From beginning to end the Royal Navy operated 578 diesel powered boats.

Today's {2005} R.N., comprises of a surface fleet which is wholly non-nuclear, with promised super-Carriers,  HMS Queen Elizabeth and  HMS Prince of Wales [this double island concept is what they will look like]

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also non-nuclear, and with a submarine fleet wholly nuclear with not a diesel in sight except for those to be found in museums. SEE BELOW FOR AN UP TO DATE LIST OF OUR NAVY {and in passing, this is what the new type 45 destroyer will look like}

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Also, click here to see a detail about the new 'A' boats. Imagine a piece of Graph paper where each main square is 1mm x 1mm, and along the bottom 1mm = 10 metres length and up the side 1mm = 1000 tonnes weight [a tonne is a Metric measurement , and is just slightly less in weight that a ton proper, the former being 2232.14 lbs and the latter 2240 lbs]. OK? Then a packing-case for a new 'A' boat would be 9.7 squares along the bottom by 7.8 squares up the side, or in English money, 3.8-inches by 3.1-inches = 11.78 sq-inches, compared with a packing-case for an old 'A' boat, which would be 1.75 sq-inches or 6 smaller. For the mathematicians amongst you, an old 'A' boat was 89.5 metres long and had a dived displacement of 1590 tonnes whereas a new 'A' boat is 97 metres long with a dived displacement of 7880 tonnes.  

The change over from part nuclear part diesel electric boats to all nuclear boats is quite new, and when it did happen, all our remaining diesel boat went to one buyer, the Canadians. However, just before the decision to lease with a buy option after eight years was taken, the Canadian Parliament were in two minds about getting rid of the Canadian submarine service all together, and it was as late as 1998 that the Prime Minister came down on the side of keeping the Service. The Canadians call these boats the Victoria class, and they replaced their three ageing 'O' boats. Canada's tiny submarine force is a surprise to many who don't realize that the Canadians operateThe Great Submarine Race, English Channel, 1980 submarines. It is also a surprise to those who know about submarines--they can't believe that they  have managed for thirty years with only three. Neither can they believe that all three are based on the Atlantic coast on Halifax Nova Scotia; they have not had a submarine presence in the Pacific for nearly twenty-five years. From the late1950's/very early 1960's, as we Brits were operating 'A' boats on the Canadian Atlantic coast, so too were the USN operating a lone submarine on the Pacific coast based on Esquimalt, B.C., which was an old USN Guppie class diesel called the USS GrillseGrillse would have been relieved of duty by other boats, but the practice finished in 1980.  To put the size of the Canadian Submarine Service into perspective, other countries that operate less than six boats include Libya, Argentina, and the Netherlands, and their maritime territories are vastly smaller than Canada's. By way of contrast, another small northern maritime country, Norway, operates twelve.

Until late in the 1980's all UK diesel boats, irrespective of their class, had two things in common: they were single decked vessels as far as crew living and working areas were concerned *, and they had huge batteries [below the occupied deck] which needed to be maintained *.

* ~ There were machinery spaces, storage compartments and the SCR {Sonar Control Room} which were below the main deck,  manned or frequented by just a few crew members.

* ~ Charging the battery either in harbour,  when at sea on the surface or when dived by snorting: topping-up the battery cells with distilled water: taking a battery reading to ascertain its specific gravity, and measuring the gasing effect when battery cells give-off hydrogen an explosive substance.  Submariners have a hard life at the best of time, but topping-up the battery, always done in harbour, was an evolution which meant the living accommodation for much of the crew being dismantled, literally, so that the deck could be lifted to gain access to each cell.  To say the least, after the rigours of being at sea, this was highly unpopular and probably equated to all hands coaling ship in WW1!

Beyond that, only boats of a class held things in common.  The older boats were noisy {I did a little bit of time in the Seraph} , not good sea boats, were 'wet' boats with conning towers not enclosed by sailfins, of limited range and speed both dived and surfaced.  They had flush-to-sea-as-you-go heads and their use was  the subject of much debate and initiation for new submariners. I learnt the 'art' in Submarine Turpin, radio callsign GGZM, pennant number S54.

