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The History Of The Submarine Attack Teacher

by Commander David Parry

From the inception of the Submarine Service in 1901 all the way through to the early years of WW1 the standard method of teaching embryonic submarine commanding officers, and maintaining commanding officers' skill levels, was for submarines to practice attacking surface ships at sea. This was costly in terms of ships, submarines, manpower and, of course, fuel - coal first then oil. The expansion of the Submarine Service with the war increased the demand for the services. At the same time, however, boats were away on patrol and time between patrols was necessary for maintenance. Moreover, there were very few German ships at sea and so commanding officers were not getting the practice they needed in their attacking skills. The resolution was an attack teacher

It was Commander George Bridges Lewis who came up with the idea of an attack teacher while he was in command of the Gibraltar-based Submarine Flotilla in 1913 where he built a prototype. It was most probably a rather Heath Robinson affair. Then in 1915, when he says he was "at Sheerness in the flotilla",1 realising the pressure on commanding officers to get practice attacking time, he refined his ideas, produced drawings and made a more sophisticated prototype which took just six weeks with Lewis participating in the construction himself.2 The benefits were immediately apparent and so very quickly the dockyards provided an attack teacher to every submarine flotilla and depot ship.3 They each cost £500 and therefore £8,000 for the 16 attack teachers made.4 They were to prove an invaluable investment. Attack teachers and their ship models continued to be made in the dockyards until the Blyth Attack Teacher in 1942 and possibly beyond.5

After the war, in 1920, Lewis made a claim to The Royal Commission on Awards to Inventors for £2000 (worth £47,400 today) plus £20 expenses, presumably for the parts for the Gibraltar model. Although he did not press the issue, he was also looking for £1000 because the Admiralty had exposed it to foreign governments: the American submariners used the Fort Blockhouse Attack Teacher during their Periscope Courses and the French and Italians had seen the attack teachers being used. Lewis was awarded the £2000 +£20.6

The Royal Commission report articulates well the significance of Lewis' invention; as relevant today as it was then. The report said it had an "exceedingly ingenious character […] they reproduce with the most extraordinary fidelity the actual conditions which would be operative in warfare".7 By using the example of a battlecruiser zigzagging at high speed and being able to come dangerously close to the submarine, all aspects that would have been prohibited by availability, cost and safety, Lewis' barrister explained to the laymen-Commission just how valuable this was in terms of being able to replicate an attack repeatedly, something impossible at sea.8

The drawings that accompanied the Royal Commission award are missing but schematic drawings of the depot ship HMS Thames installation survive from elsewhere.9 (See Figure 1). From the description given in the proceedings it seems that, despite an upgrade in 1940, the attack teacher that was used for Edward Young's Perisher at Fort Blockhouse in early 1943 was still very similar to Lewis' original model. (See Figure 2). Young gives a good description:

"It was built on two levels. The top floor, reached by an outside flight of steps, was the plotting-room. At the far end of it a travelling platform, with a small central turn-table to take the target model, ran out of rails through a window into the open air. The other end was occupied by a large white plastic plotting-table, marked off in squares to a scale of a thousand yards (half a sea-mile) to the inch. The plotting of the attacks, and the operating of the machinery which controlled the target's movements, where performed by a team of charming and intelligent Wrens. On shelves around the walls stood fleets of small-scale models of ships of all the warring nations. The lower floor of the building represented the interior of the attacking submarine. A periscope leads up into the plotting room; its top window is covered [until the Perisher student needs to look through it]. As the attack develops the target will move slowly in towards the periscope, turning on its platform in accordance with the gradually changing relative bearing of the submarine." 10

Charles Little,11 who gave evidence on Lewis' behalf at the Royal Commission, thought that the Lewis Attack Teacher was a wonderful instrument. Compton-Hall quotes Little thus:

"one of its best features is that it encourages Smoking Room discussion of attack and elucidation of various situations, making the novice familiar with these and avoiding the dilemma into which the young commanding officer often gets at an awkward and juncture, with the consequent deep safety dive and loss of attack".12

Figure 1: Two drawings of the Lewis Attack Teacher installed in the Depot Ship HMS Thames.

Without a Perisher or formal organisation for developing tactics the Smoking Room was, indeed, an excellent - and probably the only - forum for reflecting on and disseminating the real lessons of war. But that was to change a couple of years later in 1917 with the introduction of the Periscope Course which Lewis' attack teacher effectively enabled and, from hereon in the two were to become inseparable. In time, the Periscope Course would morph into the Perisher or Commanding Officers Qualifying Course (COQC) and then the Submarine Command Course (SMCC) of today and the attack teacher from Lewis' rudimentary machine to the sophistication of today's computerised Submarine Command Team Trainers (SCTT).

However, back in 1916 the knowledge and utility of Lewis' achievement spread quickly. For example, although being isolated with the British submarine flotilla in Russia, even Commander Francis Cromie, was aware of the new attack teachers.13 He was having difficulties getting the Russians to provide a target ship for attack training, which of course was one of the reasons that had stimulated Lewis in the first place. Cromie asked Commodore Hall14 for an attack teacher to be sent out suggesting that it would also be useful for the Russians especially in winter, (when the Baltic was frozen and the boats could not go to sea). That is, if he were allowed to show it to them.15 Unfortunately, Cromie did not get his attack teacher.

With the end of the war, and the withdrawing of submarines from places like Harwich and Blyth, the attack teachers were dismantled although the attack teacher at Fort Blockhouse in Gosport with just a single ship capability survived. In 1924, however, a new attack teacher with the ability to simulate a screen of destroyers protecting a target ship was built in Portland Dockyard from where the COQC was then being run. The COQC, however, moved from Portland back to Fort Blockhouse in 1926 although it did not take the attack teacher with it. That had to wait until 1940 and the upgrade to the Fort Blockhouse Attack Teacher.

