Submarine Life

They hug cruise missiles in their sleep, don’t see women for months and their biggest fear is ‘going wibble’. Stephen Moss joins the crew of HMS Triumph

Life on board a British nuclear submarine
By Stephen Moss, The Guardian

‘Just don’t be in the toilet when we dive deep,” executive officer David “Bing” Crosby advises me. “The bulkheads bend and you can’t open the doors.” Forget all the technical stuff about monitoring “the Bubble” when you dive – I never quite understand the role of that mysterious piece of equipment – this is the kind of practical guidance I need. I vow to stick close to Bing, second-in-command on the nuclear submarine HMS Triumph, and a funny, down-to-earth bloke. “It’s like having children,” he says as the younger officers grapple for space at the first morning briefing I attend. “I’ve got children, and sometimes I think they’re worse.” This seems to be meant affectionately.

I have been on the boat – submarines are always called boats, never ships – for less than 24 hours and am writing this log at a depth of 60m. Sorry, I spoke too soon. We are just rising to periscope depth – 18m below the surface – and the tall desk on which I am typing has started to list. At least I’m not in the toilet. I joined HMS Triumph in Crete for the final week of its 10-month deployment. I had never been on a submarine before and don’t especially like confined spaces. I plan to get off at Gibraltar six days from now, though the captain warns me this may not be possible if there is fog as the launch can’t come alongside.

HMS Triumph distinguished itself last year in Libya, firing missiles at Gaddafi’s key installations, including the one which hit the colonel’s compound. The submarine’s captain, Robert Dunn, feels they have been largely written out of the Libyan campaign and is keen his crew get their due. “If it be a sin to covet honour, I am the most offending soul alive,” he tells me over breakfast, quoting Henry V. “Faint hearts never fucked a pig” is another of his maxims, which may be a translation from Clausewitz’s On War. The book sits on a narrow shelf in his small cabin beside the control room.

This is Capt Dunn’s final command; in fact his very last week at sea. At 48, and after three years in charge of HMS Triumph, he will be getting a……[access full article]

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