BRITISH SUBMARINES AND THE OLD COMMONWEALTH NATIONS [CANADA AND AUSTRALIA] WHO PURCHASED AND OPERATED THEM

[Note: In 1972, there was a definite plan to sell O' Boats to Libya, to Colonel Gaddafi].
However, Gaddafi who in 1969 as an Army captain aged 27, led a successful coup against the King of Libya [King Idris],  becoming the Prime Minister of the country, which he changed into a strict Islamic Socialist State banning anything resembling Western culture.   In 1972, he decided to step down as the Prime Minister and instead ruled [with an iron hand] as the "leader and guide of the Islamic revolution". That sounded warning bells in the West, and the as yet unsigned contract was revoked!

For those of you who are interested, details can be found at this National Achives reference.

Foreign Office, North and East African Department and successors: Registered Files (V and NA Series). LIBYA. Exports of Oberon submarines from UK to Libya.

 Hi

You will of course [that's my British audience] all know of the delight an Ozzy feels when doing down the manking and moaning Pom. It is as much their quintessential daily must have, as ours is never to miss an opportunity to talk about the weather! I respect that and accept it, though I sometimes wish that the Oz could be less competitive and less aggressive whilst duly embarrassing a gentle person from the mother country, and on a whole host of other topics too.  Indeed, I have scores of antipodean friends, many living in Australia [a few ex pats but the majority indigenous] the vast majority of whom don't do that to Brits notwithstanding, although they rightly perhaps, pick on a deserving idiot who might be down under because we chucked him out: in which case he is an ex-Pom!

But now, an opportunity exists when I can turn-the-table, although in this case not on the core-target of my subject, but on the Aussie Establishment who chose to embarrass their own kind, namely the good old, diligent and sincere Australian submariner, with whom I have an enduring empathy.

So good on yer mate, and please do not round upon me without first thinking through the data on this page because it is written in good faith and I am sure that more will agree with me than those who do not.  More in a moment.

It is a fact beyond doubt that the British have a very successful submarine record and history from as far back as 1901, without a break, and in many conflicts.  The last one, the 1982 Falklands conflict still brings huge credit upon our nation for our submarine deployment [several nuclear's and one 'O' boat into the South Atlantic] and for what they did to see-off the Argentine navy, ergo, ultimately the Argentine invasions of our Islands. The same beyond doubt bit, is the hugely important input of the RCN and the RAN in two world wars, and in many of the conflicts since, right up to the end of the Afghanistan conflict, recognising the we weren't all at all the conflicts [Suez and Vietnam come to mind]. However, and ignoring the numbers involved, I ask you to re-read my first sentence in this paragraph and reflect on the expertise we Brits have acquired, which Canada and Australia have not acquired particularly since the end [or near end] of WW2 because of the lack of continuity in operating submarines, only regained from the mid to late 1960's onwards. During that break of continuity, you will recall that we Brits visited your shores to run a submarine-service on your behalf in the guise of SM6 [Halifax] and SM4 [Sydney]. True you paid and paid well for these services, but at the same time we did help [more than helped] to train your submariners. The very first boat out East to Garden Island to start SM4 was HM S/M Auriga [1946-48], and HM S/M Astute was the first at Halifax in 1950 although SM6 {HMS Ambrose} established in the Dockyard HQ office block of CANCOMFLAGLANT, was not formed at that time.  HM S/M Artful was the second boat to Halifax. HM S/M Auriga did two full commissions in Halifax and I was the RS in her for the second of these 1963-1965. After this commission, Auriga returned to the UK for a refit and on completion I rejoined her for her penultimate commission in SM7 based on Singapore. I therefore have first hand knowledge and experience of being in an 'elderly' diesel boat in extremes of very cold to very hot environments without proper heating or proper air conditioning, and whilst most unpleasant, it was the norm; what everybody accepted and expected, and we got on with it without OFFICIALLY complaining! The UK submarine service, unlike the RAN and the RCN, has been stationed world wide for over a hundred years and is used to the extremities of hostile operating environments, not to mention long absences from the UK and loved ones.  It has tolerated much on top of the conditions of service in an operational submarine, and its men are hardened to typical submarine conditions. When we complain it is usually to peers, although our officers get wind of what is being said, which soon gets forgotten until the next day, when the complaints start all over again. What doesn't happen because it is know by all in authority, is an official complaint about conditions unless they can be cited as contravening Queens Regulations and Admiralty Instructions {QR&AI}. Smelling diesel fumes, being un-showered, unshaven, not receiving mail from home etc etc are not listed in QR&AI. If you slash your wrists you will bleed, possibly to death, so few of us do it, but if you join the submarine service you expect, accept and tolerate conditions which you know are unique to submarine life, and that when dived under the ocean, you cannot ponce on the upper deck getting a sun tan. In the RN men were drafted [coerced] into boats when there were not enough volunteers {doesn't happen today in the 21st century}, but that has never been the case in the modern RAN and RCN. In short, submariners make their own beds and they must lie on them, even when hot bunking!

