Another bucket list item, the Royal Navy Submarine Museum was the first stop on my trip to Haslar Royal Naval Cemetery in Gosport. I have never been on board a submarine before, although I was always curious about them. Come to think of it, I had been on board a semi-submersible boat before, but that doesn’t really compare.
The museum has three major submarines, the biggest being HMS Alliance, the oldest being the Holland 1, and the one that really makes you shake your head HMS X24. Submariners are a different breed of sailor altogether, and when you come up close and personal with their weapon of choice you can see why. These vessels are not for the feint hearted, and they do have a tendency to never return. The list of those vessels that were lost is a long one, and for each ship name there is a crew.
The first submarine (apart from HMS Alliance which is not easy to miss), is the Holland 1. And I have to admit I am glad I got to see her because she really does not look very much like the images I have seen of her. Possibly because she is not submerged? It must have taken a lot of courage to make that first dive, and I expect you need to have a lot of confidence in your design too.
Her interior is accessed by a door cut into her hull, and there is not much to see inside, but the emptiness is really dominated by her torpedo tubes and the lack of headroom. The image below is looking forward. I have no way of knowing what else was in this machine way back when, but I expect it was much more crowded.
And the image above is looking aft. Underneath the wooden deck is the battery, and the ladder goes up to the rather small “conning tower”. My next port of call was HMS Alliance, and she really dominates the museum. She recently underwent restoration, although I have no idea what was done on board her.
Unfortunately you cannot just waltz on board and look around so I headed into the exhibition hall to book my spot.
The hall really houses most of the balance of the exhibits, as well as a small souvenir shop and of course HMS X24. She is the only surviving X craft still existing (although the wrecks of them litter the ocean floor), and she is really claustrophobic (and I was standing outside her!).
It really comes down to the men that sailed on these vessels, and the operations that they performed during the war. There is not a lot of space for all the bits and pieces that submarines need, in fact I expect it would easier to collect the bits together and build a hull around them, than building a hull and trying to fit everything inside afterwards.
I do think the latter choice was made. Bear in mind that 4 men lived in and fought these vessels, and their best known exploit was Operation Source, the attack on the Tirpitz. Heading outside I was once again confronted by a memorial to those that never returned. The Americans call it “On Eternal Patrol”, and I think that is a fitting description of the many submarines that never came home. Many were lost in events that were not attributable to enemy action, and those vessels have never been found.
Alliance is a member of the A-Class and was laid down towards the end of World War 2, she was finally completed in 1947. She is no longer in her 1947 disguise though, having undergone a lot of modification and changes since she first put to sea. She has been a museum ship since 1981.
There is not a lot of headroom on board, and I expect it must have been even more crowded when she was in service. There are quite a few period items on board her and she is really a time capsule of a different life on board one of HM Submarines
The images I took do not really show just how small the space is, apart from there being people behind and in front of me, there was equipment and machinery above and below, as well as on either side. Although generally forward of the control room there is accommodation and living areas, whereas aft of the control room was more dedicated to engines and machinery (and accommodation) . Storage space was everywhere. Of course the heads always interest me, and there are actually two on board (officers and other ranks). These are not your run of the mill porcelain telephone type either. The image below is of ratings heads and wash room. (Water is not plentiful on board, so any sort of shower was really impossible). The instructions on flushing them make for interesting reading:
Charge air bottle and open sea and NR valves (non return valves?)
Open flush inlet valve with CARE
Free (?) lever and bring to PAUSE
Bring lever to FLUSHING
Bring lever to DISCHARGE
Bring lever to PAUSE
Return lever to NORMAL and LOCK
Close all valves.
One mistake and you would probably be the most unpopular person on board.
Passing through the vessel I could not help think that many wartime submarines were much smaller than this, and their crews were still under the added stress of combat. I would be interested to see how she compares to a U-Boat, and she would be considered luxurious compared to the wartime U-boats. I visited U-534 in Liverpool in 2018, and you are able to see her rusty interiors and they do not compare at all.
We were now passing into the motor/engine rooms, and things were somewhat more open, but multiply that by the heat and sound of her diesels running and this could be a very noisy and uncomfortable place. But engineers have always been special, they really thrive on the heat and noise and without them the ship would just be a steel box going nowhere.
And our tour ended at the aft torpedo tubes. I was ready to go around again, but the bottleneck was still stuck somewhere near the control room, so I gave it a miss. The fresh air felt good though, and I came away with a whole new perspective of submarine warfare.
Then I made a quick circuit of the exhibition hall, and saw many things that I had read about over the years. Some were hard hitting, and all seemed to involve bravery and sacrifice. I was particularly glad to see that HMS Conqueror had not been forgotten
And that the infamous K-Class had not been neglected in the roll of disaster. Now they must have been interesting to see. Although if you think about it rationally, we have really returned to the age of the steam powered submarine, after all, nuclear powered submarines are really driven by steam turbines.
And one last reminder of disaster. HMS Thetis.
And then it was time for me to go, I had a cemetery to find, and it is probable that some of the men in that cemetery had a connection to the vessels mentioned at the museum.
The “Silent Service” is still one of the deadliest military forces around. They have become true submariners since the advent of the nuclear powered vessel, and they can be anywhere, ready to strike at any time. As a surface vessel fanatic I have never really considered the impact of meeting a submarine would have. I think I have a whole new appreciation of them, and of course much to read about in my travels. The museum is not a large one, but it is really a worthwhile one to visit. Gosport is easily accessible through Portsmouth, and it is worth taking the time to pay your respects. I know I will return one day if I get the chance.
DRW © 2014-2022. Created 24/07/2014, images recreated 19/04/2016, updated 03/06/2018