This new attack teacher was installed in a purpose-built building and had a longer target track trolley so that greater distances could be simulated although the rails stuck out of a window. Its 'screen' capability was taken from Portland as were a number of other parts.16

The old Fort Blockhouse trainer was moved up to Blyth,17 where it was soon to be replaced. At the same time an attack teacher similar to the one at Fort Blockhouse was ordered for Dundee for the 9th Submarine Flotilla and whereas some of the older depot ships still had the Lewis-type attack teachers, the new depot ships, HMS Medway, Forth, Maidstone and Adamant, were all being given up-to-date trainers.18

It is worthy of mention that the crews were all staffed by submariners until 1941 when WRNS took over and (not surprisingly) proved very capable. Fort Blockhouse became a training-trainer for WRNS who were going to Dundee and Blyth.19 It seems that sailors worked the Rothesay Attack Teacher and not WRNS.20

When the decision to move the sea weeks of Perisher to the Clyde areas was made in 1940, Commander (S) 7th Submarine Flotilla suggested that the full COQC should be run out of Rothesay and that Rothesay should therefore have an attack teacher.21 His suggestion of moving the full COQC was rejected for good reasons: a split venue would provide a change of environment and atmosphere; different personal contacts; proximity to families; variety as an antidote to stress.22 But the suggestion of an attack teacher for Rothesay was taken up in July 1942.23

First, however, would come a new attack teacher at Blyth. This was to be a very different affair to the Lewis-based models.24 Photographs show that the Blyth Attack Teacher had the same construction as the later cyclorama-based Rothesay Attack Teacher which was designed by a theatre company.25 A more advanced attack teacher was therefore first installed at Blyth. The cyclorama system, rather than using models to look at through the periscope, used an epidiascope projector, to project the image of the target on a painted sea surface. As Captain Sam Fry26 describes the later but similar Rothesay Attack Teacher: "Two targets could be projected on the circular walls by illuminating metal ship models with very powerful lights. This meant that a rather ghostly image appeared for the periscope to observe and take ranges and bearings from […]. The mini submarine control room revolves inside the cyclorama provided by the wall structure containing it and access to the control room could only be obtained when it had been returned to the start position opposite to the entrance." 27 A gallery of lights provided lighting effects to cover a large number of scenic conditions: Fine Day, Dark Night, Sunrise, Sunset, Dusk, Dawn, Moonlight and Misty Day.28

Figure 2: Drawing of the Dolphin Attack Teacher arrangement

The Blyth Attack Teacher was operational towards the end of 1942 and it had an important, and interesting, adjunct. This was an Askania training device, what today is called a Ship Control Trainer for it simulated the submarine's trim and control. The really interesting part, however, is the maker of the device, for Askania was/is a German company. Even though the training device was acquired through Askania's American subsidiary, this meant that a German-developed simulator was training British submariners to sink German ships although as the Askania company had strong Jewish connections it is doubtful if there was much opposition to the sale. The Askania training device had come to the attention of the Admiralty before the war when Commander J A C Hill, who was on the Admiral Submarines Staff at the time, visited Kiel in 1936. When there, the Germans asked him if they could purchase an attack teacher. In exchange they were offering a "depth keeping trainer": the Askania training device. The German request was refused but a row between the London-based German Naval Attaché and the Admiralty ensued.29

The application for an attack teacher at Rothesay was made to the Admiralty in July 1942. The reasons given were that it would assist the COQC especially when the weather inhibited attacks at sea.30 The request was for an attack teacher and Askania 'similar to that supplied to the submarine base at Dundee'.31 The Rothesay request was approved and the trainer was built in Portsmouth dockyard and installed during the summer of 1943 in the grounds of a large house called Ettrickdale, belonging to the Marquis of Bute, just outside Rothesay in Port Bannatyne. Ettrickdale had been requisitioned by the Navy and became the attack teacher staff's quarters. The Marquis' head gamekeeper and his wife continued to live in a cottage at the entrance to the facility and the amiable couple often put up officers' wives receiving, in return, off-rationed food from the sailors.32

One notable feature was that the control room had a conning tower and lids33 so that surface attacks could be simulated.34 This feature survived and by the early/mid 1970s it must have seemed something of an anachronism to Commander Michael Sambourne when he was doing his Attack Coordinator course (AC).35

Figure 3: Views of the Blyth and Dolphin Attack Teachers

The round control room with, inset Lt Cdr MacVicker at the periscope
The round control room with, inset Lt Cdr MacVicker at the periscope
The Askania Training Device (Ship Control)
The Askania Training Device (Ship Control)
Part of the cyclorama screen (under construction?)
Part of the cyclorama screen (under construction?)
Operating the target track at Dolphin (Blyth did not have this track and the operators at Blyth were WRNS)
Operating the target track at Dolphin (Blyth did not have this track and the operators at Blyth were WRNS)

There now evolves an interesting conundrum around the Rothesay Attack Teacher. By the time Sam Fry arrived as First Lieutenant in February 1956 the Rothesay Attack Teacher was a cyclorama-based system. But, by the way John Coote talks about it just a few years earlier, it was clearly of the older design. Therefore sometime between Coote leaving Rothesay in 1951 and Fry joining it in 1956 the old 1943 Rothesay attack teacher was replaced by a Blyth-like cyclorama system. Perhaps even the old Blyth Attack Teacher itself but we do not know. Tony Whetstone was to say that, by comparison, the attack teacher at Fort Blockhouse or HMS Dolphin as it was by then, was "made of string and sticking plaster",36 which is perhaps a little unfair because Jock McLees recalls that even in the 70s, the Rothesay Attack Teacher ran better using women's tights rather than the supplied belt which kept breaking.37

There is other convincing evidence for Sam Fry comments that the outbuildings, which he believed were the remains of a pre-war attack teacher,38 were used as a pigsty in his time.39 (Mike Sambourne adds to the humour of this story by relating his father's anecdotes: in confirming the pig story he adds that a 1936 slide rule40 was used to work out the best weight of the pigs for market and in one room, which they had to keep warm for an early analogue computer, the staff bred chickens which had to be blindfolded to stop them pecking each other. Mike's mother also took great delight in her husband's title of OCRAT).41