In 1951, there was at this time a terrible scare that two UK 'A' Boats could have been lost in a four month period, Affray on the 16th April 1951 and Artful on the 21st August 1951. Artful collided with a fishing boat and if that boat had been much larger it could have puncture her ballast tanks sending her to her doom.

The following files [all pages from The Times Newspaper] tell the story of the Astute/Artful in Canada, and Auriga in Australia. Artful visited the States soon after her collision and then returned to Halifax to fulfill her three months role. I have all the Admty files but these are easier to show.

Auriga. To view the file correctly, click on this thumbnail to make it a full size picture [jpeg] and once opened, click on it again to make it grow into a full size page of a digitised broadsheet newspaper page. Position the vertical scroll bar [the bottom one] until it is in the middle of the screen, and then drag the horizontal scroll bar on the right hand side to the near bottom of the screen.  The story of Auriga is on the left.

Astute. Do as above to get to the digitised broadsheet newspaper page. Again, position the bottom scroll bar to centre of screen and then pull the right scroll bar down. The story of the Astute is in the middle.

Artful. Same procedure for digitised page. Offset the bottom scroll bar to the left by an inch or so, and then pull the right scroll bar downwards to see Artful's story. Whilst you are at it and of interest, move the bottom scroll bar well over to the right then pull down the right scroll bar to read the story on the first nuclear submarine.

This National Archives reference refers to the original concept of the British training the RCN in ASW and subsequently to guide it to having its own submarines.

Admiralty, and Ministry of Defence, Navy Department: Correspondence and Papers. SERIES I: 1938-1945 (plus strays 1892-1937). COMMONWEALTH OF NATIONS (Code 21). COMMONWEALTH OF NATIONS (21): Canadian submarine training requirements after defeat of Germany: arrangements for supply of submarines.

and this reference moves that provision forward to 1954

Admiralty, and Ministry of Defence, Navy Department: Correspondence and Papers. FINAL SERIES: 1952-1964 (plus strays 1903-1951). Papers registered in 1954 (excluding honours and awards papers). Loan of submarines and crews to Royal Canadian Navy for anti-submarine training.

 

 

One of the obvious difference between the RN, RAN and RCN, was that we Brits had progressed from diesels of the 'U', 'S', 'T', 'A', 'P', 'O' and Upholder classes [with and without modernisation and streamlining and ignoring on this occasion the HTP boats], through of course to many types of nuclear hulls whether SSBN's or SSN's. The RAN and the RCN started with 'O' class diesels which we in the RN considered luxury boats, with a living standard and comfort level far in advance of earlier boats from the 'U' to the 'A' classes, never having previous experience of diesels designed and built pre WW2 or during WW2. All submarines are cramped, yes even nuclear submarines, but modern submarines, in this case 'O' boats, had systems which we couldn't even dream about in the 'U' 'S'  and 'T' classes {heads with dignity for one example} which added a comfort factor to that tiny space like air conditioning, and a more liberal fresh water supply for personal use. Submarines after the 'A' class, diesels or nuclears did have one major disadvantage in that one spent one's life jumping through hoops, {round hatches}, built that way for extra strength for deep diving boats, unlike the graceful 'A'class where one stayed upright and stepped through and over a very low threshold, just like we did when entering our homes through either the front or back doors. The strain on ones body negotiating the round {and high} hatches in post-A boats could be annoying at least, and painful at worst!

