impressed: “208778 C.J. Colbran Ldg Sea. H.M. Sub 14 July 1916.”
Africa General Service Medal impressed: “C.J. Colbran, A.B., HMS Pomone.”
BWM impressed: “208778 C.J. Colbran P.O. R.N.”
Reward of Merit engraved: “Charles Colbran 16th March 1905.” At this time he was serving on HMS Excellent
Charles John Colbran was born on 30th December 1884 in Ore, Sussex to Thomas William and Mary Jane.
He grew up working as a “Seaboy” and enlisted with the Royal Navy on 1st March 1900, aged 15 on HMS Impregnable.
On 26th September 1901 he joined HMS Pomone as Boy 1st Class and earned his first medal during his service in Somaliland, serving on the ship until 24th August 1904.
He saw continuous sea service until WW1, beginning the war with HMS Eclipse from 1st August 1914 to 6th March 1915.
After a short period on HMS Vivid I and HMS Vernon and HMS Dolphin until 21st October 1915.
He was suddenly posted to HMS Alecto and then the newly built submarine H5 on 22nd October 1915.
On 20th January 1916 this career Able Seaman finally was promoted to Leading Seaman onboard H.M. Submarine H.5.
Being promoted again to Petty Officer on 1st October 1917.
The submarine designated H5 was one of 20 US H-4 design submarined contracted by Electric Boat to be built at the Canadian Vickers Shipyard near Montreal after the American Government had threatened to take Electric Boat to court for violation of American Neutrality laws over original plans to build them in the U.S.
Winston Churchill appreciated that secretly adding 20 submarines to the Royal Navy in under six months would be a military coup for Britain and the project was kept top secret without the actual consent or knowledge of Ottawa.
H5 was launched in June 1915 under the command of Cromwell H. Varley, Royal Navy. Their existence was so top secret that during their operations around the Irish seas that the commonly seen Merchant Marine ships and Convoy Escort Ships were not even told they were operating in the area, which would lead to the untimely sinking of H5 by 1918.
The crew only had a complement of 2 officers and 20 ratings, they gained renown when they sank the German U-Boat U51 by Torpedo on 14th July 1916, in the Ems Estuary.
Iconically on returning victorious a photo was taken of the sub flying their Skull and Crossbones “Jolly Roger” Flag, it was not the first time a British sub has flown the Jolly Roger, but the first time to be captured by Photograph. According to the RN Submarine Museum.
For their victory Charles Colbran was awarded the Distinguished Service Medal in the London Gazette of 5th September 1916
Upon their sinking in 1918, all hands were lost, 27 men in total, amongst them the Captain A.W. Forbes held a D.S.O., E.F.W. Childs on attachment from the US Navy and winner of the Navy Cross became the first American submariner to be killed.
Of the 23 men who were not officers, 5 of them had earned the Distinguished Service Medal.
On the eventful day of 2nd March 1918, HMS H5 was patrolling the Irish Sea on a surface patrol when it was rammed accidentally by Merchantment S.S. Rutherglen. They believed they had sank a U-Boat and heard cries in the water and a strong smell of petrol.
The British Admiralty ordered SS Rutherglen to leave the scene and gave them a bounty for “sinking a German U-Boat” they were never told what they had done.
No one knew about the true demise of H5 until 50 years later, Petty Officer Colbran had drowned to death in the sunken submarine and all anyone was told was he “lost his life on duty.”
Submarine H5 with all its crew are still at the bottom of Caernarfon Bay.