We have to restore her otherwise she’s not going to be there for the future

PROJECT Bob mealings, acting director of the Royal Naval Submarine Museum at Gosport, and right, HMS Alliance.   Picture: Steve Reid (112994-851)
PROJECT Bob mealings, acting director of the Royal Naval Submarine Museum at Gosport, and right, HMS Alliance. Picture: Steve Reid (112994-851)
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David Curwen, centre, hugs his mother with whom he wa sreunited. Completing the group is his brother Keith

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For 30 years, HMS Alliance has served as a reminder of the sacrifice made by thousands of submariners.

The 66-year-old submarine has sat perched on a concrete pedestal at the Royal Navy Submarine Museum in Gosport since August 1981.

It took two years and several trips back to the drawing board to get her there, but the museum’s jewel in the crown has sat open to the public ever since.

And this week marks a double celebration – as the vessel is just weeks away from the start of another project that will restore the submarine to her former glory.

‘We are going to start work in September and it’s great she is still here for the world to see,’ explains the museum’s acting director, Bob Mealings.

‘We have to restore her otherwise she’s not going to be there for the future.

‘Her last refurbishment was in 1958 so we’re going to be taking her to pieces and putting her back together in even better shape.

‘We have made every effort to plan for this restoration.

‘When you’re dealing with old boats built in 1945 you can never be sure what you might find once you start taking it to pieces. But we have planned for every contingency.’

Back in 1981, HMS Alliance was the first submarine in the country to go on display.

But mechanical snags and engineering problems dogged the project from the outset.

In 1980, the construction of a platform to hold the vessel was hampered by problems with the concrete piles needed to support the structure.

When work finally began on lifting the submarine into place, one of the pillars couldn’t take her weight and started to sink into the harbour.

The News covered every step of the ground-breaking project until HMS Alliance was in place and open to the public.

More than 2,000 people flocked to see the boat in her first week on display and since then around 1.5m people have come to see her.

The submarine sits 15ft above sea level but when the £6.7m restoration is completed it won’t be too hard to imagine you are 300ft below the surface being hunted by enemies.

State-of-the-art sound and lighting systems will fill the submarine’s decks with the shouts of submariners and clanking machinery.

Meanwhile artefacts and submariners’ personal belongings will be placed around Alliance to return the boat to how she looked when launched in 1945.

Bob adds: ‘We are going to be carrying out a major restoration inside as well as outside.

‘The sound and light systems will re-create the atmosphere of life on the submarine.

‘You will be able to hear people running through the corridors shouting and the sound of machinery.

‘The aim is to make the inside of the submarine look exactly like it did when it was in use.’

The restoration fund still needs another £470,000 to hit the £6.7m target but already holds enough for work to begin next month.

Earlier this year the appeal was given a major boost with a £3.4m donation from the Heritage Lottery Fund.

HMS Alliance is now listed on the historic ship’s register, alongside the Mary Rose, HMS Victory and the Cutty Sark.

There were once six officers and 65 ratings crammed into her 22 ft-wide frame.

She was designed during the Second World War to serve in the Middle East and was launched in 1945.

The submarine saw a distinguished 28-year career until she was retired in 1972.

HMS Alliance was stationed at Gosport at various times throughout her commission.

The first stage of the restoration project will see a cofferdam built around the vessel to pump out the water below. A platform will then be built underneath the submarine for better access and viewing.

Parts of HMS Alliance are corroding so badly that parts of the vessel are falling into the sea. When the boat is returned to how it once looked, work on the interior can begin.

‘People will be able to walk under the bow of the submarine when the platform is built,’ explains Bob.

‘It’s going to open up so much more. And looking to the future, we want to be more of a part of the community and involve people in our future.

‘We have a very optimistic view of how the museum will contribute to Gosport’s cultural tourism.’