About The Coffin Sub
Straight out of the IPC Boys Department mould, “The Coffin Sub” was the run-of-the-mill story of H.M.S. Conquest, a British submarine fighting in the Mediterranean. It was deathly dull and almost universally hated by both the readers and the publishers alike. Written by Ron Carpenter and drawn by Angelo Todaro of the Giolitti Agency, “The Coffin Sub” proved to be the least popular Action story ever.
Luckily, there were just eight episodes of this turgid drama, more reminiscent of a DC Thomson tale than an Action story. It is therefore ironic, and perhaps because of its lack of popularity with Action readers, that “The Coffin Sub” was one of the most frequently reprinted Action stories, showing up in both the 1981 and 1984 annuals, and again in 1987, in the short-lived All-Action Monthly.
During a patrol Lieutenant Commander Mark Kane, captaining the H.M.S. Conquest, spots two Italian destroyers. Conquest is down to its last torpedo but Kane decides to fight. The submarine hits one of the destroyers but the second ship depth-charges them. With Conquest badly damaged, Kane releases oil and the bodies of two dead crewmen through the torpedo tubes.
The Italians fall for the ploy, but Conquest’s ballast tanks won’t blow and the damaged batteries begin to leak chlorine gas. Trapped on the bottom, Kane orders his men to the escape hatch. No-one has sufficient strength to open it except Kane himself. In so doing, Kane is caught in a blast of decompression which forces him to the surface. He waits for his men to join him but is soon aware that none of them are going to. He is the sole survivor, and blames himself for their deaths, feeling that he should have remained with them.
Kane is absolved of all blame at the court martial and his command is returned to him. Conquest went down in shallow waters and has been salvaged and re-fitted. His new crew are all too aware of Conquest’s history and nickname it the Coffin Sub. Naturally, Kane becomes obsessed with avenging his dead crew on any enemy he can find, regardless of the risk to himself or his new command. At the completion of each mission he is seen staring emptily into space, much as the readers must have stared at the page. Many bland adventures follow.
Finally, on the anniversary of the sinking of Conquest, Kane gives a note for his family to his First Officer and removes the picture of his dead crew from his quarters. In a near repeat of the previous year, Kane spots two destroyers and a battleship. He orders torpedoes to be fired, sinking one vessel, but Conquest is once again damaged by depth-charges which disable the torpedo tubes’ firing mechanism.
Kane orders the crew to abandon ship, informing his Number One that he is staying onboard. He dives the sub and rams the battleship, breaching the hull as he does so. As the seawater floods in, Kane raises his arms to greet it, “I’m joining you at last boys!”… shame he didn’t do it eight weeks earlier.
Kane was Captain of the H.M.S. Conquest, and the sole survivor of its sinking in the Mediterranean. He blamed himself for the deaths of his crewmates and wished he had gone down with his command. In the year that followed, Kane was reckless and vengeful with himself and the lives of those under him. Finally he made a fateful decision, and on the anniversary of the loss of his crew, took on one final mission, sinking Conquest for a second time, but this time remaining firmly at the helm.the plot.
The Coffin Sub, sunk by Italian destroyers with all hands, bar one. The Conquest was raised and refitted by the Royal Navy and given back to its former commander. The ghosts of the dead haunted Kane and his new crew as each mission brought them into close contact with danger and death. Conquest was crippled for a second time a year down the line, but this time the crew all abandon ship, bar one.
The Dead Crew, not a lot was seen of this band of hardy submariners as they all drown in episode one, but their presence permeated the entire story as Lieutenant Commander Kane attempted to avenge them on any enemy he could find.
The Living Crew, the unfortunates who inherited the Coffin Sub and its blank eyed commander. The ‘ghosts’ of Conquest’s past were sent to test these men every day, sometimes in a literal sense. Crew members cracked under the strain of expectation, and the Germans exploited the history of the sub to unnerve the crew at any opportunity. Fortunately Kane took the Conquest back to the bottom of the sea, freeing his men and satisfying his obsession with destiny.
Text © Moose Harris
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