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Fifty Years of Royal Navy’s ‘Continuous at Sea’ Deterrent

Photo: The missile silos on-board a Polaris submarine. (NMRN)


Tomorrow (15 June) will see the 50th anniversary of the first operational patrol of HMS Resolution, the Royal Navy’s first Polaris-armed submarine, which will be marked by the opening of a new ‘Silent and Secret’ exhibition at the Royal Navy Submarine Museum, part of the Portsmouth Historic Dockyard. Since that day in 1968, Britain has permanently maintained its ‘Continuous at Sea’ nuclear deterrent. Although introduced at the height of the Cold War, Polaris, and later its successor Trident, have continued to provide Britain’s ultimate defence system in the form of nuclear deterrence in the post Cold War world.

A Polaris missile leaves the water after being test fired from HMS Revenge, 9 June 1983. (US Navy)

The new exhibition explores the history of the British submarine-based nuclear deterrent force and reveals the challenging nature of working in these vessels. It also highlights the experiences of those who served and it is further intended to help promote discussion about why the nuclear deterrent was adopted. Additionally, as well as acknowledging the role of the deterrent in the Royal Navy for the last 50 years, the exhibition reflects the current debate on the renewal of the Trident missile arsenal.

Professor Dominic Tweddle, Director General of The National Museum of The Royal Navy, told Britain at War magazine: “We envisage that the Trident debate will be told through several viewpoints, including concerns on the moral and ethical issues of these weapons. The museum, however, will not tell the visitor what to think, but will leave them to form their own opinions.”

HMS Resolution in 1977, likely off Cape Canaveral, Florida. (US Navy)

Life under the sea naturally poses challenges that go unseen and unheard, and the exhibition presents insights into life on board the Polaris-armed submarines using personal accounts and key displays drawn from a number of National Museum of The Royal Navy sites, private lenders and other museums. Visitors will be able to hear stories and to see documents and personal possessions of those who served in the Polaris fleet. The displays will help to reveal aspects of the social history of life on-board, as well as giving an insight into the reality of long and arduous three month patrols, with isolation from everyday life and an existence in a state of constant readiness. Additionally, there will be opportunities to actually meet veteran submariners of the Polaris missions as a number of them currently volunteer as guides at the Submarine Museum.

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