This business of 'growing up' with boats is rather like motor cars, where each time we exchange our wheels [new or second hand] we get a better experience, even though the basics don't change but the gadgets and technology do - in the majority of cases, the interior of the car is still relatively small, and small is desirable when it hugely reduces the road tax payable! In a car, the type of engine doesn't really matter [petrol, diesel, electric whatever] whereas in a submarine having a diesel engine as opposed to a steam engine is a major disadvantage for the crew for every reasons from regular refueling to the unpleasant environment they create. An 'O' boat to a seasoned RN submariner was full of gadgets and technology [further enhanced by modernisations at refits]and by all standards, delivered a safe, relatively clean, and much improved quality of life than had previously been experienced [or possible] on older diesels, save for the 'P' boat on which the 'O' was modeled.

In addition to the enhanced, albeit still cramped living and working experience, the 'O' was second to non as a stealth weapon only bettered [by the Brits] with the Upholder class, which, despite what the RCN might say, was the ultimate diesel platform, even though the platform itself was rapidly becoming outdated by nuclear technology. The Upholder class was Britain's last dabble at building diesel platforms, and thereafter, the RN became a total nuclear force. There can be no better advert for the 'O' boat than to remember that the RN deployed one 8000 miles to the South Atlantic where it could have sunk the General Belgrano instead of the nuclear boat Conqueror doing it, such was its technical and enduring prowess, and though inevitable, it was sad when these fine vessels were phased out in the RN.

Now, non of this page is devoted to a contradiction to the facts stated in the paragraph above. Indeed, in every case, all operators of the British 'O' boat are complimentary and extol the virtues of this innovation.

Here are just a couple of web sites doing that very thing.

Ooops! The first two of the URL's below have evidently withdrawn their services. Sorry about that. Third one is still extant!

http://projectojibwa.ca/submarines/about-submarines/oberon-class-submarines.aspx
https://www.navy.gov.au/hmas-ovens
http://www.submarineinstitute.com/submarines-in-australia/The-RAN-Oberon-Class.html

The sad story and state of the RCN submarine force is well known, with their 'O' boats laid up on the Dartmouth side of Halifax which I saw on my last visit to Halifax in 2010.  Her Upholder boats lifeless resulting in little, or precious little submarine coverage of a country so vast and so vulnerable to a foreign submarine invasion in surveillance gathering terms. It is disturbing and worrying rendering Canada a weak link in the NATO anti-submarine organisation.

Not of the same magnitude but still worrying is the state of the Australian submarine force, with the Collins class of diesel boats hardly able to meet the needs required of a hunter killer. They have limited operational abilities one of which precludes them diving to their 'specs depth, being a disadvantage against surface units, helicopters, and other submarines able to roam the seas at will. The Collins class has still a long life ahead of them [scheduled for replacement in 2026] and as each year passes, other navies are building platforms which will highlight the defects in the Collins class even more. Their daily competitors in the East  are of course the Chinese and in part the Japanese and their boats are not really fit for purpose now never mind come 2026. Although, like Canada also, it is apparent that there would be strong opposition to both countries going nuclear [and they have publically stated that they could not afford to do so], nuclear is the only real way ahead except for very small countries operating submarine forces on a shoe-string budget.  Were they to go down that path, their choice of purchasing off the shelf nuclear boats [or, even having them purposely built for them] is very limited, and given the feelings of late, I don't think either country would court the UK even though its technology is as good as any and better than most!  That would steer them into the hands of the USA or of France or even to their neighbours up north, specifically to the Chinese yards. It will be a tough decision for the Australians especially given that the RNZN will almost certainly duck the issue on all matters of submarines and of nuclear!

