The age of V
OU’VE got to hand it to the
It should, however, only be done once on a
Everything they do is bigger.
SILENCE, so they say, is golden. Or perhaps also black.
patrol (followed eventually by surfacing).
Big steaks. Big hats. Big business. Big
Once the bombers leave the Firth of Clyde and
buildings. Big navy.
Richard Hargreaves joined ballistic missile submarine HMS submerge they will not see daylight, they will not
A big navy needs a big playground.
Vengeance on noise-ranging trials ahead of an impending
experience fresh air until they return from patrol
Submariners take their boats down to AUTEC, nuclear deterrence patrol upholding the right of the line.
several weeks later.
the Atlantic Undersea Test and Evaluation Centre,
And that’s not natural.
600 square miles of ocean in the Bahamas carved
But then nor is asking 140 men to live in a 500ft
out of coral reef. It’s pretty much devoid of other
steel tube alongside a nuclear reactor and 16 tubes
shipping. And the weather’s nice.
– there are visual markers to follow. But at several the hull, or at least should be. containing the ultimate weapon of destruction.
Bigger, of course, is not necessarily better…
hundred feet, it’s down to some pretty skilful Measured tones dictate life aboard a submarine Ah yes, the Trident missile, Vengeance’s raison
The Yanks have AUTEC. We’ve got BUTEC, the
navigation. – much more so than in the surface fl eet. The d’etre. Sixteen silos, eight on either side of the
British Underwater Test and Evaluation Centre.
Luckily the navigator is helped by an underwater control room – a combination of operations room boat, which comprise the central section of a
It’s not big – squeezed between the Isles of
telephone which links the submarine with the and bridge, minus the windows – is a very busy, Vanguard-class submarine.
Skye, Raasay and the Highlands, the main range
BUTEC boffi ns; they constantly report the boat’s cramped yet remarkably quiet place. Banter is “We don’t really think about what’s in the tubes,”
is just a mile long – it’s home to quite a few
position. kept to a minimum. There are no unnecessary says CPO(ET) Peter Burton, a Strategic Weapons
fi shing vessels (they are, of course, warned that
“You’re 24 metres off,” a tinny Scottish voice words, merely men staring at consoles or an array System technician. “You just know they’re there
submarines are operating) and most defi nitely
feeds back after the fi rst run. of buttons and switches. as a deterrence.”
not blessed by clement weather.
“Buck up, Navs,” operations offi cer Lt Cdr David Nothing epitomises this more than the moment The truth is that most of Vengeance’s crew don’t
But here every ballistic missile submarine must
‘Filthy’ Filtness smiles at his navigator. the waves wash over the hull and the leviathan think about the missiles. Between and behind the
come before she sets off on a deterrence patrol
The run done, there’s a turning box for, er, slithers into the depths. tubes, you’ll fi nd gym kit, store rooms, the laundry,
somewhere, as we vaguely put it, beneath the
turning, then it’s time for another pass. I say ‘slithers’ for it is a gentle manoeuvre. No the NAAFI (actually a cupboard stocked with nutty
Up and down. lurching. No sudden need to grasp the nearest rail. and other ‘essentials’), and the odd mess.
She comes here for her aural examination.
Up and down. No, Vengeance settles slowly by the stern (you do An 18-man ‘home’ is slotted at the side of two
Noise is to a submarine what a heel is to
Up and down. All night long at different speeds. not want your propeller sticking out of the water tubes. To enter, fi rst you must brush past the ‘car
The scientists listen for any undue noises being as it’s the sole means of propulsion). wash’ – towels and clothes drying at the entrance.
The hull of HMS Vengeance, one of four
emitted by Vengeance’s machinery – propulsion Weaned on Das Boot with its scenes of half-mad Inside is compact, but not bijoux: two separate
17,000-ton leviathans which prowl beneath
system, hydroplanes, communications buoy bearded Germans spinning valves open, sliding compartments shrouded in darkness (there’s
the seas bearing Britain’s ultimate deterrent, is
– as this juggernaut scythes through the waters down the ladder in grey sou’westers, spilling half always someone off- duty sleeping). Nine men are
peppered with sensors which listen for any undue
of Inner Sound. the Atlantic on to the deck, it all seems a bit tame… stacked in three-deck bunks; the space is little
emanations from the boat.
What they cannot account for, of course, is until the CO points out that “you don’t crash dive more than 8ft square.
As an additional precaution, an external
Jack. Throughout Vengeance there are posters: a a 17,000-ton submarine”. (A Type VII U-boat was Yet by Silent Service standards, this is if not
examination is always required, however.
woman pursing her lips urging the deeps to keep nearly 20 times smaller than Vengeance.) luxurious, then at least not minimal.
The BUTEC range, too, is peppered with
quiet, a cartoon admonishing crew not to stomp Tame it might be, but it nevertheless remains an There is no hot bunking on Vengeance. Senior
up and down the ladders. impressive manoeuvre. ratings even get an en suite mess – Rose Cottage,
It is also gridded into invisible boxes, each 50
“Our primary objective is to remain undetected,” “Diving now. Diving now.” the name apparently befi ts the age of its occupants
metres across and labelled A to Z. The scientists
explains Lt Chris Cheater, known by his wardroom The Inner Sound begins to lap over the casing – opposite the captain’s cabin.
expect a boat to drive straight down the middle
companions as Gorgeous on account, apparently, – a TV feed from the periscope to the control room It’s why the crew earn the dubious tag of
of the range – boxes M or N – for accurate
of his haircut. allows you to watch – when a senior rating at a ‘bomber queens’. But by no means does that tag
“It is extremely diffi cult to locate a submarine – console calls out: “Contact, bearing three-fi ve- mean life aboard is easy.
Which is easy enough to do on the surface
how do you fi nd something that is doing its utmost fi ve. Probably a fi shing vessel.” For the duration of a patrol, the men of
not to be found?” A lieutenant twiddles a joystick and the Vengeance work six hours on, six hours off (1pm-
Possibly by leaving a hammer or a wrench periscope scans the horizon. With the press of a 7pm, 7pm-1am, 1am-7am and 7am-1pm so that
where it shouldn’t be or slamming a door. Metal on button, the scope zooms in. everyone catches breakfast, lunch and dinner
metal is bad – particularly if it’s knocking against “Nothing visual.” while off duty).
the hull. The propulsion system sits on a bed of The dive continues in the same quietly tense That in itself is demanding enough – but
rubber supports to prevent just that. manner; it is a hazardous manoeuvre and there’s something skimmers endure during defence
That, of course, does not mean that the Silent nothing in ‘skimmer world’ with which to compare watches.
Service is silent. Submariners are not monks. it. The only sounds are the beeps and whirrs of Skimmers, however, are not cut off from the
Radios, DVDs, televisions all play the various electronic wizardry and the constant outside world for weeks on end. Bomber queens
(though not loudly, of course) blow of the air conditioning, interspersed by a few are.
and a trip to the engine clipped commands. Atop we take email, internet
compartment requires ear This is what Vengeance’s captain, Cdr Andrew and satellite TV – little more
defenders – but all that McKendrick, calls the ‘choreography of effort’: than pipe dreams a decade
noise is contained within diving demands the efforts of almost the entire ago – for granted. None of
● HMS Vengeance leaves Faslane to begin training
014-015_NN_May.indd 1 21/4/08 10:22:36
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