Sunday 30 April 2017

Portsmouth 2017 - The Royal Navy Submarine Museum, Gosport

HMS Alliance at the Royal Navy Submarine Museum
The final part of our trip to Portsmouth this year saw us catching the ferry across the Solent to Gosport, home of the Royal Navy Submarine Museum

Royal Navy Submarine Museum

If you are interested in reading the other attractions visited on our trip this year and in 2016 then you can flip back using the following links.

Portsmouth Historic Dockyard 2016
Portsmouth 2017 - Mary Rose
Portsmouth 2017 - Historic Dockyard
Portsmouth 2017 - Portchester Castle

The first sight that greets the visitor arriving at the jetty on the opposite shore is the imposing silhouette of the Aphion Class, HMS Alliance, a World War Two veteran British submarine that saw extended service into the early decades of the Cold War; with a modernisation program that greatly reduced her underwater drag profile with the removal of her four inch QF gun and two forward torpedo tubes mounted in the prominent nose bulge seen in the picture of the submarine in 1947 below.

This rebuild together with a new streamlined aluminium hull and fin had the effect of making the vessel faster and quieter underwater.

In 1981 HMS Alliance became the museum vessel she is today, preserved as a memorial to those British submariners who have died in service.

HMS Alliance

HMS Alliance (P417)
Submarine Museum/HMS Alliance

The impression I got on entering the Alliance is the link she forms between the WWII diesel/electric boats and the modern era nuclear powered boats that revolutionised the potential of the submarine into a true submersible able to travel fast and with great endurance without the need to surface on a regular basis.

I have put together a series of pictures to give you an idea of the interior of Alliance starting, as we did, in the bow section with the forward torpedo tubes and the reloads and working towards the stern tubes with the other compartments in between.

After her modernisation and the removal of her external torpedoes, Alliance carried sixteen torpedoes with four 21 inch bow tubes and two stern tubes.

The business end of Alliance was probably the smallest and most cramped compartment on the boat.

21 inch torpedo reload in the front compartment with Commando canoe stowed below
HMS Alliance carried a compliment of five officers and sixty-three ratings after her 1960 modernisation and with a range of 10,500 nautical miles on the surface, was able to cruise at 2.5 knots submerged for 36 hours and provided no major mishaps occurred was limited only by the fuel or the provisions for the crew.

The boat has been displayed as set up ready for a cruise with the forward compartment loaded up with provisions to allow the crew to keep going for as long as possible.

The hatch seen below is where supplies and forward compartment torpedoes could be lowered into the vessel.

As we made our way aft we started to pass the first of the crew compartments. HMS Alliance was constructed with a passage way passing along the starboard side with all the compartments given over to the port side, allowing as much space as possible within them.

Here the camera and film collection are rigged up ready for some off watch entertainment.

As well as diesel propulsion, HMS Alliance could propel herself underwater with her two 625 hp electric motors and the hatch below the main passage way was exposed to show the lines of batteries used to store the charge for those motors.

The danger these batteries could present was clearly demonstrated when, in 1971, a battery explosion beneath the crew bunks, whilst Alliance was at Portland, lead to the death of CPO Raymond Kimber who was sadly killed when literally blown out of his bunk

Raymond Kimber

The patterned cushions and youthful portrait of Her Majesty really date the boat to a very particular time and era.

Moving past the crew compartments you arrive at the control centre with periscopes, dive plane controls and all the kit you need to allow HMS Alliance to fight her underwater war back in the day.

Our guides around the boat demonstrated the sounding of the dive klaxon whist downing the lights and switching to red lighting for night time surface cruising. All the WWII submarine movies come to life when looking at these pictures.

The driving seat

As we moved further aft I noticed the first of two hatches, the first,seen below, being an access hatch originally used for the crew of the 4 inch gun.

The Amphion class of submarines were built in the Second World War very much with the war in the Pacific in mind and these submarines are quite a bit larger than the boats designed for the Atlantic and Mediterranean.

During her service in WWII and later the Malayan Crisis, her surface gun was a useful weapon to have to take on unarmed or smaller surface craft, thus saving her torpedoes for the larger enemy ships.

Access hatch originally used to man the 4 inch deck gun
The next hatch seen below was the access up into the tower and flying bridge.

