HMS Dolphin 1974




By the time I joined Dolphin for my basic submarine course (SSBN) (Submarine submerged Ballistic Nuclear) my parents had moved back to ‘Pompey’ and were now living in a married quarter in Portchester. This was ideal so I could live at home during my course, though the actual travel was a bit of a challenge.

I took a bus from Portchester to Portsmouth City Centre, then walked a fair distance to HMS Vernon to catch a ‘PAS’ boat (Naval run Passenger boat) from Vernon to Dolphin. Quite convenient really.

The training was really interesting, though being a trainee in a place like Dolphin was a little trying with all the ‘real’ submariners around the place, since it was still an operational base at the time.

Lots of systems training. What makes a submarine go up and down. Hydraulics, pneumatics, reactor systems, missile systems and torpedo systems to name but a few.

There was also a trip to HMS Neptune where the Polaris boats were based. I think we went for most of the week so we had plenty of time to be shown around the base and visit an actual submarine, as well as ALL the bars, which I will tell much more about in the ‘HMS Neptune’ chapter.

Specialist training was also given depending on what your job was to be onboard. I was supposed to have taken up a role as forward electrical rating and was trained as such. However, when I subsequently joined a boat, I was a forendie (torpedo man). More about that later of course.

The Dolphin equivalent of theRaleighgas chamber was of course the escape training tank. At some stage of your training some time was spent ‘doing the tank’. This was all about escape training from a submerged submarine if all else failed. It was the whole crew’s responsibility to know as much as possible about this procedure and the workings of the escape compartments on your eventual submarine. Like anything else of this type I guess there were people who publicly and privately dreaded the actual wet work in the tank. I looked forward to it and always enjoyed it on subsequent requalification visits.


Submarine Escape Training Tank (SETT)

There was a medical and a lot of classroom work mainly carried out by submarine coxswains who were ultimately responsible for this aspect of submarine life onboard. This taught us all about what to do from the moment of the event which necessitates the escape to being on the surface after escaping. There was a routine on ‘boats’ (submarines) that a signal was always sent before diving and another once back on the surface. The surfacing signal usually had an expiry time so if you were not heard of by that time, a ‘SUBMISS’ routine was initiated where every available ship started looking for the late boat. After a further period of time or once it was found, if on the bottom, then a ‘SUBSUNK’ routine was initiated. Due to this, as long as conditions were survivable on the boat, that is where you stayed as it was better there than being on the surface until rescue units were waiting for you.

We had indicator buoys that we could release which were tethered to the boat and transmitted the position. Once rescue units were on station or nearby we could launch pyrotechnics, some of which could carry written messages. Getting right back to basics we could just hammer on the hull at predetermined times.

When the disaster happened, the first priority was to asses how much of the boat was tenable. A quick assessment on whether there was water in the ‘people tank’, or other disatrous problems. The worst possible case was that it was only the forends (torpedo compartment) or the motor room right back aft. Of course, both may have been available. Both compartments were able to take the WHOLE crew if necessary with equipment and stores for around 147 men. It would have been extremely cramped though. It was not just a matter of space though; if that was all that was available then no power or stores of any kind would have been available except for escape stores. This consisted of 2 tanks of fresh water and many packets of barley sugar sweets. Oxygen would be made burning O2 candles in special generators. One of the greatest enemies at this time would be CO2. Pressure increases the effect of CO2 proportionally. This could be limited using the CO2 absorption units. (Affectionately  known as ‘abortion’).

We were taught 2 methods of escape, the preferred method was the suit escape, otherwise the ‘rush escape’ would be used. The suit escape was best as nobody got wet until actually escaping and there was less chance of getting ‘the bends’ as you breathed normally all the way to the surface. In the rush escape we were taught to blow out all the way since pressurised air was breathed before escape. Both these methods were taught and practised in the escape training tank (SETT).

Once the classroom work was complete, it was time to get wet! To start with we all visited the ‘Tank top’.


