Resolution Class

Vanguard Class

















HMS Renown

Source: Royal Navy Website




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Submarine Pennant Number Builder Laid Down Launch Commissioned
Resolution S22 Vickers Armstrong 26 Feb 64 15 Sep 66 02 Oct 67
Repulse S23 Vickers Armstrong 12 Mar 65 04 Nov 67 28 Sep 68
Renown S26 Cammal Laird 25 Jun 64 25 Feb 67 15 Nov 68
Revenge S27 Cammal Laird 19 May 65 15 Mar 68 04 Dec 69


The British Polaris project began when two other nuclear deterrent projects were unsuccessful - the Blue Streak Missile (which would have been land based) and Skybolt (which would have been carried by Britain's V Bombers: the Valiant, Victor and Vulcan aircraft).The United States were firmly opposed to the idea of a multi-lateral nuclear force, preferring that as few NATO member states as possible to be nuclear armed, as this way the nuclear weapons could be more secure and more up to date. However Harold Macmillan and President Kennedy agreed at the 1962 Anglo-American Nassau Conference, that the United States would supply Britain with Polaris, a submarine based nuclear deterrent. While America would supply the missiles, the launch tubes and the fire control system, the warheads and submarines would have to be British made. In return America would be guaranteed certain assurances by Britain regarding the use of the missile. The United States later offered the system to France, who declined, preferring to develop their own submarine launched ballistic missile programme. The Polaris Sales Agreement was singed on April 6th 1963 and Vice Admiral Sir Hugh MacKenzie was appointed as the programme supervisor.

The advantages of having a submarine based nuclear deterrent were obvious: nuclear weapons could be hidden beneath the waves and launched from anywhere. The submarines themselves, owing to their nuclear propulsion, had incredible endurance and would never need to surface whilst on patrol. Furthermore they were virtually undetectable and could roam the ocean depths unhindered. When the notion of a submarine based nuclear deterrent was originally proposed, it was thought that up to a dozen boats would be required. But as the project developed five submarines were planned: Resolution, Repulse, Renown, Revenge and Ramillies. Traditional battleship and battlecruiser names were chosen, signifying that the nuclear submarine was now the capital ship of the atomic age. However, upon coming to power, the Labour Government launched a review of the Polaris programme which resulted in the cancellation of the fifth boat - Ramillies - which it deemed expensive and unnecessary. On announcing the decision, the then Defence Secretary, Dennis Healy, stated:

"The Government have now completed a review of the programme, set I hand by the previous administration, for the construction of nuclear-propelled Polaris submarines. In the light of the stage now reached in the programme, they have concluded that the right course is to compete the four submarines already under construction, but not to proceed with the fifth submarine. The decision will save about 45 million in capital cost - less the cancellation charges which have still to be negotiated. We are now considering the possibility of resuming, earlier than otherwise, the nuclear propelled hunter-killer programme".

Resolution and Repulse were ordered from the lead yard, Vickers Armstrong in Barrow-in- Furness while Cammal Laird at Birkenhead won the contract for Renown and Revenge. The bow and stern of each submarine were constructed separately before being assembled with the American designed missile compartment in-between. The leadship - Resolution - was launched in February 1964. After commissioning in 1967 she underwent a long period of first of class sea trials culminating in the firing of her first Polaris missile. Targeted at the US Air Force Eastern Test Range it was fired at 11:15 on 15 February 1968 off Cape Kennedy. Resolution commenced her first operational patrol on June 15th 1968, beginning 28 years of unbroken Polaris patrols. At the time the Daily Telegraph commented:

"The Resolution in making her first dive of her patrol into the waters of a troubled world will be taking out on behalf of the nation the best insurance policy it has ever had"

The design of the submarine itself was basically a modification of the Valiant Class Fleet Submarine, but much enlarged to incorporate the missile compartment between the fin and the nuclear reactor. It also shared similarities in size and appearance with the US Los Angeles Class, although like all British submarines, the hydroplanes were located on the bow rather than the fin. With a length of 130 meters and a displacement of 8,500 tons submerged and 7,600 tons surfaced, the Resolution class were much bigger than other fleet submarines. Rolls-Royce pressurised nuclear reactors gave them a speed of 25 knots and they could dive to depths of 900 feet. For emergency situations they had a backup diesel generator while for self defence they had six 21 inch torpedo tubes located at their bow. From these they could fire Tigerfish wire guided homing torpedoes. These would be most important when the submarine was at its most vulnerable: during the firing sequence when it had risen from the ocean depths to just above the surface, or if it ever fired a missile and revealed its location.

The class were part of the 10th Submarine Squadron, based at Faslane, Scotland. Upon embarking on a patrol, they would leave Faslane, submerge and not resurface until they returned several months later. Their location and course were a closely guarded secret, known only by the most senior officers onboard and ashore. Although mail from home was received once a week, crew members were unable to reply, as it might give away the submarines location. The Polaris submarines put to sea with a crew of 143 including 13 officers. The Royal Navy operated a system whereby each submarine had two crews- "Port" and "Starboard". When one was at sea the other was training or on leave. While being manpower intensive this system was the most effective way of making maximum use of the submarine. As the submarines spent long periods submerged on patrol living conditions onboard were much better than other submarines. Not only were they spacious but they had facilities such as a gym, library and cinema.

Each Resolution Class submarine could carry 16 A3 Polaris missiles. A Polaris missile measured 31 feet long and had a range of 2,500 nautical miles. Bearing in mind that the point furthest inland (Lake Baika in Asia) is 1,720 miles from the sea, no where was out of range. Each Polaris missile was housed in its own launch tube, which were arrange in two rows of eight behind the fin. Upon firing a high pressure gas would be released into the tube, propelling the missile clear of the water. The first stage motor would then ignite. After a minute the first stage would fall away and the second stage would ignite. The internal guidance system would position the missile on its course, and the second stage would fall away leaving the re-entry body (carrying the warheads) to follow the course to the target.

In 1980 the Conservative Government announced the intention to replace Polaris with the American Trident missile. In the meantime the existing Polaris system was upgraded with a new warhead codenamed Chevaline: Repulse and Renown were upgraded in 1982, Resolution in 1984, Revenge in 1988. Towards the end of their lives the Resolution Class suffered maintenance problems but with the completion of Vanguard, the first Trident Submarine, in 1992, Revenge decommissioned in May followed by Resolution in October. Renown served until 1995 and the last Polaris submarine, Repulse, decommissioned on August 28th 1996. Over the 28 years since first entering service the four Resolution class submarines had conducted 229 unbroken patrols, never having been detected nor having fired their weapons in anger.

The decommissioning of Repulse was attended by Defence Secretary Michael Portillo and Prime Minister John Major who unveiled a monument to the four Polaris submarines and those who sailed with them. Inscribed with the dolphin insignia of the submarine service and the four crests of the Resolution Class, it carried the words of Vice Admiral Sir Hugh MacKenzie:

" ensure a submarine deterrent remained totally credible at all times, it required that, for week upon week when at sea, the crews were in all respects equivalent to being on patrol under conditions of war. Likewise to keep the submarines at sea on a schedule permitting not the slightest variation required a similar approach from all those who worked ashore."

Upon decommissioning all four submarines were laid up at Rosyth Dockyard. Even with their reactors removed low level traces of radiation are still present in their hull so scrapping or sinking by conventional means is not possible at present. However in 2000 Babock Rosyth Ltd announced their intention to pilot a scheme with HMS Renown, whereby her reactor compartment would be dismantled and stored on land.

Source: Royal Navy Website


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