New exhibition marks 50 years since Britain's first at-sea nuclear deterrent

On Friday 15th June 2018, it will be 50 years since the first operational patrol of HMS Resolution, the Royal Navy’s first Polaris submarine.  The Royal Navy Submarine Service has carried the nation's nuclear deterrent since 1968 and it is impossible to overlook the fact that these missiles were adopted as part of the first Cold War, making it a timely and thought-provoking anniversary.

Equally apt is the new exhibition that will open at Royal Navy Submarine Museum in Gosport, exactly 50 years to the day since the launch of HMS Resolution.
"Silent & Secret" will explore the history of the British nuclear at-sea deterrent and reveal the challenging nature of working in these submarines. The exhibition will highlight the experiences of those men who served and will help promote discussion about why the nuclear deterrent was adopted.

Life under the sea poses challenges that go unseen and unheard. The exhibition will present an insight into life on board the "Silent & Secret" Polaris 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 see documents and personal possessions of those who served in the Polaris submarine fleet.

Families were able to send a family telegram to their loved ones - forty word messages summarising family news - every ten days

There were four submarines in the class: Resolution, Revenge, Repulse and Renown. From 1996 4 Vanguard class submarines have carried the deterrent, Trident. The submarines carried two crews, port and starboard, so that the submarine could remain on patrol at all times. Each crew numbered 143 and took patrols in turn every two-three months.

When a Royal Navy Resolution Class Polaris submarine went to sea it was effectively at war. The submarine would remain submerged for the entire period of her three month patrol. When on patrol the submarine had to remain completely undetected, be able to receive continuous message traffic from base and be constantly ready to fire its missiles at 15 minutes notice. 

The missile control centre of HMS Resolution

Professor Dominic Tweddle, Director General of The National Museum of the Royal Navy which owns the Royal Navy Submarine Museum says: “As well as acknowledging the role of the deterrent within the Royal Navy, it is important that the exhibition reflects the current debate on the renewal of Trident missiles. We envisage that this will be told through several viewpoints, including concerns on the moral and ethical issues. The museum will not tell the visitor what to think, but will leave them to form their own opinion.”

The port crew patrol flag from HMS Resolution.  Once fully trained, the crew would undergo a DASO (Demonstration and Shakedown Operation) culminating in a test firing of a Polaris missile off the coast of Florida. The markings on the flag record the number of test firings.

There will be opportunities to meet veteran submariners from the Polaris missions, as a number of former submariners volunteer as guides at the Royal Navy Submarine Museum showing visitors around the museum's most iconic exhibit - HMS Alliance, the only remaining British submarine from the World War Two era.

Entry to the Royal Navy Submarine Museum is included in an 11-attraction annual pass for Portsmouth Historic Dockyard which also includes entry to HMS Victory, HMS Warrior and a free waterbus linking the two sites across Portsmouth Harbour.

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