This is just a snippet about the limitations of the Collins class.

http://www.theage.com.au/news/National/Navy-forced-to-reduce-subs-diving-depth/2005/07/23/1121539174654.html

In full fairness to the hapless RCN, had the RN maintained the use of the Upholder class submarine, which with no doubt at all, they ran very successfully until the nuclear programme took centre stage, it would still to this day be a tour de force despite its age.  It was in every way superior to the Collins class. The Canadians failed to understand the phrase "buyer beware" when purchasing the Upholder class fleet, but equally, the Brit's should have been more forthcoming about their history since decommissioning them in the RN. I do have some sympathy with the Canuck's and have very fond memories of our time in Halifax N.S., inter alia.

Now to my story proper!

This snippet comes from an Australian Submariners website

"I, like many of you, am of the opinion many illnesses contracted by submariners can be linked to their service in Oberon Class Submarines. The high incidence of skin diseases, deaths from cancers, internal diseases, and many reports of depressive disorders, (not to mention knees, backs, necks etc) are all too often common place among submariners, as a consequence of their unique service. We have only ever been a relatively small fraternity, when compared to our shipmates in surface vessels, with, what appears to be an abnormally high incidence of premature death or invalidity, particularly when you consider we have only ever had six Oberon Class submarines operating".

It really doesn't matter who 'I' is but his accusation or association with UK made/Australian refitted and modernised 'O' boats is, to say the least, alarming, given that the main users of the 'O' boats were the Brits who addressed every wakening moment of the cold war with this true warrior submarine without complaint, either to its prowess or its habitability - if you are a submariner you expect a poor life style, and remember what they said about getting out of a hot kitchen?  Neither, as far as I know, did the Canadians lodge a complaint. They, the RCN, had had first hand experience with an "older" diesel boat, privations and ultra cramped conditions whilst running their west coast [Esquimalt] ex WW2 USN Guppy boat even as the Brits were running the east coast [Halifax] show in diesel 'A' boats, also WW2 designed and built boats. This was HMCS Grilise which went on until 1969. Some of the RCN'ers took it in their stride changing from USN Guppy's to RN 'O' boats, but many RCN/RAN submarine officers and ratings served in complement billets in RN boats running from the UK either from Fort Blockhouse, or from Devonport or from Faslane, and their experiences transported a deep wealth of knowledge back to their parent navies. Some served in UK boats running out of Sydney and Halifax.

  In this report there is

No mention of any liaison with the Brits on this subject nor with the RCN.

No known similar investigation/report in the UK or in Canada.

The report is a long haul struggle with technical jargonese and academic statements said to be facts relevant to the report. Read it all if you can, but in any event read the contents list and pick a subject from it. The intro is important and the report is a reaction to the paragraph above shown in RED. It is simply incredible and beggars belief that the RAN of all people would see it as a problem and spent much money and time blowing the subject up out of all proportions. My perception of some of those Australian submariners has now changed!

Have a look at Page 20 which shows that RAN 'O' boats were air conditioned - what a luxury - except in areas subjected to temperatures reaching up to 60ºC which is a mind-blowing 140ºF. I find that difficult to believe but will not refute it.

The conclusion shown on page 67 is darn right embarrassing, and I'll wager that despite the article published above outlined in red, many an Australian submariner would be angry that the criteria shown should be placed in the public domain. Molly-cuddling comes to mind, or the phrase "The lady doth protest too much, methinks" might be apt. I cannot believe that these criteria have been taken seriously by the Australian Veterans Organisation. Calling a Pom names which suggest that a Britisher is always complaining even when there is really nothing to complain about, pales into insignificance here, and frankly I am horrified that their sailors' tongue-in-cheek off-the-cuff statements have been taken literally and used to drive this verbose, over-academic report.  Were I to know no difference, I would wonder how many times a day did these guys have their nappies changed. In naval terms [whatever deep sea navy] these criteria are part of the job, which go hand-in-glove with the perks of the job, manifest in submarine pay, hard-layers pay etc. They are particularly unacceptable given the superior quality of an 'O' class submarine juxtaposed with life in an earlier class of diesel electric submarine. They are doubly surprising, given that many officers and ratings of the RAN and the RCN have served as crew members of UK diesel boats and they include the 'O' boats. They alone, must be doubly embarrassed by this leaked and trumped-up report, and what about those ex-RN'ers who served in the RAN 'O' boats: what must they be thinking?  Keeping their heads well below the parapet I would hope!

