I joined HMS Sovereign in Devonport in April 1985 as a Part 3 (trainee) submariner. I had completed my submarine training at HMS Dolphin and then at HMS Sultan and now it was time to put it into practice.


The smell was the first thing that hit me as I struggled down the vertical ladder through the Main Access Hatch with more kit than I had room for. It was a sort of damp musty smell that will always be, for me, the smell of a submarine.


As, with all trainees, I was accommodated in the Weapons Stowage Compartment next to a Mark 24 Tigerfish torpedo. This was quite unpleasant, but there was much to learn, so sleep was very much a luxury. Whilst training, 18 hour days became the norm as I struggled to balance training to operate and maintain my machinery and also learning every system onboard. I worked very hard and within 5 months, I had completed my Part 3 and was awarded the coveted Dolphins by Flag Officer Submarines. As is the custom, it was presented in a glass containing 1/2 a pint of pussers rum which the recipient  then had to drink in one and catch the ‘Dolphin’s in his teeth. This is a ceremony witnessed by the ships company cheering the qualification of a fellow submariner. Prior to receiving your ‘Dolphins’ you are not trusted to do anything unsupervised. As a Junior Rate, you are not even allowed in the mess, but all the restrictions are lifted once you have drunk your rum and received your prize.

I spent my first draft on Sovereign as a Forward MEM responsible for working in the Control Room and operating the CO2 Scrubbers,  Hydraulic and HP Air Systems as well as assisting with operating the periscopes and basically trouble shooting not to mention doing the laundry. Spending 2 months at a time submerged on patrol, you quickly adopt a routine. Working 6 hour watches you have the ability to get up to 12 hours a day in bed but most people will ‘trip’ after about  4 or 5 hours sleep and get up for a shower or to watch a movie. The watch changes are around meal times and it can be quite disorientating as to whether it is morning or night time. The choice of food settles the argument.

Occasionally, as a sort of ‘Thank You’ we sometimes got a decent run ashore. The most memorable, was St Croix. As we have more ships company than beds, submarines operate a 5th Watch system. This allows the submarine to be at sea whilst some people take leave. When the submarine sailed for St Croix, I was left behind. Fortunately, the captain, Cdr Gavin Lane, wanted as many of his ships company to enjoy the run ashore, so it was arranged that we swap crews in the West Indies.

Consequently, myself and 9 others, drove to Heathrow, where we boarded a 747 to Boston and flew ‘Club World’ to America, stopping overnight, before flying south to St Croix for a very enjoyable ‘holiday’. I took over from my oppo ‘Taff’ Austin who subsequently flew home, and I sailed the submarine home. Many of the crew flew families out to enjoy the break. It was brilliant!!

I left Sovereign in November 89 as a Leading Marine Engineering Mechanic (Killick Stoker) having already passed my examination for Petty Officer and joined HMS Defiance again. This time I  joined a section called STALAG standing for Special Tools And Lifting Associated Gear

Operating within the Arctic Circle means the lights are often always off in the Control Room so the periscope watchkeepers can see out. In the early days, the Cold War was still raging. We spent our time playing ‘cat and mouse’ with the Soviet navy. It was hugely interesting, sometimes exciting and also frightening all at the same time. If we received intelligence of a planned activity, we would slowly make our way towards it, so we could observe. Despite what people may tell you, this was a game that was played out in real time with big boy toys. We never fired our weapons at anyone, thankfully, but we did react to a few different emergencies.


One such emergency was in April 1989. We received a report of the Soviet ‘Mike Class’ submarine called the ‘Komsomolet’ that was on fire.

Leaving our position, we headed towards the last reported position in the Arctic Circle to be on hand if assistance was required, but were told to remain covert. The Norwegian Air Force over flew the scene and offered life rafts and assistance, but were told by the Soviets to stay away as it would be considered an act of war.

Tragically, the submarine subsequently sank and many Russian sailors perished in the freezing waters of the Arctic Circle. This hit us hard, they were no different to us and the accident could easily have happened to Sovereign. Not much was said, people brooded with their own thoughts. Servicemen are often renowned for their callous humour to a recent tragedy but this is a defence mechanism designed to hide true feelings. After the loss of ‘Komsomolet’ nobody much felt like joking. Every Sunday, the submarine holds an inter-denominational church service for usually about 5 or 6 religious types. Not normally a church goer and without discussing it, I went to church onboard. Half of the ships company also needed to do the same. I am not ashamed to say, tears were shed.


During the 5 years I was on Sovereign, we continued to patrol the same areas.

‘Pluggy’ ‘Rog’, ‘Oz’ and ‘Archie’ in Sovereign’s Laundry c1987


Swiftsure Class

Primary Role

Hunter Killer

Pennant No



4900 tons


272 ft


33 ft




Pressurised Water Reactor providing heat to generate steam driving two steam turbines into a duel tandem, single helical double reduction gearbox with a single output shaft and propulsor


5 torpedo tubes capable of firing: Mk 24 Tigerfish Torpedoes, RN Sub Harpoon Missiles (RNSH)  and later on Tomahawk Missiles (TLAM)