Meanwhile, the Fort Blockhouse Attack Teacher needed upgrading. Commander Howard Francis Bone, who, as Teacher, was the first Commander to command the COQC, had submitted proposals in January 1943 for the attack teacher to be upgraded to handle two targets, a target that could zig zag independently of its screen, a screen that was able to weave, and a screen that would run automatically parallel to the target.42

The man to do this was Lieutenant Edward A Woodward. Woodward had been commanding the submarine Unbeaten under Captain George Simpson in the 10th Submarine Flotilla based in Malta. He had had a very successful time in Unbeaten before she was bombed while alongside in Malta and her forward torpedo tubes were damaged resulting in Woodward having to take the boat back to the Britain in May 1942. Woodward was an officer who was clearly thought highly of by Simpson for apart from his physical prowess as a swimmer, Simpson says that "he had a particularly good eye for periscope attack while, at the same time, his theory and mathematical ability put him in the top-flight of those who relied chiefly on instruments when time allowed such lethargic assessment".43 It would have been these latter qualities that made him an ideal choice for the job of designing and supervising the new Fort Blockhouse Attack Teacher.

The first COQC to use the new attack teacher was in August 1944 around about the time that tentative proposals were made for the attack teacher, a night attack teacher, the Askania training device and a gunnery control teacher to be coupled together but, there is no indication that this happened. The Woodward attack teacher was to remain essentially the same until replaced in 1970 by the A/S 1080D,44 a copy of the A/S 1080 installed in Faslane at about the same time and which accompanied the introduction of the P Class and O Class of submarine.

In 1943 new attack teachers had been ordered for Beirut, Malta, Colombo and the two depot ships HMS Montclare45 and HMS Wolfe reflecting just how utilitarian were these facilities. But only the latter two survived the 1944 cuts as the post-war changes began to crystallise.46

It was the post-war years that saw the upgrading of the T Class and the introduction of, first, the A Class and then the P Class and O Class with their concomitant improvements in sonar capability that the concepts of modern submarine operations were laid down. Fortunately, some selective appointing was clearly in play at Rothesay for some of the Submarine Service's most intellectual officers found themselves on the staff and these intelligent and experienced submarine officers had both the facility and the time to give thought to the submarine vs submarine battle and its associated bearings-only: bearing rate problems.

First was Lieutenant Commander Dicky Tibbatts, about whom John Coote, no slouch himself, talks in an admiring manner: "the brightest and most refreshing thinker at his level in the Submarine Service". While at Rothesay, Tibbatts had written a perspicacious paper entitled 'A Quick All-Round Look' identifying the short fallings in effective torpedo control systems. Clearly the Chief of Staff at the time was no match for Tibbatts' intellect, took offence and the paper was killed leaving the Royal Navy's Submarine Service lagging its peers for many decades.47

The first, and only, submarine ever credited with sinking another submarine when both were dived i.e. conducting a bearings-only 'blind attack', is HMS Venturer (Lieutenant James Launders) when she sank U-864 off Norway on 9 February 1945.48 Tibbatts took up the mantle of the bearings-only problem that this sinking illustrated by developing a choreography of pointing the target and then altering 90° to determine a unique solution for course and speed with a scaled ruler.49 This sort of tactical development and passing it on to commanding officers was just the sort of thing at which an attack teacher could excel.

Coote followed Tibbatts at Rothesay and he took Tibbatts' innovations to the next step by developing the Time Bearing Plot: a vertical perspex sheet graduated in squares so that an appropriate scale can be used. An operator would sit behind the sheet and, writing backwards, mark up the bearings of the target using a chinagraph pencil. Coote was a pragmatist and adopted the principle "only to teach methods which could be readily grasped by a totally exhausted CO." He was influenced in this endeavour by the wartime- experienced Lieutenant Commander John Stevens who had sunk over 33,665 tons of shipping in the submarines P46 and the Unruffled. Stevens was attending Rothesay for a requalification course and after listening to the 'esoteric mathematical formulae' he suggested that if the target was worth firing at it was worth "giving her the lot", in other words a full salvo and for that the Deflection Angle (DA) was always 10°.50 Coote took this to heart and had a brass plate fixed above the attack periscope which said "Remember, the DA is always 10°".51 He also had a quotation pinned to the wall: 'No game is ever worth a rap for a rational man to play into which no accident or mishap can possibly find a way'.52 How inspirational it was to prove is unknown.

Other notable submarine officers on the staff at Rothesay continued the search for the Holy Grail of bearing rate. Among them were: Lieutenant Commander Peter Herbert, later Admiral and Flag Officer Submarines (FOSM), who invented the 'Ettrick-method', a mathematical method of solving the bearings only problem - so named because Herbert got his best ideas when gazing over the beautiful Ettrick Bay53: Tony Whetstone, later Chief of Staff to FOSM and Rear Admiral, who along with Mike Henry, devised the Wet Hen plot when they were 'riding' the USS Tullibee during a submarine v submarine exercise off New London in 1963.54 It was another attempt to devise a way of firing using only the target's bearing rate to get a homing torpedo within range of the target. It was used by the USN in submarine v submarine exercises, but never succeeded in properly solving the problem and was not used by the Royal Navy55. And Sam Fry, later Teacher and Captain, considered the job of First Lieutenant of the Rothesay Attack Teacher as a plum job in 1956-1957 where the main thing he learnt was the bearing rate issue.56

One of the inhibitors to progress was the lack of fire control equipment that would use bearing rate to track and update a target solution. While the Americans, and indeed the Germans in their U-boats in WW2, had torpedo control computers that maintained the target solution, and thereby bearing rate, between periscope looks or bearing updates, the Royal Navy still struggled with their old 'Fruit Machine' that only produced a DA for a momentary solution. The Admiralty at Bath was endeavouring to get to grips with this issue and in 1952 produced a next generation prototype. It lasted just 24 hours, just long enough for Coote to realise that its designers have not grasped the bearing rate issue. Back to Bath it went and it took some years for another machine to appear.

