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Resolution-class submarine
HMS resolution model.jpg
A cutaway Model of HMS Resolution
Class overview
Builders: Vickers Shipbuilding Ltd, Barrow-in-Furness
Cammell Laird and Co Ltd, Birkenhead
Operators:  Royal Navy
Preceded by: RAF Bomber Command V bombers
Succeeded by: Vanguard-class submarine
In service: 1968 - 1996
Completed: 4
Retired: Resolution
General characteristics
Displacement: surfaced: 7,500 long tons (7,600 t);
submerged: 8,400 long tons (8,500 t)
Length: 425 ft (129.5 m)
Beam: 33 ft (10.1 m)
Draught: 30 ft 1 in (9.17 m)
Propulsion: 1 × Vickers/Rolls-Royce PWR1 pressurised-water nuclear reactor, 27,500 shp (20.5 MW); Propeller.
Speed: surfaced: 20 kn (37 km/h);
submerged: 25 kn (46 km/h)
Range: Unlimited except by food supplies
Complement: 143 (two crews)

The Resolution class was a class of four nuclear ballistic missile submarines (SSBN) built for the Royal Navy as part of the UK Polaris programme. Each submarine was armed with up to 16 UGM-27 Polaris A-3 nuclear missiles. The class included Resolution, Repulse, Renown and Revenge. They were built by Vickers Armstrong in Barrow-in-Furness and Cammell Laird in Birkenhead between 1964 and 1968. All four boats were based at HM Naval Base Clyde (HMS Neptune), 40 km (25 mi) west of Glasgow, Scotland. The Resolution class was the launch platform for the United Kingdom's strategic nuclear deterrent from the late 1960s until 1994, when it was replaced by the Vanguard class submarine carrying the Trident II.


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

To address this problem, in May 1960 the British Prime Minister, Harold Macmillan arranged a deal with US President Eisenhower to equip the V bombers with the US-designed AGM-48 Skybolt. The Skybolt was a 1,000-mile (1,600 km) range ballistic missile that allowed the launching bombers to remain well away from Soviet defences 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 for 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 W47 warhead to arm it, the RE.179 [1].

The Skybolt crisis

The incoming Kennedy administration expressed serious doubts of both Skybolt and the US deterrent force in general. Robert McNamara was highly critical of the US bomber fleet, which he saw as obsolete in an age of ICBMs. Skybolt was seen simply as a means of continuing the existence of a system he no longer considered credible, and given the rapidly improving capabilities of ICBM inertial guidance systems, a precision strike capability with free-fall bombs would no longer be needed. McNamara was equally concerned about the UK also having its own nuclear force, and worried that the US could be drawn into a war by the UK. He wanted to bring the UK into a dual-key arrangement.

McNamara first broached the idea of cancelling Skybolt with the British in November 1962. When this was reported in the House of Commons, a storm 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 it. 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.[citation needed] Traditional battleship names were used, signifying that they were the capital ships of their time.

HMS Resolution in 1977.

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 8,400 long tons (8,500 t) submerged and 7,600 long tons (7,700 t) surfaced. A Rolls-Royce pressurised water reactor (PWR1) and English Electric Company turbines gave them a speed of 25 knots (46 km/h) and they could dive to depths of 275 metres (902 ft). 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.

According to former head of the Royal Corps of Naval Constructors R.J. Daniel, the Resolution class SSBNs possessed five features that were envied by the US Navy: the machinery loading hatch, automated hovering system, welded hull valves, standardised valves, and raft-mounted propulsion machinery.[1]