Access hatch to the tower and flying bridge
I have the utmost respect for those that volunteer to serve on board submarines and it certainly wouldn't have been my first career choice. The narrow claustrophobic confines of this boat only emphasise the effect of confinement especially when imagined submerged at great depth.

Ordinary ratings heads

Probably the most important compartment in terms of crew morale
The diesel part of the diesel-electric combination was provided by two 2,150 hp Vickers super-charged eight cylinder diesel engines driving two shafts.

These two engines can be seen crammed into the limited space of the engine compartment together with all the controls and instruments needed to manage their use.

On the surface, Alliance could use her diesels to barrel along at 18.5 knots and one can only imagine the noise of these things as she did.

The aft most compartment, rather like the bow, was given over to torpedoes and stores and I was quite happy to step back out into daylight after a very interesting tour, but one that convinced me that if men were meant to go under water we would have been born with gills.

That confirmation was only enhanced as our guide demonstrated the other aspect of this last compartment where the escape hatch was located with its pull down canvass tube arrangement designed to enable the crew to literally pop to the surface when used at a safe depth to make an emergency evacuation.

On chatting to our very helpful guides, both ex-submariners themselves, I was directed to a fenced off area close by where I was told I could find Alliance's old gun stored.

HMS Alliance's QF 4 inch Mark XXIII Deck Gun awaiting a bit of TLC
So with the tour of HMS Alliance concluded we headed towards the main museum building close by where there are displays and exhibits that cover the history of not just the Royal Navy and its submarines but submarine warfare in general and its development over the centuries up to and including the modern era.

It is perhaps not surprising that Britain with one of the most powerful surface fleets, certainly through modern history, should have been the first navy to be attacked by submarine, a natural weapon of choice to an enemy unable or unwilling to contest in the surface battle.

That first enemy submarine was the Turtle of 1776 and was really the first practical attempt at delivering an attack on a surface warship, in this case HMS Eagle, the 64 gun flagship of the Royal Navy in New York harbour by American Sergeant Ezra Lee during the American War of Independence.

The Turtle 1776

Turtle (submersible)

Reconstruction of the Turtle 1776
This reconstruction of David Bushnell's submarine designed to be pedal propelled towards its target and then to attach a keg of gunpowder with a timed charge to the hull of it, though primitive to modern eyes, clearly foretells of the submarine age to come.

Like all submariners Sergeant Lee was courage personified for simply climbing into this death trap, that alone attempting to fight it and I think Washington's tribute to his courage and skill emphasise the point perfectly.

HMS Holland 1

Jules Verne published 'Twenty Thousands Leagues Under the Sea' in 1870, the classic science fiction novel with the title referring to how far the craft travelled rather than the depth it achieved, rather foretelling the future of modern submarine technology.

Jules Verne's fantastic predictions started to become reality for the Royal Navy when in 1900 it ordered the first of six 'Holland' class boats with the first commissioned in 1901. The Holland 1 is the first of that first group of Royal Navy submarines.

HMS Holland 1

When viewing this submarine it is remarkable to think how quickly these kind of vessels have progressed in the one hundred and seventeen years from this tiny thin skinned riveted Holland 1 to the mighty nuclear powered boats of today.

Torpedo tubes
The Holland 1 and her sisters nearly went to war with the Russian fleet, that mistakenly attacked British fishing boats in the North Sea in 1904 as they made their way to to take on the Japanese in the Ruso-Japanese War. The British submarines were subsequently recalled and war with the Russians averted.

Open torpedo tube

A huge electric motor which when found had the batteries still intact and capable of providing power
The Holland 1 was thought lost when she sank off the south west coast close to the Eddystone Lighthouse in 1913 whilst being towed to the scrapyard.

Rediscovered in 1981 and subsequently raised and restored to the condition she is seen in today the Holland 1 is a very special boat in the history of the British submarine service.

X Class Midget Submarine
Royal Navy X-Craft were midget submarines that were designed to be towed to their area of operation by a mother craft, often a larger submarine, to perform specialist attack and reconnaissance missions that were not possible with conventional size boats.

X class submarine
X Craft

X5 being towed out to sea by HMS Thrasher on its way to attack the Tirpitz. X5 disappeared on 22nd September 1943
The most famous operations they took part in were the attack on the German Battleship Tirpitz, a constant threat to allied shipping that were convoyed around the north of Norway, providing vital supplies and war material for the Russians.