The Rothesay Attack Teacher's highest priorities were COQC and Principal Control Officer (later Attack Coordinator) courses.57 In 1957 it was time for it to be either replaced or retired. A Staff Requirements paper for a new attack teacher was raised by the Admiralty Research Laboratory at Teddington.58 The paper is an excellent exposé of the reasons for having attack teachers and for what they can achieve. Notably, it articulates well how the submarine attack had progressed from the 'one-man-band', captain-and-the-periscope scenario to a Captain-led, team effort. "The Commanding Officer today relies, in a way that was virtually absent before, upon other members of the crew who handle the information and who form, with him, a team." 59

These changes were all coinciding with the commissioning of two new classes of submarines, the Porpoise and Oberon classes. Then, in 1959, Admiral Rickover conceded to help the Royal Navy build its first nuclear submarine HMS Dreadnought with an American reactor and machinery space. And then, in 1962, the UK committed to a submarine launched nuclear deterrent and the Resolution class (SSBN) was conceived.

It was the advent of these new nuclear submarines that heralded the demise of Rothesay. To accommodate them it was decided to develop the base at Faslane. So, as there was no longer a depot ship based in Rothesay, what better place to build a new attack teacher than Faslane with the added benefit that anything new that went into Faslane could also be used to update the Submarine School (Dolphin) Attack Teacher. A Staff Requirement was raised for installation of an Attack Teacher and Analysis Centre by 1969.60

The first of this new generation of attack teachers were A/S 1080, named Pugnacious, and A/S 1081 named Nemesis which went into a bespoke training building in Faslane. A/S 1080D was to be the Dolphin update. They were all commissioned by 1970 and were now differentiated from the earlier attack teachers by being referred to as 'Submarine Command Team Trainers' (SCTT) reflecting the sentiments of the Rothesay requirement.61 However, according to Sam Poole, the new trainers experienced some downtime. When they were working well they were used for periscope attack training during the day and often with an evening shift that worked until 2300 although with no increase in the trainer's complement. The evening shifts where in response to an increasing training demand and perhaps a need to fully utilise the facilities. And because operational submarines where the priority for the attack teachers it was generally the training courses that had to work into the evening.62 Occasionally, more advanced work would go on overnight. When the trainers were down, however, staff and students would take the ex-Royal Air Force launch, James Bond, and speed down to Rothesay where they would open up the old attack teacher while living in style in the Glenbourne Hotel.63

While discussing how these attack teachers where used it would be wrong not to mention the attack teacher staff who were nearly all WRNS. WRNS had first started working in the attack teachers during WW2 and had rapidly made their mark then. They were to make an even bigger and better impression at the Faslane SCTT. The WRNS did not, of course, go to sea in submarines. Nonetheless, without being in anyway patronising, the SCTT officers are at one in their praise of how adept the WRNS staff became in all aspects of both the command team positions and the running of the trainers. Many became expert in instructing and especially the setting-up of 'runs' for the course instructor which often required an intimate knowledge of the tactical situation and attack process.64

A Commander was in command of the SCTT with a Lieutenant Commander as the Executive Officer. They were supported by Weapons and Instructor Officers. All conducted training but in idiosyncratic ways. The Lewis-famed smoking room was obviously no longer available nor, except on occasions in the early days, was the more informal Rothesay atmosphere or hotel for informal discussion and wash-up. So, in Faslane things had to be done perhaps a little more formally although the better Training Officers would usually use a 'question and answer' technique to discuss and understand the tactical decisions made (or which should have been made).65

Pugnacious and Nemesis were the first to start taking advantage of the new computer age used Argus 300 computers.66 They were developed by the Director General Underwater Weapons (DGUW) and central to that development was the key figure of Ted Wilby. Wilby was the driving force behind almost all the Navy's trainers and has to be credited with the ingenuity that went into this new generation of trainers. He drew a team around him from the research scientists at Admiralty Underwater Weapons Establishment (AUWE)67 and from industry, notably Ferranti, Weymouth Technical Services (FTS) who should also take great credit for development of the trainer.68 Although the latter had to work with a Chinese wall between themselves and their parent company, (Ferranti Computer Systems, Cheadle Heath), there is no denying the effectiveness of this working arrangement.69

The series of 1080 attack teachers focused on periscope work, which was still the central theme of the COQC. The fidelity of the periscope image was therefore a high priority and the development took advantage of the newly developing computer-generated imaging (CGI) with a special contract to Ferranti by Wilby for development of the seascape rather than an off-the-shelf version. The periscope simulation used one of five channels for each visible target which consisted of a pair of physical models of different sizes from six to 24 inches separated by a matt black plate. (The heat from the spotlights used to dry the models out and they frequently had to be returned to Ferranti's subcontractor for refurbishment). The models were viewed by a video camera with a computer-controlled telephoto lens to give range effects. Unfortunately, the telephoto lens could not cope with extreme ranges so when a target range reached a critical position the software would send a command for a large simulated wave to obscure the periscope view. The bow wave was a piece of computer- controlled foam. The models were on turntables to give aspect control and the images were video mixed, in real time, in range priority and positioned against the seascape. This was cutting-edge technology at the time and featured on the BBC's Tomorrow's World programme.