See also pages 89 [particularly the second paragraph] and page 90. If the Australians consider this to be relevant and worthy of the recommendations on this page, then what the hell would we Brits deserve [but would never get - nobody in their right minds would entertain it?] for our service in diesel boats which transcends many fold the relatively small Australian exposure and experience? If they [the sailors and the Veterans Organisation] are serious about this, then are they aware of the ridicule they have brought upon themselves in presenting this report. You will find the report below.

The report reminds me of the UK WRNS saga back in the later part of the 20th century, when, on becoming pregnant, they were forced to resign. They then applied for compensation and in some cases got it. I cannot for the life of me believe that these women didn't know of the consequences of getting their leg over, and yet they had the audacity to complain about it and thereafter to seek compensation for something I trust they enjoyed doing! In a more perverse memory, I recall the sheer embarrassment caused to the RN [and to the nation though with much laughter attached] of the "Mr Bean" affair. This was the story which took place on the 23rd March 2007 with the CO of HMS Cornwall being sacked later on the 28th July 2008.

Chris Smyth of The Times Newspaper.
Published at 11:56AM, July 28 2008

The captain of the ship at the centre of the Iranian hostage debacle last year has been removed from his post, the Minstry of Defence said today.

Commander Jeremy Woods was in charge of the frigate HMS Cornwall when 15 sailors and Royal Marines were seized by Iranian forces in the Persian Gulf last March.

They were detained at gunpoint and held for 13 days after Tehran claimed they had strayed into Iranian waters. A parliamentary inquiry in December called the episode a “national embarrassment” and said formal action has been taken against a number of service personnel.

The MoD said Commander Woods would keep his rank but has been moved “to a post where his talents and experience can be used to best effect”. A spokesman said: “We can confirm that Commander Jeremy Woods, Commanding Officer of HMS Cornwall, has been removed from command. This is an internal administrative matter between the individual and his senior officers and we will not give further details of the removal.”

The 15 sailors and marines comprised a boarding party which was checking a merchant vessel for contraband and weapons. They gave themselves up to a heavily-armed Revolutionary Guard detachment in what the British government claimed were Iraqi waters.

Commander Woods was criticised over the capture because HMS Cornwall’s Lynx helicopter had been recalled, and so could not provide protection to the boarding party.

The hostage crisis began as a tense stand-off between London and Tehran but degenerated into farce after the released captives were allowed to sell their stories to the tabloids.

Revelations that the youngest captive, Arthur Batchelor, “cried like a baby” after his Iranian captors confiscated his iPod and nicknamed him “Mr Bean” did huge damage to the Navy’s reputation.

Earlier, the hostages had been paraded on Iranian television to admit their guilt, before being released dressed in matching 1970s-style grey suits by a smiling President Ahmedinejad.

The report by the Commons Defence Committee said that there had been “weaknesses in intelligence, in communications, in doctrine and in training” throughout the episode.

MY COMMENT One of those capture was an acting leading seaman, a woman sailor. When she and others got back home they sold their story to the press adding a few things pertaining to her gender whilst in captivity, which caused a furor and not long after that she and others left the RN....having brought disgrace upon it.

  My point here of course is that the "modern navy" consider that their 'toys' are part of the job even taking them into action with them. Civilian Authorities, upon hearing of such a device being taken off a person whilst at action stations, say by an RN officer, would jump on the band wagon to tell the public at large about the draconian Dickensian navy and its nasty OTT discipline and poor working conditions. As I said, it brought ridicule upon the navy rather like this Veteran's document does on the Australia Submarine Service by more professional UK submariners.

Click here to read the file oberon.pdf

I bid you farewell and good sailing.

Yours aye