A retrospective on British submarines in the Falklands Conflict was officially opened with an historic ceremony and a nod to the future of the Silent Service.
The RN Submarine Museum has created an exhibition highlighting personal memories of submariners who served in the South Atlantic three decades ago.
HMS Valiant travelling at speed
Falklands 30 – War Patrols was officially opened by the chairman of the museum, Vice Admiral Sir Time McClement – 30 years to the day after he was second-in-command of HMS Conqueror as the hunter-killer sank the Argentinian cruiser General Belgrano, one element of a developing pincer movement by the Argentine navy which British commanders saw as a deadly threat to the Royal Navy task group.
Before a brief description of the sinking of the veteran cruiser, in which more than 320 Argentine sailors died, Vice Admiral McClement presented the prized Dolphins badge – the international emblem of the submarine fraternity – to LSA David Slater of HMS Trenchant.
LSA Slater recently transferred from the Surface Fleet – or went from being a ‘skimmer’ to a ‘deep’ in Jackspeak – and his Executive Officer, Lt Cdr Jeff Fillimore, explained the process whereby a sailor must learn the submarine and its systems inside out before he can “join a very exclusive club”.
The junior rate then received his Dolphins in a glass of rum – the rum must be drained in one and the badge caught between the teeth.
A number of veterans from the Conflict were also at the museum to see their contributions in the exhibition, which was put together by photographic archivist Debbie Corner under the direction of museum curator Bob Mealings, who said: “We have captured those personal memories that highlight what made the submarine patrols during the Falklands Conflict so different.”
Among the memories shared are the hurried arrangements to leave the UK (by Lynne McClement, wife of the Vice Admiral, who recalled one man didn’t turn up as he thought his mates were playing an April Fool trick on him), and the curse of excess rice pudding – that recollection from a young AB on board HMS Spartan named Mark Lister who today commands Trident missile submarine HMS Vigilant.
Others at the opening who contributed included Lt Cdr Frank Muscroft, former Marine Engineer Officer on board diesel boat HMS Onyx, which was tasked to finally sink the burnt-out shell of RFA Sir Galahad as a war grave.
Lt Cdr Muscroft said they knew that the bodies of many Welsh Guards were still on board the auxiliary, struck by bombs at Fitzroy on June 8 1982, and when their torpedo struck, and they could hear the ship break up and sink, there was a profound silence throughout the submarine.
His shipmate Brandon Hannon, who in 1982 was a 19-year-old radio operator, had travelled down from Norfolk for the event.
He said the boat only surfaced at night, and the only respite was the occasional opportunity to raft up alongside an assault ship.
“Looking back, you are honoured to have served your country,” said Brandon, who now works in the offshore industry.
“I was quite young, and probably didn’t take it all in, but looking back, it was a privilege, really.”
The other submarines involved in the conflict were HM submarines Splendid, Courageous and Valiant.
Falklands 30 – War Patrols, which is included in the normal admission prices, runs until November 4.
Two Falklands-related talks are being staged as part of the Third Thursday series in aid of the Saving HMS Alliance Appeal.
On May 17 Vice Admiral McClement will examine HMS Conqueror’s 90-day Falklands patrol, while on June 21 Cdr Jeff Tall, former Director of the museum, will consider ‘The Falklands War – a close run thing’. Both talks start at 7pm and tickets cost £8 (£7 for Friends of the Museum and Submariners Association members.