Operation Source - The Attack on the Tirpitz

The other was the reconnaissance missions to the Normandy beaches to allow divers to swim ashore to gather beach samples to determine how stable they would be for allied tanks to cross, to later acting as night-time navigation beacons for the assembly of the landing fleet on D-Day itself.

Operation Postage Able

The weapons carried by X-Craft were the two large side carried explosive panniers containing two tons of amatol explosives in each and designed to be detached under a target vessel to explode on a timer delay to allow the X-Craft to escape.

One of the explosive panniers can be seen here on the side of the X-24, the only surviving X-Craft

The endurance of these craft was down to how long the crew could deal with the cramped conditions seen below but was generally considered at about fourteen days.

The submarines would operate initially with a crew of three, commander, pilot and engineer, but would later carry a fourth crew member as diver when performing beach reconnaissance for example.

X-Craft were powered by a 42 hp diesel bus engine, together with a 30 hp electric motor when submerged, giving a maximum surface speed of 6.5 knots and one knot slower when submerged.

'Jolly Roger' Pennants

Submarine crews are the modern day version of the long range raider/cruiser that operate alone on the high seas often in enemy controlled waters, unseen, only betraying their presence when they attack then to disappear into the vastness of the oceans.

Their modus-operandi mimics the pirates of old and the fear and ever present danger of attack that could suddenly develop, a description summed up by First Sea Lord Sir Arthur Wilson who complained in 1901 that submarines were "underhanded, unfair and damned un-English" and that personnel should be hanged as pirates.

Remembering the words of Lord Wilson, Lieutenant Commander Max Horton, commanding HMS E9, which torpedoed the German cruiser SMS Hela ordered the manufacture of a Jolly Roger to be flown on their return to port; with an additional flag to be flown for every other subsequent successful patrol. On realising that they would soon run out of submarine to fly their bunting from, the E9 started to develop symbols to be added to the one flag.

Thus the practice of flying a 'Jolly Roger' after a successful patrol developed among Royal Navy crews during the First World War and became widespread during WWII.

Use of the Jolly Roger by submarines
Royal Navy Submarines-Jolly Roger

HMS Trenchant - Captured German Prisoners, Captured Japanese Prisoners, Sank Eleven Small Vessels,  Laid a Mine and Sank a U-boat (U 859) 
As the practice became common, procedures were developed to achieve a standard of common usage with symbols agreed on to denote the different types of achievement, such as coloured bars for ships sunk, mines for mine laying patrols or daggers to show 'cloak and dagger' missions.

HMS Trenchant
HMS Trenchant (P331)

HMS Ursula - Blew up a viaduct, Blew up Oil Tanks, Blew up Train Track
HMS Ursula
HMS Ursula (N59)

HMS Seraph - Note the seven 'Cloak & Dagger' operations, the most operations during WWII, Sank a U-boat and Carried out beach scouting and landed agents
The museum has a collection of these Jolly Rogers that are a testament to the bravery and achievement of the Submarine Service as a whole and the variety of missions they conduct, some rather extraordinary when it includes attacking railways and viaducts.

HMS Seraph - A submarine with a particularly remarkable career
HMS Seraph (P219)

HMS Statesman - Went below safe diving depth, Sank nine Junks, Laid eleven mines
HMS Statesman
HMS Statesman (P246)


As mentioned in the  heading to this post the museum also reflects the activities of other nations submarine activities in the displays on show with particular focus on WWI, WWII and the Cold War.

The German U-Boat exhibits covering WWI and WWII
World War Two saw the design and development of diesel electric boats reach its pinnacle, with the Royal Navy in the leading group of nations heading that development, with its need to prosecute the war around the globe.

Model of HMS Storm in WWII Far East camouflage pattern
HMS Storm
 HMS Storm (P233)

German U-Boat War Badge - issued to crewmen who had taken part in more than two patrols

German binoculars - Standard naval issue in WWII

German Submarine Torpedo Calculator - used to calculate the deflection angle and torpedo spread across the target
As mentioned in the description of HMS X-24, mini-subs and 'Chariot' human torpedoes added to the capabilities of the underwater arm to strike and act in waters that prohibited the larger boats.

