The Truth Behind Life on Top Secret Cold War Submarines Against the Russians

The sight of actress Suranne Jones swinging on a wire above a mighty submarine in the TV series Vigil might have capsized your stomach.

But it doesn’t have anything about what really happens in a classified world where there are only two types of ships: submarines and targets.

As a journalist specializing in submarine warfare, I joined six Royal Navy submarines at sea, including a nuclear deterrent boat like the one on which Vigil is installed.

I also acquired a plethora of stories from the depths – and once I held onto HMS Talent by one arm.

Our ships are waging a top secret cold war against the Russians.

Could you work on a submarine? Join the discussion in the comments section

Ali Kefford in the “bomb store” aboard HMS Triumph


Tony Spencer)

Around the world, in recent years, the Silent Service has landed special forces in enemy territory, launched missile raids, and sneaked offshore to gather intelligence.

Patrols by specially equipped “sneaky” boats crept dangerously close to the Russian mainland in the Barents Sea.

Another spent weeks under the ice in northern Siberia, then sailed to India, lagging behind the Russians in shallow water. This has been going on for decades.

When HMS Dreadnought became the first British submarine to surface through Arctic ice in 1971, the crew were keen to let the Admiralty know.

Suranne Jones in Vigil


BBC / World Productions)

However, when they tried to establish radio contact, they ended up talking to a Canadian taxi company instead.

Retired Captain David Heley said: “I was aboard HMS Turbulent when HMS Superb and an American submarine spent two months under the ice cap training to pull themselves out. dummy torpedoes.

“We then all got together at the North Pole and I think it was the first time that three boats surfaced there.” Not all patrols are so successful. In May 1981, the Soviet Delta-class submarine K-211 and the British hunter-killer HMS Scepter collided in the Barents Sea.

Both were badly damaged though, when Scepter limped back into Devonport it was casually attributed to a skirmish with a glacier. She was lucky not to have been sunk.

Reality – aboard HMS Turbulent in 1988, in the control room


Daily check-in)

At sea, sailors live Groundhog Day with endless watches, high carbohydrate meals and sleep, with a few still warm bunkers. To liven up a harsh, stinky and sometimes boring existence, submarines are fertile ground for elaborate pranks.

While on patrol of HMS Tireless, the entire ship’s company persuaded the Weapons Engineer that walking within a yard of any computer had caused him to crash. He was reduced to sneaking temporarily into the control room.

Crews also become obsessed with food if a patrol is extended.

When HMS Valiant returned from her war patrol in the Falklands, all that was left in her cavernous freezer was one lean chicken.

Captain David Tall on periscope aboard HMS Turbulent in 1988


Daily check-in)

It was a much better result than his previous visit to the South Atlantic when the toilet paper was so low every man was given a roll and said to make it last somehow.

As the situation got worse, they ended up eating canned tallow steak and kidney pies for 15 days at a trot. Some have never eaten the dish since.

An infusion is as crucial as hydraulic oil for the proper functioning of a boat.

In times of shortage, the crew is reduced to keeping their daily tea bag tightly in their top pocket and mashing it repeatedly in boiling water.

The submarine dives into the hit show


BBC / World Productions)

Entertainment is vital and the boats sail with DVDs, books and music.

Ironically, given the difficult relationship between East and West, HMS Torbay’s favorite group was once the Russian girl group Serebro.

On a war deployment, hunter-killer crews love to sew a Jolly Roger to fly over the aileron as they return to their home base, breaking the rules.

Usually made from a tablecloth cut from the officers’ quarters, it is dyed black before white emblems are sewn to represent their achievements. Each sailor adds one point.

Lieutenant Commander Ian Molyneux, an officer in the Royal Navy, was killed



A dagger signals a covert operation such as the landing of the SBS or spies, a diving helmet shows that the boat has passed below its official depth limit, and a sheep’s head is used when the boat has rammed another vessel . As always, the sea is a ruthless mistress and the unexpected can and will happen.

When submarines dive deep, bulkheads can warp so that cabin doors cannot be opened or closed.

HMS Turbulent already had to descend to a shallow depth to free the squadron captain who was stuck in the lavatory.

Former First Sea Lord Sir Mark Stanhope nearly drowned as a young guard on the deck of HMS Swiftsure on the surface in 1977 when he was hit by a huge wave.

The murder of Lt Cdr Ian Molyneux ten years ago by another sailor while HMS Astute was in Southampton devastated an entire service known for its close loyalty.

Last Monday, his widow, Gill, attended the dedication ceremony for a sculpture at the National Memorial Arboretum to be dedicated next spring by the submarine commander-in-chief Prince William.

It will commemorate Ian and the 5,348 other submariners who perished in the service of their country, most of whom have no official graves. Colin Firth, who played Commodore David Russell in the movie Kursk: The Last Mission, has actively supported the fundraising efforts of the Submariner Memorial Appeal.

He said: “Even in peacetime, submarines in a hostile environment operate under conditions where it only takes a small mistake for disaster to occur.

“This, combined with long periods of separation and a complete lack of communication with loved ones, makes life for those on board and their partners and children particularly difficult at home. “

Sub Commodore Irvine Lindsay’s Assistant Captain added, “No one is ambivalent about serving on a submarine.

Every time we go to sea we don’t exercise, we don’t pretend
be under water propelled by a nuclear reactor.

“That’s why we need this advantage. We look a little scruffy, there’s a swagger that’s probably irritating, and we’re bad to walk, but we’re going to sink a ship for you.

What is Vigil wrong

Vigil is a brilliant, compelling drama, and I’m addicted like a halibut. But it looks as much like real submarine service as it does the RAF.

All deckhands and officers are cranky and the chain of command dysfunctional, when in reality boats must operate with humanity and humor to maintain morale and submariners’ captains are generally intelligent, cunning and charming, with reflections of steel.

By far, the worst inaccuracy in Vigil occurs when DCI Silva performs a helicopter flight to the submarine alone with a young master.

DCI Silva performs a helicopter flight to the submarine


BBC / World Productions)

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When she tries to strike up a conversation with him, the response is freezing. The reverse would be true. Submariners love the rumor that they “go further and stay longer”.

Almost all of them, with a long patrol ahead of them, would take the opportunity to chat with her. As one said, “Literally the last interesting thing that’s going to happen to him for months and he’s shutting it down.” Unthinkable.”

Vigil’s other technical blunders include:

  • Nuclear deterrence has not been within 15 minutes of notice of nuclear weapons launch since 1998. The current notice of firing is several days.
  • A civilian detective would not conduct the first investigation into the death of a serviceman. The work would fall to the Special Investigations Division of the Ministry of Defense Police.
  • DCI Silva is transported to HMS Vigil in an out of service yellow search and rescue helicopter. It would have been a gray military helicopter.
  • The admiral cap badge is incorrect, like most other badges.
  • There is no “low oxygen” environment to “slow down fires”.
  • The actors left the rear door of the torpedo tube open while examining the body. This would be extremely dangerous and risk keeping the boat watertight.
  • No submarine captain would describe us as being at war and at war since 1968.
  • The control room and sonar team would not be silent in coastal waters. It would be buzzing.

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