GOSPORT: The Submarine Museum

HMS Alliance LR


By Tim Saunders

Submarines play an important part in protecting the United Kingdom and the idea first came about in the 18th century, we learn during a fascinating trip to the Submarine Museum at Gosport, Hampshire.

Those early designs were inspired by fish and whales. We’re actually able to walk around HMS Alliance, which was launched at the end of WW2. It’s really eye-opening how cramped the space is inside. Bearing in mind that over 100 men served on board. On the outside it’s a gigantic metal beast constructed in the United Kingdom, as many were. A real feat of engineering capability. Everything required for everyday living can be found for men to wash, eat and sleep. While the living quarters are small, the rooms are nicely decorated and made to feel as homely as possible. You feel like the crew has just left because there are cups and half-finished meals on the table. Recordings of conversations play making you feel like you’re in the thick of the action. For a three month journey the submarine would need to carry: 10,000 eggs, 400 chickens, 2km of sausages, over 2,000 litres of milk and much more besides to feed the crew. It’s all very industrial inside and there’s a particular smell that’s quite abrasive. “I couldn’t live like this,” says Harriett (12). I know what she means, I would find it difficult, too. And it makes you wonder who would actually volunteer to serve on a submarine. Apparently submarines make up just 3 per cent of the Royal Navy’s fleet. We make our way towards the engine room and the children make a beeline for the periscopes and then as we leave we spy some missiles. Of course this is what it’s all about, protecting the country from the enemy in major wars including WW1 and WW2. That element of surprise in war time.

Inside the museum we discover that early submarines including HMS Alliance were diesel electric, which we learn had limitations in terms of how long they could be used before refuelling. But also how long they could survive under water. You see the diesel engine could not be used underwater because it needed air. So it relied on battery power to do this and when it ran out it would have to emerge. Diesel engines were noisy, too.

So in the 1950s nuclear power was invented. This transformed submarines because it meant that now a submarine could produce enough energy to power a town. All from generating heat. This means that a nuclear submarine can be under the sea for months on end without needing to emerge to refuel. This makes it far more useful in war time. Apparently the latest ones can run for 25 years. So now the only constraint on a submarine is the crew and how long they can cope inside one. Certainly not an occupation for claustrophobics!

Inside the museum there are lots of interactive displays and games to engage visitors, especially children. We all love the drag display where there are three shapes of submarine and you have to decide which one will fall fastest. All three of our rascals are drawn to the digital game involving a submarine shooting targets.

There’s time for a bite to eat and then we take the waterbus to Portsmouth Historic Dockyard. We have to watch the clock for fear of missing our return ride but we have enough time to explore HMS Victory listening to the audio guide. The bed Admiral Nelson slept in was easy for him to operate with one arm and could be converted into a chair. Apparently each crew member received 5,000 calories of food a day.

At HMS Victory Live we see the important renovation work being conducted on the ship, which is suffering from woodworm and fungus. Over the next decade it is hoped that it will be restored to its original condition and using modern technology should last fifty years.

There’s so much to see and do, including visiting the Explosion Museum, that there is not enough time in a day. So it’s just as well that an Ultimate Explorer ticket allows visitors to return all year. See you there.


Tim Saunders on Facebook
Tim Saunders on Twitter
Tim Saunders on LinkedIn