i News: "'You’re Only Ever 15 minutes Away From Launching A Missile': What It Was Like To Be A Cold War Submariner"

soleil

War Hero
"Each time Richard Humphreys laid down on his bunk bed on board submarine HMS Resolution, he did so knowing that he was less than 50ft away from ballistic nuclear missiles with more explosive power than all of the bombs dropped during the Second World War.

But the former Royal Navy serviceman, who spent five years on the nuclear deterrent in the North Atlantic towards the end of the Cold War, was more worried about being caught by a Russian attack submarine.

“You’re only ever 15 minutes away from launching a missile – but we were more on edge about being detected by Soviet submarines because they tried to hunt us down,” he tells i.

“The Soviets were armed to the teeth. We had a hawkish US president [Ronald Reagan] and Prime Minister [Margaret Thatcher] in office and it seemed that nuclear war could happen.It was a scary time.”

Now, almost 30 years after the Soviet Union was dissolved, Humphreys has recounted his naval stint in a book, Under Pressure: Living Life And Avoiding Death On A Nuclear Submarine.

“It’s about what it’s like to eat, sleep, live, work and stay sane in an extreme environment,” he says.

“Hopefully it gives an insight into the claustrophobic world of the modern submariner.”

With no natural light, Humphreys and his crew mates were crammed into a 430ft x 33ft steel tube, 300ft below sea level.

His days were largely governed by meal times, owing to the watch system’s four-hour shift and eight-hour rest period – a routine, he says, was disorientating.

“If someone wakes you up at 8pm, you don’t know whether it’s morning or night. You’d go up to the galley to get breakfast – only to be served steak and kidney pudding,” the 52-year-old says.

“You’re zoned in to this watch system and never see more than 20ft in front of you. There are coffin-like bunks, horrifying smells coming through the toilets and, if you didn’t get on with someone, you had to stay out of their way.

“Sea water pressure is bearing down on you and it’s how it exerts on your mind and body… there are few more extreme situations than living in a giant steel tin.”

By his own admission, working on a submarine with 140 people on three-month patrols wasn’t one of his boyhood dreams.

But his tenure in the Navy was born out of a desire to escape 80s Wolverhampton.

“The Midlands and northern Britain had deaths by a thousand cuts: heavy industry declined and the industrial heart had been ripped out,” he says. “I wanted to get away. I wanted to do something different. I didn’t think there were many opportunities for somebody like me.”

After leaving school, Humphreys embarked on a secret trip to Marseille, France, in the hope of joining the French Foreign Legion. “I’d read Simon Murray’s book, Legionnaire, which detailed his time as an Englishman in the French Foreign Legion in the 60s, and was heavily influenced by it,” he says.

Having sailed through the initial tests, his hopes were dashed after being told he needed parental permission as he was not yet 18 – something which was out of the question. Instead, he returned to the UK and successfully applied to the Navy.

In the book, he describes his military training in unflinching detail; from 5.30am wake-up calls from bellowing chief petty officers, to beds being hurled out of windows for falling below exacting standards.

And his submarine training culminated in a series of 100ft emergency escapes. “The whole thing is terrifying,” he says.

“You’re in a pressurised, hooded suit but your automatic reaction is to hold your breath.

“Water is filling up but you’re too busy trying to equalise your ears because of the pressure needed to open the hatch. You have to breathe normally otherwise your lungs will explode.”

By and large, Humphreys tenure on board the submarine didn’t have too much of an effect on his mental health. But he says the banter among his colleagues sometimes crossed the line: “I have an amusing middle name (Valentine) and I was teased mercilessly during my first patrol,” he says. “At the time it was horrendous; I’d just turned 18 and hadn’t had anything like that before. But you just have to deal with it.

“That’s the thing as a submariner, you have to be placid and not get worked up about stuff. You have to remain calm and collected.”

Humphreys left the Navy in 1990 aged 23 – following the fall of the Berlin Wall and months before Mrs Thatcher’s resignation after 11 years in office.

The father-of-four, who lives in Hackney, east London, went on to carve out a career in publishing.

But the memories of his time on Resolution came flooding back when the ARA San Juan disappeared off the coast of Argentina in November 2017. “When it exploded, it was picked up on the Richter scale and underwater monitoring equipment. It was a pretty harrowing state of affairs,” he says.

“That’s the day-to-day existence; something quite innocuous can happen and it leads to a sort of domino effect on machinery. You start having malfunctions everywhere – it can quickly turn into something catastrophic.

“It immediately took me back and I felt myself sitting down in the control room of the nuclear submarine, looking at the screen.

“Friends started asking me questions so I started putting some thoughts down.” He continues: “I never kept a diary – you couldn’t, the Soviets would have loved a British submariner making notes about the nuclear deterrent. But it was ingrained in my psyche. If you’re a submariner, you never forget.”"

 

fishhead

War Hero
Fortunately I never has a Bomber. I did long trips at sea on other classes and boredom was the chief enemy rather than worrying if Ivan was on our trail.
I have an idea for the next recruiting drive. "Get away from Wolverhampton and crew a Bomber" Other boring towns are available.
 
Actual triggers, both the training and real variety were Colt 45 handles.
^Aye Not like BNM's or this one from the Guardian either
(Unless they were an early American/inboard training model ?? )

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During my time as A/PSO both of REVENGE's triggers were comme ça -

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...and as MCC has already said, comme ça -


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^ Only one at a time (in quick succession) of course - Just not cricket to let 'em all off with one click, eh?

(That's not me, BTW) But I still experience a recurring nightmare - Come the day of the 1SQ race the combination will not work and I just cannot open that blessed trigger safe...
 

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