Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

What Britain's Been Getting Up to under the Sea

Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

What Britain's Been Getting Up to under the Sea

Article excerpt


THE SILENT DEEP: THE ROYAL NAVY SUBMARINE SERVICE SINCE 1945 by Peter Hennessy and James Jinks (Allen Lane, PS30) IN THE next few weeks or months and the odds are now it will be before Christmas Parliament is to debate the renewal of the UK's Trident submarine nuclear missile system. It's a hot potato politically, not only because of the cost, initially PS20billion, but in all some PS100billion over 50 years according to Greenpeace, but because of where Britain stands in the world, with its allies and potential foes.

Aside from the politics the technology is bewildering: new submarines and missiles, guidance systems and command infrastructure, all wrapped in hardware more complex than that used in America's Moon shots. Then there are men who currently crew the Submarine Service for the Royal Navy, who in the near future will be joined by women.

This new book, by veteran Cold War theologian and analyst Peter Hennessy and his research colleague James Jinks, must be the ultimate trainspotter's guide to how Britain's submarines and submariners work and have done so since 1945. They write with the enthusiasm of addicts. Their pages are a cluster-bomb attack of acronyms, types and classes of boats and weapons, pennant numbers, the slang of the mess deck and the torpedo tube locker.

If you want to take Britain and her submarines since 1945 as your Mastermind special subject, this is your book. Submariners are an elite within the Royal Navy, rather as fast-jet pilots are in the RAF. Submarines today are used for surveillance and intelligence tracking, and launching teams of the Special Boat Service. Much of their time since 1945 has been spent chasing and evading Russian submarines, whose own marauding is now reaching new intensity.

The submarine commander's training through the seven-month "Perisher" course is among the most demanding in the world. But with the recent reduction in Navy numbers there is now concern over maintaining standards there is a shortage of engineers across all the services, aggravated by the cuts of the Cameron defence review of 2010. Some of this will be alleviated by allowing women to serve in submarines despite previous fears about nuclear radiation causing infertility. …

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