Adam Boulton
Sky Man Aboard British Nuclear Submarine
29/05/2008

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By Geoff Meade, Sky News Defence Correspondent

Sky News defence correspondent Geoff Meade has been given the first access to a British nuclear submarine during the gruelling process of selecting future captains. The course, known in the Navy as "The Perisher" will determine who has his finger on the trigger of the UK's ultimate deterrent.

::Read Geoff's story about the staffing crisis under the sea::

Day One:
The sinister-looking black outline of HMS Trenchant squats menacingly low in the dawn waters of the Gare Loch, near Glasgow, as our launch pulls alongside. For me it's an exciting moment. Never before has a TV crew been allowed on board a nuclear boat to record the military's toughest test of command. Clambering inside the control room, I'm met by a slight smell of ammonia and wet dog. Deodorants, it seems, are banned, as they affect the air purification system.

Day Two:
We share temporary accommodation with the five student captains. That means trying to sleep on narrow temporary bunks squeezed between and beneath cruise missiles and Spearfish torpedoes. Rest is sporadic, punctured by the noise of the boat and regular announcements from the pa system as duty watch changes are "piped" every six hours. With just three bathrooms among 130 men, forget privacy, or modesty. Yet we are lucky with much more space than the ratings. Many have to share with two to a bunk space little bigger than a coffin.

Days Three:
The pressure really builds for the Perishers. Time and again they must try to evade surface ships charging towards the periscope in a series of realistic war games. Each time they have to perform a mind-numbing mental calculation of the course and range of the pursuer. It's the only way of simulating the mental workload of command in wartime. The strain reduces some candidates to their knees as they buckle under the effort.

Day Four:
Offered a view through the eyepieces, I'm amazed how heavy it is to turn the one-tonne apparatus. Also what a fleeting glimpse it gives of vessels overhead. It leaves me in awe of the students' capacity to take in what one experienced Captain described as: "Like popping your head out of a manhole cover in Piccadilly Circus for five seconds and trying to remember where all the traffic is."

Day Five:
We eat our three squares a day with the Petty Officers. Theirs is one of three mess decks fed by two chefs from a galley smaller than most domestic kitchens. In the "Groundhog Day" world of submarines after a while only what is on your plate reminds you of the time of day and day of the week. Though the Navy's best-paid sailors, submariners will tell you that each man's food budget is less than that of an MoD guard dog. Meals have another importance besides morale. Patrol endurance time for a boat which generates its own power, air and water is only governed by how long the rations last.

Day Six:
We are put ashore as the submarine embarks on a top secret stage of the test. I'm most looking forward to having a hot shower without having to queue and taking a long, long walk in the fresh air.

Written by Sky News, 29/05/2008

Comments

Well at least submariners dont smell as bad as they did in the old days when they had diesel boats.
I can remember them coming down the plank at HMS Dolphin after they had been at sea a few weeks and even the seagulls were dropping out of the sky.


Geoff,

I'd just like to say how interesting your piece on the Perishers. By chance I saw an old school friend, Daniel Knight on your report. Always thought he'd be an upstanding kind of guy. If you are to see or here from him again then please pass on my best wishes and wish him luck for me.

Thanks again for a genuinely interesting piece of TV news.

Robin


Nice to see the media taking an interest in the Navy, interesting to see into part of it that is not always seen and has certainly given me fresh impetus to consider joining up!


Thanks for your trouble, I really would prefer the bush war!


Geoff Meade has been given the first access to a British nuclear submarine during the gruelling process of selecting future captains. The course, known in the Navy as "The Perisher"

Not sure if this is correct BBC years back called Perisher


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