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By David Rooney on

Deep Deep Down…

Earlier, I told you about HMS Astute, the Royal Navy’s latest nuclear-powered submarine, due to be handed over by the builders later this year.

She’s the second naval submarine with that name, the first being launched in 1944 as part of the Amphion-class of boats. We’ve this model of HMS Amphion herself on show in our Shipping gallery:

Model of HMS 'Amphion', 1944 (Science Museum / Science & Society)

Another boat in the series was HMS Alliance. To experience life on board a submarine, head for the Royal Navy Submarine Museum in Gosport, where Alliance is open to the public. I had an excellent guided tour from a retired submariner on my last visit.

You can also climb on board the Royal Navy’s first ever submarine, ordered 110 years ago. The Holland 1, UK-built to American designs, has been fully restored and well worth a visit.

'Holland'-class submarine, 1901 (Science Museum / Science & Society)

Visiting them really brings home how cramped life on board a submarine must be.

Sailors in a British submarine, 1914-18 (NMeM / Daily Herald Archive / Science & Society)

The latest nuclear boats are bigger, though, as they’ve plenty of power. The latest Astute will replace HMS Trafalgar, now retiring after more than a quarter-century of service. Her nuclear reactor produced enough electricity each year to power a town the size of Swindon.

Switching it off has been a real wrench for the crew. One engineer said, ‘it’s like putting your best friend to sleep – the lads have built up this fantastic machine, kept it going … suddenly, you’re ending all that.’

It may have felt sudden, but the boat will be crewed for many months yet – it takes a long time for a nuclear reactor to cool down after 26 years of fission!

One comment on “Deep Deep Down…

  1. An acquaintnce served on HMS Alliance and we plan to visit Gosport soon. He asked me recently if I know anything about Stirling engines, so I gave him a rough idea. He mentioned that some Swedish submarines might be powered at least in part by Stirlings, helping them to be much quieter than diesels.

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