AMIDST scores of smiling faces, a few proud tears and an almighty bang, Gosport’s star attraction is back in business.
The Second World War-era submarine HMS Alliance reopened yesterday after a £7m restoration project.
Serving submariners joined former servicemen and other dignitaries for an opening ceremony in front of the vessel, which is moored outside the Submarine Museum in Gosport.
Year 4 pupils from Gosport’s Siskin Junior School put on a play which told the submarine’s story from its first launch through to the restoration project.
A shot rang out in salute across Portsmouth Harbour after being fired from the deck of the Type 23 frigate HMS Richmond.
Submarine Museum director Chris Munns said the Alliance was a tribute to the thousands of submariners who died on active service.
Mr Munns said: ‘It’s a testament to the bravery, determination, unhealthy food, terror and triumph experienced by British submariners over the years.
‘It also serves as a reminder of the link between Gosport and the submarine service.’
The restoration of the vessel started in 2011 and was partly paid for by the Heritage Lottery Fund.
HMS Alliance is an A-class submarine, designed during the Second World War and commissioned 1947.
She later became a floating classroom for training submariners.
Lifted from the water on cradles, she was originally opened to the public in 1981.
Mr Munns said: ‘A visit on board HMS Alliance will assault all the senses and bring to life what it is like to work and live on a submarine.
‘We are very proud of HMS Alliance and delighted that she has been saved for future generations.’
Commander Robert Forsyth was captain of the HMS Alliance in 1970 and 1971.
He said the submarine’s interior looked and felt just like it did 40 years ago.
Cdr Forsyth said: ‘I feel like I could take it to sea tomorrow. The whole renovation and re-equipping of it has been brilliantly done.’
Cdr Forsyth said although the submarine was never called upon to fire a shot in anger, she played a vital during the Cold War against the Soviet Union and its allies.
He said the vessel had two main duties.
‘One role we had was as a practice target for friendly ships during exercises.
‘The other was intelligence gathering and snooping on other ships. It was a cat and mouse game just to keep an eye on them.’
Project leaders have gone to great lengths to give visitors a glimpse of daily life aboard the submarine.
Post-war charts are laid out on the ward room table under a portrait of a newly-crowned Queen Elizabeth II.
The engine room gleams with thousands of pipes and replicated baked beans on toast sit on plates in the tiny galley.
There is also a soundtrack, with orders from the control room booming through the cramped chambers and an occasional meow reminding visitors the boat once had a pet cat.
Stuart McLeod of the Heritage Lottery Fund said: ‘We are delighted to have made a significant contribution to the creation of the new gallery spaces and to the restoration of HMS Alliance.
‘These revitalised attractions will provide enhanced opportunities for learning and help to engage new audiences from throughout the UK and abroad.’
HMS Alliance had a complement of up to 68 men.
She once held the record for the longest dive by a submarine, staying underwater for 30 days.
This happened in the Atlantic Ocean in 1974, when she was deployed to obtain information about the living conditions on a submarine during an extended ‘snort’ patrol, during which she was close enough to the surface to snort air through a pipe.
Visitors can buy an individual ticket to see the Alliance and the Submarine Museum or purchase a new £28 ‘super ticket’ which includes admission to other attractions at Portsmouth’s Historic Dockyards for a year.
The film was specially commissioned for the project and tells the story of life on board the vessel from the close of the Second World War through to the Cold War.
Dave Sullivan, 83, is the longest-serving volunteer guide on the Alliance and has shown visitors around his old boat since 1983.
Mr Sullivan said: ‘The A-class is really the link between the wartime submarines and the nuclear ones.
‘They’ve done a wonderful job of bringing this old sub up to the modern world.
‘Not only have they brought it up-to-date, but it’s also a memorial for the 5,300 men who have died in the submarine service.’
Bill Handyside, 86, worked as a fitter and turner in the Alliance’s engine room from 1956 to 1958.
He said: ‘Being here brings back a lot of memories of the men I served with.
‘There was always something going wrong, but you worked hard to keep everything in good condition.’
‘We worked hard and we played well. We used to operate from Halifax and we had a 50 per cent Canadian crew.
‘We used to go up to Newfoundland and down to Jamaica and the Caribbean.’
Terry Fearnley, 65, served on the Alliance from 1968 to 1971 and is now a volunteer guide on the submarine.
He praised the restoration team which worked on the Alliance.
Mr Fearnley said: ‘If there was a medal to give them, they deserve one. They’ve done a top job of bringing her back to life. The sound system is amazing.
‘For a submariner to listen to this walking through, it really feels like you’re back on board. For the public, it’s going to be out of this world.’