Then came along the 'A' boat designed for service in the Far East during the war, but not completed in time to serve.  They were originally with conning towers, but, like the 'T' Class [Turpin for example], had sailfins added to enclose and build upwards the conning position to take it away from close proximity with the sea.  Mind you, in roughers we still got very wet:  additionally, the skippers cabin was built into that part of the pressure hull covered by the fin. The 'A' boat had two attractions which I liked [and I served nearly five years in this class - Auriga {radio callsign GGWM, pennant number S69} for two full commissions Canada {S/M6} and Singapore {S/M7}], and they were the "slop drain and sewage tank" - the waste from the toilets went into an internal tank and not straight into the sea, so there were no restrictions on their use and no getting the blow-backs [of the previous users solids], and the bulkhead doors were walk-through doors and not circular doors where one had to 'swing' through.

Immediately after WW2, the Admiralty set about modernising the submarine fleet. It started with the 'S' class with "streamlining" as opposed to "converting" {more of the latter in a moment} the first boat being the Seraph. She was used as a high-speed target and was  padded so that practice torpedoes could be fired at her. Other 'S' boats followed.  The Scotsman was used as an experimental boat and was fitted with powerful motors giving her a top speed dived of 16.5 knots, a great speed in those days.  She appeared in many forms over the years, with and without fin. The Sidon was given a torpedo called the FANCY, an anti-ship torpedo running on HTP [High Test Peroxide]. Next, they turned their attention to the 'T' class dividing them into "riveted" boats and "welded" boats. Eight of the welded type were "converted" between 1951 and 1956, and this was a major undertaking. First, they cut the boat in half and welded in a new pressure hull section measuring twenty feet.  Into that new section they added two more electric motors doubling the power and increasing underwater speed to 15.4 knots and an additional battery section of 6560 amp/hour cells. AT THE SAME TIME they were also "streamlined".  The gun and the external torpedo tubes [mounted aft of the conning tower underneath the casing] were removed and a tall sailfin was added enclosing the snort mast, periscopes and the newly added ALE, the telescopic radio mast. She was scheduled to have FANCY torpedoes but after the loss of the Sidon by a FANCY torpedo explosion, they reverted to the tried and test diesel Mk 8 torpedo as her main weapon. They also had the type 23 torpedo.  The result was a new boat. Her crew increased by 18 to 68, with the same original internal torpedo tubes her re-loads increased by 9 to 15, her dived speed increased by 62% from 9.5 to 15.4, her diving depth was 350' instead of 300', and her displacement increased by 10% from 1571 to 1734 tons.  Both her diesel power [bhp] and her propulsion motor power [shp] increased, the former from 2500 to 2800 and the latter from 1450 to 6000. The 'A' boats followed, fourteen of them, but they were not "converted" nor given extra power.  The original boats were "streamlined" only, in roughly the same manner at the 'T' class was streamlined including a telescopic snort mast inside the sailfin, but the ALE was not fitted. Instead an external radio mast was fitted to the starboard after sailfin with outfit letters AWO. Believe me, it was not a successful device!

After 'A' boats came the 'P' boat class which was designed taking into account many of the German U-Boat designs which were being built into their constructions as late as 1945.  'P' boats had these dreadful circular 'swing' through doors, fitted into boats designed to have deeper diving depths than 'A' boats, but they continued with the theme of slop drain and sewage tank toilets. A 'P' Boat was only a little larger than a 'T' "conversion" but somewhat shorter in length. They scored on many fronts chiefly that they were ulta-quiet, had a very deep diving depth, originally to 625 feet but reduced to 500 feet later because of doubts in the steel-strength of her hull, and a dived endurance of three times that of any previous boat, namely fifty five hours at 4 knots.

'P' boats were followed by 'O' boats [which in many ways looked like a 'P' boat and were officially called "updated Porpoises].  They were designed to be extremely quiet when dived and even at the end of their lives after thirty years, they were still recognised as the quietest submarine ever.  Whilst of course 'modern', their design did no favours to the crew who were as cramped as ever in their work and living spaces.  I didn't like 'P' and 'O' boats [I had the Grampus - radio callsign MTXV, pennant number S04 ] and was very much an 'A' boat man.

