Ready for patrol! HMS Alliance enjoys a new lease of life

Inside the refurbished submarine

Inside the refurbished submarine

This week HMS Alliance will be relaunched by the National Museum of the Royal Navy after a £7m restoration. Defence correspondent SAM BANNISTER went on board to see how they have recreated life beneath the waves.

Enemy warship now at range of 3,000 yards,’ says the disembodied voice of HMS Alliance’s captain.

Behind me, a loud hiss bursts from one of the submarine’s valves as the boat is made to rapidly dive.

A klaxon sounds, and the fluorescent white lights overhead are suddenly replaced by red ones.

The loud pinging of the boat’s sonar becomes more insistent, and a slightly panicked voice reports: ‘Prepare for depth charges.’

A large depth gauge mounted on the controls shows the submarine is submerging hundreds of feet below the water.

Then my ears pop. Such is the authenticity of the alarms, smells, and sounds of the newly-restored HMS Alliance that even my eardrums are fooled.

We’re not diving frantically beneath the surface, we’re sat on a cradle in Haslar Marina about 15ft above sea level.

Yet when the disembodied voice of the captain (piped through the control room over a hidden set of speakers) whispers orders for everyone to be quiet, nobody speaks.

Of course, it’s only a simulation, part of a new sensory scenario which has been built in to HMS Alliance, at the Royal Navy Submarine Museum in Gosport.

Part of the National Museum of the Royal Navy, HMS Alliance opens her hatches to the public again this week after a major £7m conservation project.

With new lighting, noises, and smells inside the submarine, it looks as though the crew have just gone for a run ashore.

If you walk past the galley, food has been put on the stove, and you can hear the sound of the chef preparing meals.

Stopping by the mess, a film projector has been set up on the wall and a game of cards lies abandoned on the table.

On one side of the cabin, a submariner’s raucous snoring threatens to drown out the sounds of his colleagues chatting as they unwind between watches.

Visitors can explore all of these sections and the stories of submariners who served in the boat, peer through their working periscopes across Portsmouth Harbour, and meet submariners who put the tales into context and speak about their own experiences of life beneath the waves.

John Buffery, from Gosport, who served on submarines during the Cold War, is now an HMS Alliance guide.

He says: ‘What we have done during the refurbishment is tried to reflect her as she was in her working life in the 40s, 50s, and 60s.

‘She is the last Second World War submarine that the public can visit and walk through.’

Describing life on board, he adds: ‘It did get a bit smelly – the gas, the diesel smell permeates, gets in your clothes, gets in your hair, and gets in the pores of your skin. Hygiene was not really a concern, we got dirty, we wore the same clothes, we didn’t wear uniform.

‘We wore T-shirts, shorts, trainers, any old rags which we would afterwards just throw away.’

Another submariner, Bill Handyside, 86, from Cosham, has his experiences as an engine room artificer on board HMS Alliance from 1956 retold as part of the exhibition.

He says: ‘When you are on the surface you are rolling around and you feel sick and it’s horrible and you can’t wait to go down and once you go down it’s lovely and it’s stable.

‘Mostly we worked hard and we played hard, and when we went ashore we drank a lot.

‘I think back to when I was on there and the people I served with and they would have been as amazed as I am to think this little submarine we were on would one day be the focus of a lot of attention in a museum.

‘It looks beautiful.’

A trip on board HMS Alliance begins with a new film narrated by British Hollywood star Ian McShane, specially commissioned to support the project highlighting life on board from the Second World War through the Cold War until the 1970s and serving as a memorial to 5,300 British submariners.

HMS Alliance, an A-class submarine, was commissioned and designed in 1945 as the Second World War came to a close.

She was destined for service in the Far East, and launched in 1947 but is typical of the submarines that served throughout the Second World War.

Alliance also saw service throughout the Cold War years.

Chris Munns, director of the Royal Navy Submarine Museum, which visitors reach via a boat-trip providing a harbour tour, says: ‘A visit on board HMS Alliance will assault all the senses and really 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.’

HMS Alliance is back open to the public on Thursday from 2pm.

It is one of three major new attractions being unveiled to the public, alongside the new Hear My Story galleries and Racing to War exhibition at Portsmouth Historic Dockyard.

For visitors with mobility disabilities, a platform lift can now take wheelchair users into the after-end compartment of HMS Alliance.

For more details, see and


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