A Royal Naval submarine and its gun!


Nearly 50 years ago my wife lost her mother at the tragic age of 56.  My wife was with me in Singapore and her father was supported in his grief and mourning period by her younger sister. My wife was not allowed home using public money and resources, so even an indulgence flight courtesy of the RAF Transport Command was not available, trooping from Changi or Payer Lebar to Brize Norton.

Fast forward to my wife's return to the UK and helping out at her pre-marital home in Heston near Houslow [and Heathrow] in Middlesex. Eventually, it was our turn next to see dear old Blighty again, and we arrived back in late 1968 after our eighteen month commission in the Far East as part of the Seventh Submarine Squadron. Most unusual for R.N. , vessels to came home via the Pacific for it was usual to do the Suez Canal or the Cape of Good Hope run, but on this occasion the Canal was shut due to warring factions firing shells across and into it. We had to cope with places like Guam, Philippines, Mexico [Acapolco],   Panama City, Panama Canal, West Indies, Bermuda, Gibraltar, Oporto and home.

I had guessed that my dear wife would involve her father in the celebrations and uniqueness [to land lubbers that is] of a boat coming into harbour where the views were uninhibited and close-on, but it wasn't until after we had met inside HMS Dolphin some distance from the waterfront at Gosport, that she told me her family were down for the day to witness the spectacular! It was known that he had a movie camera and that he had used it unsparingly throughout the day, but it wasn't known that he had filmed the boat entering Portsmouth's harbour ready for her rather convoluted manoeuvre into a 'trot' [a submarine mooring position relative to other submarines using a mother depot ship or a dockyard jetty] at the submarine base called HMS Dolphin at Gosport.

Parts of his film had been seen which included Beryl and I with the kids walking and playing on Stokes Bay beach, and that of course was interesting to me, then and certainly in the future for posterity. It wasn't until quite recently that I viewed his tapes with a view to copying them for our grandchildren. Incidentally, her father also died young [57] and tragically.

I was amazed and deeply touched to see my old boat coming home with all that meant in emotional terms, and from them, I have been able to edit to produce four separate subjects, albeit each one quite short, ditching the uninteresting parts: one is of course the arrival of S69. I have spiced "our" section up a little by adding an appropriate song and a film format.

So, for ex Aurigaites, 'A' Boat men and diesel submariners in particular, a little film showing Auriga wearing her long paying-off pennant and sporting her 4" gun which was fitted for her time in the Far East, a time which saw the navy well prepared for the Borneo crisis led by General Suharto, President of Indonesia. We fired ours quite often much to the annoyance of the officers - the captain had his own cabin which he couldn't use when we were operating deep down -  [and I suspect a little anger also every now and again] because the wardroom hatch was immediately above the mess table, which opened to the sea, and was the path to the gun for the crew and also the chain-of-men passing the 4" shells from the magazine to the gun's crew. The magazine was on the half-deck, below the control room in the vicinity of the blower and the sound room.

A submarine always prepares the area [everything out of the wardroom including table, bunks, carpets, wall-hangings, personal affects, whatever - strongbacks taken off the hatch if fitted - hatch clips prepared for release - magazine numbers and guns crew closed up, with the guns crew waiting in anticipation immediately below the hatch and each man clutching at his 4" shell load or reload right down the line back to the magazine.  The captain assesses and reassesses the target through the periscope, cleverly presenting the enemy with a bow-on submarine thus lessening the boats physical signature to its narrowest  when viewed from the enemy, and making sure that the submarine has the broadest signature of the enemy seeing the full length of the enemy vessel as an enhanced target.  When ready in all respect he takes the boat deeper than periscope depth, increases speed and then comes very shallow at speed breaking water allowing the guns crew to drop the clips, to open the hatch fully, and within seconds the first rounds are loaded and the layer has the target in his sights for bearing and elevation ready for the order "fire".  Needless to say everything and everybody gets a bloody good drenching exacerbated by rough seas or large swells - the gun/wardroom hatch is just a few feet above sea level when the boat is fully buoyant, which is not always the case in a gun action. To be truly effective, the captain and the trim officer [first lieutenant] have a hell of a job protecting the boat and gun's crew whilst giving a reasonably stable platform for the captain-of-the-gun to destroy the target. The reverse procedure is just as precarious and once again, all below get a good drenching as the hatch is secured, and the captain manoeuvres to go deep to get the hell out of there.

Good sailing and may you always be fearless and fit for purpose, which I have absolutely no doubts that you are.

Auriga comes home.wmv - sound on?