H M Submarine Ocelot
14th August 2013
So, there is Sean Connery on board the Red October with enough space for half the Red Fleet’s Male Voice Choir to gather around the periscope.
Doesn’t look too cramped to me. Nice cabin for the captain with plenty of room for tea and stickies with his political officer. Judging by my visit to HM Submarine Ocelot in the Chatham dockyards things were very different on our diesel submarines. To start with, Sean would have needed to leave his cabin to have the space necessary to pour the tea.
Now that we have our year-long ticket to the dockyard Anton, Simon and I dropped in again for a second look and specifically to visit the Ocelot, which was the last warship to be built for the Royal Navy at Chatham (1960-62). The final three boats built here were also Oberon Class submarines : Ojibwa, Onondaga and Okanagan—built for the Royal Canadian Navy.
You are warned before entering the submarine that there is not a great deal of space and that the hatches between sections are not wide either. Down the ladder you go into the forward torpedo room where six of the two tonne beasts were loaded leaving a further eighteen in reserve. These are conventional weapons following a design that hadn’t changed in decades.
Immediately behind it are the crew’s quarters for about twenty sailors. The bunks are tiny with very little head space. One violent sneeze and you would have concussed yourself which would have been a blessing because you would also have fallen out of your bunk.
Not that the officers had it much better, though they were provided with a fridge the size of a cool-box. The corridor along which you pass is just wide enough for one person and I am sure that the glide through the hatches comes with practice. The captain’s bunk is partitioned off by a curtain and provides just enough space for him to sit on the edge of his bunk without his feet tripping people up in the corridor alongside. That Lieutenant Commander Trevor Soar (the vessel’s last commander) was over six feet makes you wonder about some of HM Navy’s postings. Like myself and Simon much of the time his view of the world would have been a steel cross-beam at eye level.
Next comes the bit we have all been waiting for—the command centre. The attack and search periscopes were lowered but it was still possible to have a look through and see the boat opposite. There is no conning tower on these vessels so in theory it is considered a communication mast.
The helmsman is cramped into a corner and sonar is off to the side. The Oberon Class were capable of underwater speeds of up to 17 knots (32 kph) when submerged and its soundproofing equipment made them the quietest submarines of the period. As was explained by our guide; we still do not know much about what missions the Ocelot took part in but her ability to remain silent on the seabed for up to three days under her electric power meant that she was perfect for surveillance and intelligence gathering during the Cold War.
One can only imagine how tempers would get frayed down there in such cramped conditions.
Moving further towards the rear you pass by the engines and the generators for the two 224 cell batteries providing the underwater power. Each cell weighing about half a tonne. The two diesel engines which could evidently only be used whilst surfaced were used to either directly power the electric engine or recharge the batteries.
In other words most of the boat is devoted to its propulsion and power.
Here with the engine crew is the main escape hatch. You could flood the chamber within twenty seconds the man inside having to breath out to get rid of the oxygen. He then floated to the surface and the next man entered.
If the vessel was too far down then a suit had to be used and that could take hours to evacuate the crew.
Finally you come to the aft torpedo chamber which on the Ocelot was converted into crew bunks as newer torpedoes were capable of being guided on a rear-ward trajectory making the the tubes facing backwards redundant.
From there we climbed back up into the sunshine and fresh air. It had not been too claustrophobic inside; of course you knew you were in a dry dock and not two hundred metres down.