To replace the 'O' class would be a tough job.  It was internationally recognised as being the best, and the RCN and RAN each purchased a couple of them. However, by the time this became a consideration, submarines, and particularly nuclear submarines had changed dramatically.  The MOD decided that this new breed of diesel electric boats would take onboard some of the nuclear submarine features.  Although very much smaller than nuclear hulls, the new class, the Type 2400 would have more than one crew-usable deck, be as quiet if not quieter than a 'O' boat, and that the battery maintenance I have previously mentioned should be be done in a much quicker time frame.  The update meant that the charging time would be greatly cut resulting in less time at periscope depth snorting.  The class was also to have a much increased speed when dived.  The 2400  class became the 'U' class [U for Upholder] with orders for twelve boats,  HMS Upholder being the first boat followed by three others, the Unseen, the Ursula and the Unicorn.  The other eight were never built.  The greatest departure of this class from other diesel electric boats was in the positioning of her ballast tanks.  Unlike all others with wrap-round ballast tanks to port and starboard, Upholder had her tanks sited forward and aft only.  Her shape, just like that of a proverbial nuclear hull, was cumbersome on the surface requiring a great deal more power to drive it through the water than was required for an 'O' boat with a sharp bow, but when dived, she needed only half the power that an 'O' boat needed to do the same underwater evolutions.

With other statistics on the paper, an 'A' boatman [never mind an 'O' boat man] would wonder about the advantages made in the Upholder class, officially known as the Type 2400 Submarine.  Upholder had a small crew, 48 as compared with 69 in an 'A' boat.  Her stores [45 days], her time on patrol [28 days] and her range [7000 miles], are virtually the same as an 'O' boat, and the 'A' boat, except for range, is not far behind.   However, her AIO and Command/Control system, her weaponry and what goes into making a boat a killing-machine had absolutely no comparison with any previous diesel submarine.

This little table will help you to understand the class when compared with the 'O' class. It shows that the Oberon was a long sleek boat whereas the Upholder was a fat short boat.

Submerged displacement [tonnes] 2400 2450
Length 70M = 230' 90M = 295'
Pressure hull diameter 7.5M = 24.5' 5.5M = 18'
Diving depth Over 200M = 656' Over 150m = 492'
Patrol length [days] 49 56
Diesel power [MW] 2 x 1.4 supercharged Paxman Ventura 2 x 1.28
Propulsion Motor [MW] 4 2 x 2.24
Maximum submerged speed [knots] 20 16
Crew 46 71
Torpedo tubes and reloads 6 + 12 6 + 18

The Upholder class had many teething problems , and technically some very severe problems which were either righted in a post-build instant refit or during the build itself for the later boats.  Suffice to mention that Upholder herself was nearly lost at sea during her trials off the west coast of Scotland.

All agreed, that once these defects had been dealt with, the Upholder class had no equals as a high speed, ultra quiet, long range diesel electric submarine platform, with AIO which could handle up to 36 contacts at any one time. It was stated in semi-official circles [based on hard-headed wisdom]  "that they were put up for sale in 1995 as an economy measure and eventually leased to Canada - who got a splendid bargain, although there have been problems getting them  into service, possibly due to lack of experience with the boats equipment."

Another little useful comparison is between the last of the 'O' class built in the 1920's and the Oberon in the Table above.

The 1920 group was built in two phases and known as First Group and Second Group. In the First Group was the Oberon, Otway and the Oxley all in 1926. The Second Group was Odin, Olympus, Orpheus, Osiris, Oswald and Otus, and all but Orpheus [in 1929] in 1928. Oberon [originally 0-1] remained with the R.N., throughout and was scrapped at Rosyth in 1945. Both the Otway and the Oxley served with the R.A.N from build until 1931 when they too returned to the R.N. Otway was scrapped at Rosyth [Inverkeithing] in 1945 but the Oxley was lost off Norway a few days after the start of WW2 [the first submarine lost] after been accidentally rammed in error by the British submarine  Triton. Of the Second Group, Otus, Odin, Olympus and Orpheus served in the East Indies Fleet until deploying to the Mediterranean in 1940, and only the Otus returned to Home Waters in 1942 and then went to the South Atlantic in 1943 for A/S training. She was scuttled off Durban in September 1946 sixteen months after WW2 ended in Europe. Of the others in this Group, the war losses were Odin [sunk by an Italian destroyer; Olympus [mined off Malta]; Oswald [sunk by an Italian destroyer] and Orpheus [sunk by an Italian destroyer]. Osiris survived the war and was scrapped in Durban in 1946.