The two Attack Teachers, Pugnacious and Nemesis were designed so they could operate in either separate environments or in a common exercise. Thus, SSN could fight SSK or vice versa.70 But, "The aim, whether for professional Course training, ship Command Team training or, later, Weapon Certification training, was to practice individual and team skills needed to achieve a firing solution, for the appropriate weapon system, safely and effectively." 71 So, spending long hours while an SSN and SSK tried to find each other was not considered a gainful use of an attack teacher. Moreover, the changeover process between single and dual operation of the two trainers was tedious and time-consuming. It is not surprising, therefore, that when it came to de-commissioning, with Pugnacious going first, it was rather like separating Siamese twins.72

The simulation of the sonar suite of these two trainers came from a scenario generator and there would be either a voice link or electronic link between the trainer and the operator. The system "took training from a 'replicate everything' into something that was much more focused and corresponded to the digital revolution: art into science". 73

A side effect of the development of the 1080 series of attack teachers was the introduction of Training Needs Analysis (TNA) into the Royal Navy. In trying to identify the balance between simulation and stimulation Ferranti realised that the Navy suffered from not having proper training objectives. This made the job of the development team more difficult. They overcame this through the use of methodologies already in practice in the commercial world with people like Marks & Spencer.74 The development team explored the training desiderata with the operators to identify the key training clues and then ensured that they were built into the simulation. A similar process was followed for stimulation so that flexibility was available, for example the ability to inject a surprise contact.75

The introduction into the Fleet of, first the Swiftsure, and then the Trafalgar classes of submarine demanded yet another new generation of trainers and so A/S 1083 Damocles, a DCB fitted trainer was introduced in 1980.76 The naming of Damocles brings with it a nice story which is hoped not to be apocryphal. Martin MacPherson relieved Jock McLees as Training Executive Officer at the Faslane SCTT to find on his desk a pile of papers dealing with DCB about which he, as an ex-Dreadnought man, knew nothing. This was just as Damocles was arriving which was, of course, of interest to FOSM who called Martin to ask what the trainer was to be called. In his frustration MacPherson said "Damn'd McLees" Much to his surprise the mondegreen produced FOSM's version 'Damocles'.77

Damocles was very different, it was fitted into five road-worthy trailers parked, initially, on the edge of the helipad at Faslane.78 Although welcomed, this caused some consternation with both the contractor and the Navy for the original contract said the trainer was to be delivered to Devonport and although Faslane had been agreed informally, nobody had changed the contract.79

Continuing the developments of the digital age, the trainer ran on Ferranti Argus 500 computers and provided training for both control room and sound room teams either integrated as a full attack team or separated for different scenarios. The trainer was delivered in two stages. Stage 1 was four trailers: Control Room; Computer Room; Periscope Model Channels; and Power Supply/Rotating Machinery. Stage 2 was the Sound Room trailer.80

The unsubstantiated reason for the trainer to be fitted in trailers was for rapid mobility and survivability in the event of war. In 1985 they were transported by road from Faslane to Devonport where they were plugged in and, triumphantly, worked immediately.

By the time the next generation of SCTTs, the A/S 1100, series were in service Wilby had retired but his legacy was some excellent trainers and the Wilby-moulded Ferranti team that receive their own accolades.81 Attack teachers were now to take advantage of the rapidly developing technology that enabled a further transition in both design and capability.

 A/S 1102, Tactician, now using Argus 700 computers, was commissioned in the old Nemesis facilities in 1985. This was a prestigious, ground-breaking SCTT that provided training for control and sound room teams either integrated as a full attack team or separately as control and sound room sub-teams in different scenarios. The system was a game-changer incorporating the new DGUW modelling database (sonar, radar, dynamics and sophisticated weapons), FACT 9H 'off-line' real-time oceanographic model, innovative CGI periscope system and a large-screen debrief facility. The DGUW database was core to the system. It had been created by restructuring all the data from the legacy systems into a common object modelling form thereby rejecting the necessity to update each trainer individually and enabling the same core objects to be used for all future trainers.82 It was well ahead of its years. Some of this development involved imaginative innovation. For example, the use of an Atari home computer sound card to develop and model sound effects at the audio library in Faslane, where all the recordings of real sounds from sea were held, to develop new approaches to simulating those sounds - a sort of digital equivalent of Lewis. This was the first trainer to include high fidelity acoustic aural effects and through-hull sound effects83 which became the benchmark for future trainers. Earlier aural effects were produced from analogue oscillators and filters. Sea life was often replicated, for example whales, dolphins and snapping shrimp. This led to a comment that, although the contractual requirement for snapping shrimp, had been met, it had been rather hoped that it would sound like more than just one shrimp.84 All that was now overcome.

Another important development was the use of Commercial-Off-The-Shelf (COTS) graphic displays to emulate the on-board operational displays and controls for radars and electronic warfare systems.

Periscope simulation too had taken a technological shift. The periscope itself was the real Barr and Stroud model but a real-time view was generated using CGI. This high priority for periscope imagery fidelity featured a new bespoke capability to generate target, seascape, coastal and polar effects. Later known as the 'Mirage Visual System', was to be a standard fit for all subsequent SCTTs. The A/S 1102 also had a Ships Navigation and Plotting System (SNAPS) table fitted in the control room.85

As the nuclear submarine fleet increased in the 1980s and 90s complemented by the now diminishing SSKs, the demands on the SCTT grew. The resolution was to start the evening training, a sometimes not too popular expedient. Life, however, was not without its lighter moments. One Ferranti engineer found time to programme a sonar suite to play 'Jingle Bells' at the end of a training session during the festive season.86 And SCTT staff could use the in- built stimulation capability to their advantage by interjecting an event to bring an over- performing Alpha-CO down to earth or, on the other hand, boost the confidence of a struggling command team.87 The SCTT was also used clandestinely to develop both command systems and weapon improvements.88 On occasion this would cause friction with the Ferranti contractors but it is to their credit that once they saw the value of the work the upgrades would be made and then given a thorough testing by the SCTT staff during a command team's training or weapon certification in the trainer .89

A/S 1104, Veracity, the SCTT to meet the needs of the Vanguard SSBNs was developed by Ferranti in conjunction with Vickers in Barrow who played a major part in the installation, integration and commissioning in Faslane in 1989. Like A/S 1102, Veracity could provide training for both the control room and sound room teams. Again, the thrust of digitisation enabled yet a further transition in design and capability.