Plaque commemorating midget submarines HMS X20 and X23's participation on D-Day. The two submarines were the first vessels off the coast of Normandy and acted as navigation beacons for the following landing vessels

X-Craft Net Cutter - Powered by pipes connected to the X-Craft these cutter blades were designed to cut through anti-submarine nets
D-Day Flag from HMS X-23 - When daylight came on D-Day and with their job done, the X-Craft replaced their signal beacons with these flags signalling D for D-Day 

Major-General Mark Clark 
HMS Seraph, the 'Cloak and Dagger' boat par excellence in WWII was responsible for landing US General Mark Clark into Vichy French controlled North Africa, preceding the Allied Torch landings in November 1942.

Operation Flagpole - October 1942

The general was tasked with a top secret meeting with French General Charles E Mast to secure Vichy cooperation in the upcoming landings, a mission only partially successful and, given the uncertainty of the loyalties of the Vichy negotiation team members involved, Clark went suitably prepared with his personal M1 carbine.

The carbine carried by US General Mark Clark when he was landed from HMS Seraph during Operation Flagpole

HMS Seraph or USS Seraph

Chariot Manned Torpedo

A few years ago we spent a very pleasant holiday in Crete in a wonderful villa overlooking the natural harbour of Suda Bay which during WWII was the scene of heavy fighting in May 1941 as German paratroops landed to capture the island from British, Greek and Commonwealth troops.

Raid on Souda Bay

Prior to the landings the Royal Navy was keen to develop Suda as a forward base of operations in the eastern Mediterranean and had based cruisers in the harbour to attack Italian shipping in the area supporting their North African forces.

The crippled HMS York in Suda Bay after the Italian attack
These Royal Navy ships came under attack on the 25th March 1941 by Italian Decima motor assault boats packed with high explosives and designed to be driven into the target at speed.

The attack left the cruiser HMS York severely crippled afterwards having been hit amidships and would be finished off later by Luftwaffe bombing attacks during the German landings.

The Italian success had much influence on Royal Navy thinking that lead to the development of their own human delivered attack craft or later known as the Chariot human torpedo.

Chariot Manned Torpedo
SM P.311 Reporting from Patrol
British Commando Frogmen
Operation Principle - Chariot Attack

These craft were perhaps not as successful as their Italian counterparts but were yet another way that small underwater craft could penetrate harbour defences to attack enemy ships in harbour.

Italian Cruiser Blozano sunk by British 'Chariot' human torpedo
Italian Cruiser Bolzano

Designed to add extra protection against the cold for X-Craft and Chariot divers these padded jackets
were worn under the Sladen one piece rubberised suit.

As well as in European waters, the X Craft saw service against the Japanese in the Pacific theatre and the improved XE class of X boat were used in the attack on Singapore harbour (Operation Struggle) in August 1945.

Nicknamed the 'Clammy Death' helmet these divers helmets worn by Chariot crews were designed
not to leave a tell tale trail of bubbles. This helmet was owned by Lt, Ian Fraser VC, DSC, RNR who
commanded XE3 during her attack on the Japanese Cruiser Takao
XE4 and improved X Class midget submarine of the type used by Lt. Fraser in
the attack on the Takao in Singapore Harbour

Lt Ian Fraser VC, DSC, RNR

IJN Cruiser Takao severely damaged by X Craft in the attack on Singapore in August 1945
XE-class Submarine/Operation Struggle

The one-piece Sladen diving suit designed to protect divers in X-Craft
and Chariots from extreme cold

As well as the WWII collection there is also a very good section in the museum that covers the Post War/Cold War era of submarine developments, but time was drawing our day to a close and I had to quite literally whizz around the last displays before catching the last ferry back to Portsmouth.

As a nod to the modern era collection I will finish my post with a picture of the Tigerfish wire guided acoustic homing torpedo in service with the Royal Navy from 1980 to 2004 and a weapon I was familiar with during its run out in the Falklands War in 1982 and the design faults discovered then which underlined its rather troubled history of development that seems to be one of those weapon design disaster stories that rank alongside the improved Nimrod MRA4 aircraft finally scrapped in the 2010 defence review.

I often think weapons design can be likened to what a horse would look like if designed by committee, namely a camel!

Tigerfish (torpedo)

Tigerfish acoustic torpedo
So there we are the final post covering our trips to Portsmouth 2016-2017 with, I hope, an appetite whetting presentation of some of the amazing exhibits on view and to show that Portsmouth and its historic dockyard are well worth a visit if the opportunity presents.