There were about 6 ladders around the tank top and we were all invited to enter the water at one of the ladders where an instructor was waiting. The drill was to take a deep breath and push yourself underwater. Purse your lips to make a pea sized hole, then blow until you could blow no more. This was to prepare you for the next stage which was the 9 metre lock.

All students were equipped with goggles an inflating ‘stole’, a nose clip and a belt with two tails at the back. Once we were all inside the lock the door was shut. The instructor made further explanations as to what was about to happen and what we had to do. Then the lock was slowly flooded up to about chest height, pausing while it was explained that the vent was about to be shut so the pressure would start to come on now so we had to continually ‘clear our ears’. Once the pressure was equalised with pressure at that depth in the tank, the outer door was opened.


Inside the lock


Each of us in turn then stood with our backs to the door. We were told to ‘TAKE A GOOD DEEP BREATH’ which we did and when ready bent forward so we were fully submerged and our backside would poke out into the tank itself. Outside waiting were 2 instructors (swim boys) who would take a strap each and pull you backwards out into the tank proper. Assuming a loose position of attention with our heads back, we were then held until the staff were satisfied we were blowing out as we had practised on the surface. We were then released to float to the tank top.



‘Exiting’ the lock




Exiting the tank

At the top we were grabbed and guided towards a ladder to exit the tank. We then put on a bathrobe and stood on a white line. We were carefully observed for a few minutes to make sure that nobody was showing any ill effects of the ‘escape’. This process was repeated from the 18 metre and 27 metre locks, though in later years the 27 metre lock was not used.

The final part of the training was the suited escape from the bottom of the tank (the locks were at the side).

This involved climbing into a small one person escape chamber at the bottom of the tank which actually had a small ‘blister’ to one side where an instructor waited to operate the controls. Now fully suited up a pipe at the left wrist of the suit was plugged in to an air supply. This inflated the hood and enabled the wearer to breathe normally all the way to the surface.

Once the lower door was shut, flooding started, this time without pause until such time as a slap on your leg was felt. This indicated that the vent would now be shut and pressure experienced, which, as before, had to be equalised by blowing through your nose against the nose clip.


Inside the 30metre lock for a hooded escape


When the pressure equalised the upper hatch would open and the escaper would float out. Once again being caught by 2 swim boys to ensure, this time, that you were breathing normally by asking you your name. Bearing in mind that they only have goggles and nose clips, as they shout at you, although you can hear them you see a stream of bubbles. The first time I did this I imagined the bubbles bursting, cartoon fashion, at the top and saying WHATS YOUR NAME! I just laughed at him. He could see that I was obviously breathing normally so they let me go.



Exiting the 30metre chamber


While one instructor did this the other one clipped a short strap to a central wire running up to the top of the chamber. (it can be seen in the above picture).


GREAT ride to the top…breathing NORMALLY all the way


Once at the top, it was the same procedure as for the free ascents previously practiced.


Breaking the surface


 Being guided to the ladder


That was about all there was to it. Most people had no trouble with it.

Once all training was completed, it was ‘draft chit’ (posting) time again. Being as I had asked for and been granted SSBN (Polaris) submarines, my destination was HMS Neptune, otherwise known as Faslane near Helensburgh inScotland.

4 thoughts on “HMS Dolphin 1974

    Gillian Cordona said:
    March 19, 2012 at 21:00

    As a Newbie, I am continuously exploring online for articles that can aid me. Thank you

    Eliza Nigl said:
    August 16, 2012 at 00:30

    You should take part in a contest for one of the best blogs on the web. I will recommend this site!

      Philip Bamfield said:
      August 30, 2012 at 09:48

      Thank you for your comments. I am hoping to continue with my story very soon. Hope you enjoy it.



    Circles said:
    April 3, 2016 at 16:53

    I joined the submarine service in 1973 and the adrenaline rush doing the 100 foot free accent was amazing, I will never forget it.

    Submariners of today will never know what to really expect if escape was the last resort ( God, I hope it never happens).

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