The first was that, with the increase in processing power, it now became feasible to run the simulations in real-time on COTS equipment, in this case the displays used Sun workstations and other general processing used Sun VME boards running the real-time Wind River operating system. Sonar signals were generated using COTS Digital Signal Processing boards. Secondly, a periscope simulation continued to use CGI but with COTS processors. The composite periscope views, including lowlight and IR images, were presented on a Tactical Television Console in the Control Room.90 And finally, much of the software was in the mandated Ada program.

With the upgrade of the remaining Oberon class with the Plessey Type 2051 Triton sonar and the Ferranti DCH command system an upgrade to the Dolphin-based A/S 1082 Attack Teacher was required. This happened in 1992 and as part of this upgrade the periscope was upgraded to a new CGI system but one with a different provenance and a little subterfuge.

In 1990 Marconi Simulation and Training (MS&T) installed an attack teacher for the Royal Netherlands Navy's Walrus class in Den Helder. This was based around the Kollmorgen periscope installed in the Dutch submarines. Davin Optronics provided a large complex optics assembly which enabled the user to view a high-resolution monitor monitored above the periscope while rotating the periscope body.91 This system, which became known as the Mirage Visual System, was later installed in Dolphin's A/S 1082 Attack teacher. But the Kollmorgen periscope had to be dressed to look like the O-boats' CH74. This was achieved by adding 'pannier' boxes on the sides of the periscope. A/S 1104 was similarly updated.92

The mid-life updates of the Trafalgar Classs submarines and the fitting of SMCS command systems required new attack teachers. These were to be the A/S 1117, Taciturn, which went into Faslane in 1999 but the later numbered A/S 1118, Thrasher, which replaced the A/S 1083, Damacles trainer, went into Devonport earlier in 1998 but was later moved to Faslane. FTS provided the Sound Room, sonar trainer, but there was a bit of a problem providing the periscopes for both these trainers for, while Ferranti still held the drawings for A/S 1102 and A/S 1104, they were not allowed to use them for IPR reasons. The solution, and a cheaper one, was to use MS&T's Mirage Visual System with the Kollmorgen periscope dressed up to look like the Trafalgar Class CH84 attack periscope. 93

The latest SCTT, A/S 1119, FAST, for the Astute class was commissioned in 2005 using technology similar to A/S 1104 with extensive COTS employment. The biggest development FAST brings, however, is the procurement method for the trainer. FAST is a PFI project to provide and support training services to the Astute fleet for 40 years in a contract with FAST (Flagship ASTute) Consortium of Flagship Training, Alenia Marconi Systems and CAE Electronics.

Admiral Tony Whetstone compared the Dolphin Attack Teacher to the Rothesay Attack Teacher in the 1950s as being made of 'string and sticking plaster'. But that Dolphin Attack Teacher was a quantum leap from Lewis' original innovation. Today's SCTTs are even further removed from Whetstone's Rothesay. But all the attack teachers in between have endeavoured to reflect the changing classes of submarines and respond to the imperatives of training demanded by two World Wars and a Cold War with the highest possible fidelity that technology could provide.

They have proved a vital link in the transition of a submarine officer into a submarine commanding officer; COQC and the attack teachers have been almost synonymous. Their construction has reflected the development in the submarines, their sensors, weapons and the philosophy of how to fight the submarine most notably ensuring that the 'Command Team' ethos, prevalent since the start of the Cold War and the introduction of nuclear boats, can be effected.

Today's trainers reflect, quite rightly, the advanced technologies at sea in the Astute class submarines and their employment and method of operation no doubt mirrors the tactical and operational changes in response to the imperatives of what is probably a new Cold War. What is without doubt, is that the efficacy of each and all these attack teachers has provided the Submarine Service with 1200 well-trained commanding officers and control room teams of countless submarines with the confidence to meet readily the exigencies, vicissitudes and imperatives of their calling