Submerged displacement [tonnes] 2030 2450
Length 283.5' 295'
Pressure hull diameter 13.75 18'
Diving depth Not Known Over 492'
Patrol length [days] Not Known 56
Diesel power 2 shafts BHP 4400 2 x 1.28 MW
Propulsion Motor 2  shafts BHP 1320 2 x 2,24 MW
Maximum submerged speed [knots] 9 16
Maximum surface speed [knots] 17.5 19
Crew 53 71
Armament 1 x 4"gun; 2 x machine guns; 8 x 21" tubes 6 bow and 2 stern; 6 reloads. 6 tubes with 18 reloads


Despite their levels of excellence as SSK's the MOD decided that the nuclear SSN's could do the same job and more efficiently because of their unlimited range and lack of refuelling requirement.  This, and the ending of the 'cold war' meant that they were withdrawn from service ready to be sold. At the time the Unicorn and the Ursula had just entered service with the R.N., and Upholder and Unseen had not been deployed on any operational role.

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In 1998 the Canadian's decided to lease them all with an option to buy. [I was stationed in Canada in 1963/64 in Submarine Auriga before Canada had her own boats on the east coast based on Halifax].  However, after their recent experiences, the Canadians are looking forward to better things and I am sure that the lease will turn to a buy in eight years time.  First came hundreds of Canadians sailors to HMS Sultan, HMS Collingwood and Barrow-in-Furness where the boats were in 'mothballs',  to learn the skills and procedures necessary to man and fight these new diesel's. After that the Canadians had to wait a long time to get their boats, and it wasn't until late in 2000 that the Unseen, the first of four, was handed over.  The others would follow on at six monthly intervals.  With the Unseen [renamed HMCS Victoria] sailing under RCN Command, defects were found in her exhaust valves which put the Victoria out of action for a year domiciled in Halifax harbour. It was planned that Unicorn [renamed HMCS Windsor] would be ready in mid 2003 with Ursula [renamed HMCS Cornerbrook] in mid 2004.  Upholder herself [renamed HMCS Chicoutimi] would follow in 2005. As it was, the Unicorn/Windsor left Faslane in February 2003 and the Upholder/Chicoutimi in October 2004. Sadly, this last vessel had a major fire whilst crossing the 'pond' which resulted in the tragic death of one of her sailors. She was towed back into Faslane for major repairs finally leaving for her new home in early 2005. Our hearts went our to our Canadian friends, but our firm and loyal friendship measured over so a long a period will transcend this sad but temporary set-back.


The R.N., stand by their verdict that they are excellent boats, and the finest diesel's in the world bar none. Let us all hope that they have no more defects and that they serve their country well and for many years to come, chugging in and out of Halifax harbour just the same as we used to do in Auriga over 40 years ago.  Auriga of course, with her 1940 basic technology amended piecemeal over the years of her service, can be considered to be a bicycle when compared with Chicoutimi which, using the same language, must be a very well equipped and luxurious Rolls Royce motorcar.

and............late breaking news

Submarine Fire - No Blame Apportioned

Friday, May 06, 2005


Canada's navy concluded yesterday that no one was to blame for the death of a young officer killed by an electrical fire last October aboard a submarine bought from Britain.

Lieutenant Chris Saunders, 32, died after fire broke out on the Chicoutimi three days after it set sail from Scotland on its maiden voyage under the Canadian flag.

An investigation report released yesterday by a naval board of inquiry concluded that the fire was the result of seawater splashing on high-voltage cables, and that no one was to blame for death. The board also ruled that the submarine was safe and ready to proceed to sea at the time of the accident.

"The board finds that neither Lt Saunders nor any other person was responsible" for his death, said the 700-page report.

The blaze left the Chicoutimi and its 57 crew adrift in rough seas 100 miles north-west of Ireland. Lt Saunders died after being airlifted to an Irish hospital.


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Good sailing gentlemen.

P.S. I send my warm regards to Nigel Frawley and Art Bodden, who, in the 1963/64 commission of Auriga, were Canadian members of the crew, respectively Lieutenant N. Frawley RCN, and POUW1. A. Bodden. These men were some of the very first Canadian submariners and a credit to their Country and Navy.


Carriers 3 Ark Royal
Assault Ships 3 Albion
'OLD' Destroyers/Frigates 13 Campbeltown
Newer, but Utility Frigates Type 23 14 Argyll
Iron Duke
St Albans
Submarines [Nuclear] SSBN [Trident Bombers] 4 Vanguard
 'OLD'  Submarines [Nuclear] SSN [Hunter Killer] 4 Sceptre
'OLD' but no so old as above Submarines [Nuclear] SSN [Hunter Killer] 7 Talent
Minesweepers/Hunters 20 Atherstone
Patrol Craft 23 Archer
Dumbarton Caslte
Leeds Castle
Miscellaneous 6 Echo