Construction programme

Pennant Name (a) Hull builder
(b) Main machinery manufacturers
Ordered Laid down Launched Accepted
into service
Commissioned Decommissioned Estimated
building cost[2]
S22 Resolution (a) Vickers Ltd, Shipbuilding Group, Barrow-in-Furness
(b) Vickers Ltd, Engineering Group, Barrow-in-Furness
(b) English Electric Co Ltd (turbines)
(b) Rolls Royce and Associates Ltd.[3]
May 1963[citation needed] 26 February 1964[4] 15 September 1966[4] October 1967[3] 2 October 1967[4] 22 October 1994 £40,240,000[3]
S23 Repulse (a) Vickers Ltd, Shipbuilding Group, Barrow-in-Furness
(b) Vickers Ltd, Engineering Group, Barrow-in-Furness
(b) English Electric Co Ltd (turbines).[5]
May 1963[citation needed] 12 March 1965[4] 4 November 1967[4] October 1968[5] 28 September 1968[4] 1996 £37,500,000[5]
S26 Renown (a) Cammell Laird & Co (Shipbuilders and Engineers) Ltd, Birkenhead
(b) Vickers Ltd, Engineering Group, Barrow-in-Furness
(b) English Electric Co Ltd (turbines).[5]
May 1963[citation needed] 25 June 1964[4] 25 February 1967[4] December 1968[5] 15 November 1968[4] 1996 £39,950,000[5]
S27 Revenge (a) Cammell Laird & Co (Shipbuilders and Engineers) Ltd, Birkenhead
(b) Vickers Ltd, Engineering Group, Barrow-in-Furness
(b) English Electric Co Ltd (turbines).[6]
May 1963[citation needed] 19 May 1965[4] 15 March 1968[4] December 1969[6] 4 December 1969[4] May 1992 £38,600,000[6]
Ramillies Cancelled 1965.[4]

Operational service

The firing trigger for the Polaris missiles

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 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 AT-K missile which was fitted with the British-developed Chevaline MRV system.

As the newer Vanguard-class submarines entered service, the Resolution class was eventually retired and all boats laid up at Rosyth dockyard with their fuel-rods removed. All four will eventually be disposed of via MOD's submarine dismantling project (SDP). The method of disposal is not yet agreed, but it is likely that all but the reactor-related components will be recycled for re-use by conventional ship-breaking techniques.


Polaris missile launch from HMS Revenge (S27) in 1983.

New methods of project management were used in the refits of the Resolution class, including:[7]

  • "The appointment of a senior officer of two star rank and with the title of Assistant Controller (Polaris), working under the joint superintendence of the Controller of the Navy and Chief of Fleet Support, whose responsibilities will include the oversight of the preparations for refits of Polaris boats, and their completion;"[7]
  • "The delegation to a designated officer (Director, Project Technical Submarines) of the responsibility for drawing up the "work package" for each refit, which will include full design information and documentation;"[7]
  • "The use of a fully integrated refit management team at Rosyth, and"[7]
  • "The full use of available management techniques and aids, including computers."[7]

See also

List of submarines of the Royal Navy

Fictional submarines

  • 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 1987 book Skydancer by Geoffrey Archer features a fictional British Polaris submarine, HMS Retribution.
  • In the James Bond film The Spy Who Loved Me, the fictional Polaris submarine HMS Ranger is hijacked by the film's main villain.


Cited footnotes

  1. Daniels, R.J, The End Of An Era: The Memoirs Of a Naval Constructor, Periscope Publishing Ltd, 2004, ISBN 1-904381-18-9, ISBN 978-1-904381-18-1 p192
  2. "Unit cost, i.e. excluding cost of certain items (e.g. aircraft, First Outfits)." Text from Defences Estimates
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 Defence Estimates, 1968-69, page 75, List and particulars of new ships which have been accepted or are expected to be accepted into HM service during the Financial Year ended 31st March 1968
  4. 4.00 4.01 4.02 4.03 4.04 4.05 4.06 4.07 4.08 4.09 4.10 4.11 4.12 Gardiner, Robert Conway's All the World's Fighting Ships 1947-1995, pub Conway Maritime Press, 1995, ISBN 0-85177-605-1 page 531.
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 5.3 5.4 5.5 Defence Estimates, 1969-70, page 75, List and particulars of new ships which have been accepted or are expected to be accepted into HM service during the Financial Year ended 31st March 1969
  6. 6.0 6.1 6.2 Defence Estimates, 1970-71, page XII-81, List and particulars of new ships which have been accepted or are expected to be accepted into HM service during the Financial Year ended 31st March 1970
  7. 7.0 7.1 7.2 7.3 7.4 Hansard HC Deb 26 March 1969 vol 780 cc298-9W Response by the Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for the Navy (Dr. David Owen) to a question to the Secretary of State for Defence asking him to outline the new methods of project-management involved in the H.M.S. "Resolution" refit at Rosyth in 1970, 26 March 1969.

Cited texts

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

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