  1. TNA T-173/698 p. 14. Lewis joined submarines in February 1903 and by September was in command of his first boat. After obligatory big ship time he returned to the command of the submarine C1 in 1908 and then to the command of the Gibraltar Submarine Flotilla in 1911 until appointed in command of the depot ship HMS Alecto on 1 March 1914 as a Commander. When Lewis says he was at Sheerness it is not entirely clear where he was serving for sources, e.g. Akermann, Paul, Encyclopaedia of British Submarines 1901-1955 Penzance, Periscope Publishing, 1989, P.484, put the Alecto as being based at Yarmouth throughout the war. Then in December 1918 he was a Commander in the Anti-Submarine Division in HMS President but his appointment date is not recorded. (TNA ADM 196/125/229 and RNSM Downer's mini-biographies).
  2. TNA T-173/968 p. 13
  3. Ibid p.11 Little's evidence to the Commission
  4. Ibid p. 2
  5. RNSM A 1943/41
  6. TNA T-173/968 p.15
  7. TNA T-173/968, p. 3
  8. Ibid, pp.2-5
  9. TNA ADM 275/19, Submarine Administration, Training and Construction, Technical History Section, The Technical History and Index, Volume 3 Part 21, Admiralty October 1921
  10. Young, Edward, One of our Submarines, London, Wordsworth, 1952, p. 116.
  11. Admiral Charles James Colebrook Little was one of the early submariners, joining in 1903, and an experienced submarine commanding officer. At the time of Lewis' invention Little was Chief of Staff to the Commodore (S) Roger Keyes and would have been responsible for the decision to provide the Attack Teachers to the flotillas and depot ships. He later served as Rear Admiral (Submarines) and Commander in Chief Portsmouth. (RNSM Downer's Mini-biographies and
  12. Compton-Hall, Submarines and the war at sea 1914-18, London, Macmillan, 1991, p. 74
  13. Parry, David, The Baltic C Class: Cooperation Chaos & Courage, University of Greenwich, September 2014. Cromie had gone to the Baltic in command of E19 and had relieved Commander Laurence in command of the British submarines based in the Baltic
  14. Commodore Sydney Hall was the Inspecting Commodore of Submarines
  15. RNSM A 1990/073 Letters on Russian Affairs from Captain F N A Cromie CB DSO RN dated 8/21 August 1916 (8/21 being the difference between the Russian Julian and British Gregorian calendars)
  16. RNSM A 1945/4 Section V Appendix III p.i
  17. Ibid
  18. Ibid
  19. Ibid
  20. Email correspondence with David Rostron December 2017 David's grandparents owned a cottage at the foot of the approach to the attack teacher. He spent many of his young days there.
  21. RNSM A 1945/4 Section V Appendix III p.i
  22. Ibid Section V pp. 5-6
  23. Ibid Section V Appendix III p. ii
  24. We can deduce that Blyth received a cyclorama-based attack teacher from three clues: 1) The Rothesay Attack Teacher was to replicate Dundee and not Blyth. Had the Blyth attack teacher been replicated the first Rothesay Attack Teacher would also have been a cyclorama system, it was not. 2) The photographs at RNSM show a construction of the Blyth Attack Teacher that reflects the description of the later Rothesay Attack Teacher given by Fry. (Fry, Fruitful Rewarding Years, Stanhope, The Memoir Club, p. 65-66) 3) Lieutenant Commander MacVicker was known to be on the staff at HMS Elfin, the Blyth submarine base - he had been awarded the George Medal when the Norwegian submarine B1 has an explosion - and he appears in the control room in the photographs of Blyth.
  25. Fry, op. cit. pp. 65. Fry is describing the Rothesay cyclorama-based attack teacher.
  26. As a Lieutenant Commander, Captain Sam Fry was First Lieutenant of the Rothesay Attack Teacher 1956 to 1957
  27. Fry, op. cit. pp. 65-66
  28. RNSM A 1976/4 Handbook of Torpedo Attack Teacher (CYCLORAMA)
  29. Simpson, George, Periscope View, Barnsley, Seaforth, 1972, p. 66 See Low, Professor AM, The Submarine at War, New York, Sheridan House, 1942 where an Askania simulator is shown in the photograph facing page 113 being manned by a German U-boat crew
  30. RNSM A 1945/14 Section V p.ii. The shore base at Dundee, HMS Ambrose, was created in the first part of 1940 for Allied submarines but by 1944 the French submarine Rubis was the only Allied submarine operating from there. (Hezlet, Vice Admiral Sir Arthur, British and Allied Submarine Operations in World War II, Gosport, The Royal Navy Submarine Museum, 2001, p.36 and 308 and Warlow, Lt Cdr B, Shore Establishments of the Royal Navy, Liskeard, Maritime, 1992, P.17).
  31. RNSM A 1945/4 Section V p.ii
  32. Email correspondence with David Rostron December 2017
  33. 'Lids' is the colloquial name given by submariners to the watertight hatches in the submarine's conning tower; following the loss of A1 in 1911 a second hatch was added
  34. Fry, op. cit. p. 66
  35. Michael Samborne, personal email dated 25 August 2017. Commander Michael Sambourne's father was Captain Peter Sambourne, who had earlier commanded the Rothesay Attack Teacher and went on to be the first commanding officer of HMS Dreadnought. Mike Sambourne was one of only three officers to command an SSN as a Lieutenant Commander.
  36. Interview with Rear Admiral Tony Whetstone 8 May 2017
  37. Email correspondence with Jock McLees January 2018
  38. In this he was wrong. There had been no pre-war Attack Teacher at Rothesay but there had been a wartime Attack Teacher built.
  39. Fry, op. cit. p. 66
  40. The 1936 slide rule represented a formula for deriving range from a contact using bearings only
  41. Email correspondence with Michael Samborne August 2017
  42. RNSM A 1945/4 Section V Appendix III p.
  43. Simpson, P.167. While in command of Unbeaten, Woodward had sunk 57,839 tons of shipping and the U-374 plus some sailing vessels and with only one miss recorded. See Rohwer ,J, Submarine attacks of WW 2 European Theatre of Operations 1939-1945 passim. Woodward also had another idiosyncrasy. In between patrols he would totally exhausted himself socially returning on board "looking pale and in need of complete rest" and "would escape from the dangers of a social 'sea lion' amongst the mermaids of Malta's coastline into the refuge of a wartime submarine patrol"
  44. All attack teachers carried the preface A/S. This may well have been a throwback to the contention between the nomenclatures Asdic and sonar. See ADM 1/9880 definition of terms and expressions: Asdic origin and definition and ADM 1/16497 proposal to substitute the term sonar for Asdic: discussion but no change
  45. The Montclare was ex-Canadian Pacific Steamship Co Ltd. She had been requisitioned in 1939 as an armed merchant cruiser and had been a submarine depot ship since 1941. The Wolfe was the ex-Montcalm, ex-Canadian Pacific Steamship Co Ltd. she had been a destroyer depot ship before becoming a submarine depot ship.
  46. RNSM A 1945/4 Section V Appendix III p.ii
  47. Coote, John, Submariner, London, Norton, 1991, p. 174
  48. Hezlet, Submarine Operations, p. 313 and Ballantyne, Iain, Hunter Killers, London, Orion, 2013, p. 17. The U-864 was fitted with a schnorchel (snorkel) but had an engine that was misfiring and making a loud noise (she was heading back into Norway for repairs). Launders detected U-864 on Venturer's hydrophones (sonar) while she was snorting, confirmed it was a submarine contact when he saw her periscope, and then tracked her by sonar for an hour before firing a four torpedo salvo at 2000 yards with the torpedoes set at depths between 30 and 36 feet.
  49. Coote, op. cit. p. 175
  50. Deflection Angle or aim-off
  51. Coote, op. cit. p. 175
  52. Interview with Rear Admiral Tony Whetstone 8 May 2017. The quotation's provenance is the poem 'Ye Wearie Wayfarer' by the Australian poet Adam Linsay Gordon and it related to the (very famous in Australia) cricketer Tommy Wills.
  53. Email correspondence with Captain Sam Poole November 2017. Poole, along with Guy Warner, was one of the first two submarine-qualified Instructor Officers who contributed so much to the training of submarine officers, resolution of the bearings only problems, and in Guy Warner's case, the development of future command systems.
  54. Mike Henry was then on the Washington Defence Staff. He went on to be the first British CO to fire a Polaris missile when CO of HMS Resolution.
  55. Email correspondence with Tony Whetstone October 2017
  56. Fry, op.cit.p. 64-65
  57. TNA ADM 1/2885 Faslane Attack Teacher, FOSM's letter to the Admiralty dated 5 June 1963
  58. TNAADM 204/2453 Requirements for a new Rothesay Submarine Attack Teacher
  59. Ibid p. 1
  60. TNA ADM 1/2885, Faslane Attack Teacher
  61. Email correspondence with Guy Sitwell, December 2017
  62. Email correspondence with Jock McLees January 2018
  63. Email correspondence with Sam Poole October 2017
  64. Email correspondence with Jock McLees January 2018
  65. Ibid
  66. Unpublished notes provided by Graham Crofts ex-Ferranti, Marconi and BAE
  67. DUW was the procurement authority whereas AUWE was the research establishment+
  68. Email correspondence with Richard Irwin January 2018
  69. Interview with Messrs Kevin Butcher ex-DGUW, Paul Brackner ex-Ferranti, and David Northam BAE 4 December 2017
  70. Unpublished notes provided by Graham Crofts and further information from John Francis, ex-Faslane Ferranti Site Manager
  71. Email correspondence with Jock McLees January 2018
  72. Email correspondence with John Francis January 2018
  73. Croft's notes and John Francis
  74. This work was led through a Ferranti team based in Chichester which dealt with commercial companies
  75. Butcher, Kevin, An integrated systems approach to real time simulation for naval training, Marconi Simulation and Training, UK, 1995
  76. Timeline provided by Kevin Butcher
  77. Email correspondence with Martin MacPherson February 2018 who also avers that the trainer was introduced in 1979
  78. Mobile asdic trainers, called MA/STUs, had been built in WW2 by Portland Dockyard. They were housed in commercial buses. By the end of the war there were 17 single-deckers and 12 double-deckers that travelled the country delivering asdic operator training. (Hackmann, Willem, Seek and Strike, London, HMSO, 1984, p. 278
  79. Email correspondence with Graham Crofts January 2018
  80. Crofts' notes
  81. Email correspondence with Richard Irwin January 2018
  82. Butcher, KJ, Common scenario generation tool, Alenia Marconi, 1999
  83. These came about in an interesting way. The sonar operators complained they could not hear the active transmissions which they would normally do in a boat at sea yours. But they were wearing headsets, and the headsets were blanked out when the sonar transmitted. What they were referring to was the transmission being heard through the hull of the submarine. This then had to be modelled.
  84. Email correspondence with Graham Crofts January 2018
  85. Crofts' notes
  86. Email correspondence with John Francis December 2017
  87. Email correspondence with Sam Poole December 2017
  88. Email correspondence with Doug Littlejohns January 2018
  89. Email correspondence with Peter Christmas January 2018
  90. Croft's notes
  91. Email correspondence with Jim Prescott January 2018
  92. Email correspondence with Kevin Butcher January 2018
  93. Email correspondence with Kevin Butcher and Jim Prescott January 2018


