Resolution class submarine

Resolution class submarine

The "Resolution" class submarine armed with the UGM-27 Polaris missile was Great Britain's primary nuclear deterrent from the late 1960s to 1994, when they were replaced by the Vanguard class submarine carrying the Trident II.



During the 1950s and early 1960s, Great Britain's nuclear deterrent was through the RAF's V-bombers. But developments in radar and surface-to-air missiles made it clear that bombers were becoming vulnerable, and would be unlikely to penetrate Soviet airspace by the early 1960s. Free-fall nuclear weapons would no longer be a credible deterrent.

To address this problem, in May 1960 Prime Minister Macmillan arranged a deal with President Eisenhower to equip the V-bombers with the US-designed AGM-48 Skybolt. The Skybolt was a convert|1000|mi|km|sing=on range ballistic missile that allowed the launching bombers to remain well away from Soviet defenses and launch attacks that would be basically invulnerable. With this range, the V-bombers would have to fly only a few hundred miles from their bases before being in range of an attack on Moscow.

Under the agreement, the UK's contribution to the program was limited to developing suitable mounting points on the Avro Vulcan bomber, installing the required guidance systems that fed the missiles updated positioning information, and development of their own version of the US warhead to arm it, the RE.179.

The Skybolt Crisis

The incoming Kennedy administration expressed serious doubts with both Skybolt and the UK deterrent force in general. Robert McNamara was highly critical of the US's bomber fleet, which he saw as obsolete in an age of ICBMs. Skybolt was seen simply as a way to continue the existence of a system he no longer considered credible, and given the rapidly improving capabilities of inertial guidance systems, their precision strike capability with free-fall bombs would no longer be needed. McNamara was equally concerned about the UK retaining an independent nuclear force, and worried that the US could be drawn into a war by the UK, or using the UK as a proxy hostage by the Soviets. He wanted to draw the UK into a dual-key arrangement.

McNamara first broached the idea of canceling Skybolt with the British in November 1962. When this was reported in the House of Commons, a firestorm of protest broke out. A meeting was arranged to settle the issue, and Macmillan stated in no uncertain terms that the UK would be retaining their independent deterrent capability, no matter what the cost. With development of their Polaris-derived warheads well along, a suitable launch platform would be developed, if need be.

Faced with a clear failure in policy terms, Kennedy gave up on the idea of strong-arming Britain into accepting a dual-key arrangement. By the end of the series of meetings, the UK had gained the much more impressive Polaris system, and would start development of a new submarine to launch them. The SSBNs would then take over the nuclear deterrent role from the RAF's V-bombers from 1968 onwards.


Two pairs of the boats were ordered in May 1963 from Vickers Shipbuilding Ltd, Barrow in Furness and from Cammell Laird and Co. Ltd, Birkenhead. The option of buying a fifth unit, planned as "Ramillies", was cancelled in February 1965. Traditional battleship names were used, signifying that they were the capital ships of the time.

Vickers Armstrong in Barrow-in-Furness constructed "Resolution" and "Repulse" and Cammell Laird in Birkenhead constructed "Renown" and "Revenge". The construction was unusual in that the bow and stern were constructed separately before being assembled together with the American-designed missile compartment.

The design was a modification of the Valiant Class Fleet Submarine, but greatly extended to incorporate the missile compartment between the fin and the nuclear reactor. The length was 130 metres, breadth 10.1 metres, height 9 metres and the displacement convert|8400|LT|t submerged and convert|7600|LT|t surfaced. A Rolls-Royce pressurised water reactor and English Electric Company turbines gave them a speed of convert|25|kn|km/h and they could dive to depths of convert|275|m. Sixteen Polaris A3 missiles were carried, in two rows of eight. For emergencies there was a diesel generator and six 21-inch (533 mm) torpedo tubes located at the bow, firing the Tigerfish wire-guided homing torpedoes. The submarines put to sea with a crew of 143.

Operational service

The first to be completed was HMS "Resolution", laid down in February 1964 and launched in September 1966. After commissioning in 1967 she underwent a long period of sea trials culminating in the test firing of a Polaris missile. Fired from the USAF Eastern Test Range off Cape Kennedy at 11:15 on 15 February 1968. Resolution commenced her first operational patrol on 15 June 1968, beginning 28 years of Polaris patrols. The class were part of the 10th Submarine Squadron, all based at Faslane Naval Base, Scotland.

All four of the class underwent conversion during the 1980s so that they could be fitted with the polaris A-TK missile which was fitted with the British developed Chevaline MRV warhead.

As the newer Vanguard class submarines entered service, the resolution class was eventually retired and all boats laid up at Rosyth dockyard with their reactors removed.

Fictional submarines

* In the James Bond film "The Spy Who Loved Me", the fictional Polaris submarine HMS "Ranger" is hijacked by the film's main villain.
* The 1987 book "Skydancer" by Geoffrey Archer features a fictional British Polaris submarine, HMS "Retribution".
* The 1971 book "The Fighting Temeraire" by John Winton features a fictional British Polaris submarine, HMS "Temeraire" which is used on a spying mission in the Black Sea.


* "The Encyclopedia Of Warships, From World War Two To The Present Day", General Editor Robert Jackson.

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