  • Akermann, Paul, Encyclopaedia of British Submarines 1901-1955 Penzance, Periscope Publishing, 1989
  • Ballantyne, Iain, Hunter Killers, London, Orion, 2013
  • Butcher, KJ, Common scenario generation tool, Alenia Marconi, 1999
  • Compton-Hall, Submarines and the war at sea 1914-18, London, Macmillan, 1991
  • Coote, John, Submariner, London, Norton, 1991,
  • Fry, Sam, Fruitful Rewarding Years, Stanhope, The Memoir Club, 2006
  • Hackmann, Willem, Seek and Strike, London, HMSO, 1984
  • Hezlet, Vice Admiral Sir Arthur, British and Allied Submarine Operations in World War II, Gosport, The Royal Navy Submarine Museum, 2001
  • Low, Professor AM, The Submarine at War, New York, Sheridan House, 1942
  • Parry, David, The Baltic C Class: Cooperation Chaos & Courage, University of Greenwich, September 2014
  • Rohwer,J, Submarine attacks of WW 2 European Theatre of Operations 1939-1945
  • Simpson, George, Periscope View, Barnsley, Seaforth, 1972
  • Warlow, Lt Cdr B, Shore Establishments of the Royal Navy, Liskeard, Maritime, 1992
  • Young, Edward, One of our Submarines, London, Wordsworth, 1952 18


  • Downer's mini-biographies; A 1943/41; A 1945/4; A 1945/14; A 1976/4; A 1990/073;
  • TNA T-173/698; T-173/968
  • ADM 1/2885; ADM 196/125/229; ADM 204/2453; ADM 275/19


Much of the history of the post-war attack teachers is in the memories of those who built and operated them. I am therefore indebted to the contributions of the following:

Paul Brackner; Kevin Butcher; Peter Christmas; Graham Crofts; John Francis; Richard Irwin; Doug Littlejohns; Jock McLees; David Northam; George Malcolmson; Sam Poole; Jim Prescott; David Rostron; Michael Samborne; Guy Sitwell; Guy Warner; Tony Whetstone.



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ASDIC Equipment Installation In Early Royal Navy SubmarinesThe History Of The British Submarine Periscope