Onyx (S21)

Built By: Cammell Laird (Mersey)
Build Group: O2
Fate: Sold October 1991 to the Warships Preservation Trust at Liverpool and despite several subsequent groups trying to preserve her Onyx was towed away from her berth at Barrow to begin her journey to the scrapyard on June 12, 2013

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HMS Onyx is an Oberon class attack submarine. Originally ordered for the Canadian Navy she was transferred to the Royal Navy whilst under construction. Built at the Cammel Laird dockyard, Birkenhead she was launched in August 1966. Commissioned the following September, she joined the 3rd Submarine Squadron at Faslane on the River Clyde.

HMS Onyx was powered by two supercharged V16 - ASR1 diesel engines when running on the surface, and two battery powered electric motors when running submerged. These batteries, although allowing the submarine to travel underwater up to speeds of 17 knots, only last for relatively short periods before requiring a recharge from the main diesel engines. HMS Onyx is 295ft (89.4m) in length, 26.5ft (8m) breadth with an 18ft (5.5m) draught and the class is quite unique in the fact that the casing is constructed of glass fibre and alloy, the first time a plastic had been used in any submarine construction.

Her weapons were deployed through six, 21" forward torpedo tubes and comprised of the standard Mk. 8 free running torpedo, the wire-guided Mk. 24 Tigerfish torpedo (which HMS Onyx extensively tested), and later the Sub-Harpoon missile. She was also capable of deploying mines.

The working life of HMS Onyx comprised of four different commissions that were to ultimately take her around the globe.

Her first commission centred largely on home waters, including a visit to Swansea for the investiture of The Prince of Wales in July 1969, but also included visits to a selection of European ports. In October 1971 she entered Portsmouth for the first time for her first scheduled re-fit.

Re-entering service two years later she was based with the 1st Submarine Squadron in Gosport. Her duties this time were to take her further a field and included exercises in the Mediterranean and the 1976 American bicentennial celebrations, before returning to Portsmouth for a second re-fit.

Her third commission saw her again with the 1st Submarine Squadron participating in various European exercises, as well as a spell in the Mediterranean. In 1981 she was involved in training exercises out of Portland before being called upon to join the Falklands task force where she was to excel in a 'special operations' role, silently moving close inshore to land special forces and gather intelligence.

After a triumphant return to Gosport, HMS Onyx made her way to Rosyth for a further re-fit before commencing her 4th and final commission. It's highlight being a five-month return to the Falkland Islands as part of the South Atlantic patrol.

Her final service days were ironically to be with the Canadian Navy, returning for the last time to Gosport on the 14th December 1990, before being purchased by the Warship Preservation Trust at auction in October 1991. Saved from the scrap-yard, HMS Onyx shared pride of place next to another Falkland Veteran, HMS Plymouth, just a short way from the shipyard that built her.

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War Patrol The Falklands - HMS OnyxRead
HMS Onyx was on a visit to Plymouth when the summons came. Her Commanding Officer had just arrived at his home nearby when the telephone rang with orders to take his submarine back to Gosport. He would not be back for another 117 days.

The scrapping of HMS Onyx

In May 2006 HMS Onyx was bought by Barrovian businessman Joe Mullens. Mr Mullens, who ran a company in Lincolnshire, beat off a bid by a rival group from Gibraltar which recognised Onyx's value as a tourist attraction. The 300ft Oberon class diesel submarine was intended to become the main attraction at a new Submarine Heritage Centre planned for Barrow but this didn't materialise.

HMS Onyx finally left Barrow on Wednesday 30th April - just short of six years after she arrived in Barrow for the Festival of the Sea in 2006. At about 1000 in the morning the boat was observed to be under tow towards the Dock Entrance. At the high tide the boat exited the Dock System. The boat was under the control of two tugs – one ahead (Bruiser) towing and the other astern steading. There was a heavy sea mist at the time and the boat was soon lost to view as she headed down the Walney Channel. Shortly after lunchtime the mist began to clear and the tow could be seen heading north past Biggar Bank but was soon again lost to view.

HMS Onyx was on the way to the Clyde to the DMD Yard at Roseneath in the Gareloch where the batteries are to be removed – but not via the 'Built In' battery removal routes but by exposing the top of the Battery tanks and then lifting the cells. The boat will then be scrapped.

A report on the indicated that the Tug and Onyx were sighted passing Rothesay around 1500 on Thursday 1st May.

It was originally thought that Onyx was to go to Cardiff to be scrapped - there is a group based at Greenock on the Clyde who wanted the Submarine to go to Greenock to be displayed in the James Watt Dock (ex Scott's Shipyard) as the centre piece of a Heritage Centre to be established there. However their James Watt Dock option was found to be not possible (for technical reasons), a second plan to use the Victoria Dock then failed (the water is not deep enough and dredging was not possible owing to the bottom being rock) and, additionally, the anticipated funding from local authorities was not going to be available as had been expected.

All in all a sad end for the only Conventional Submarine to see service in the South Atlantic during the Falklands Campaign and for a Submarine that so many people put in so much effort to preserve intact. Thousands of man hours of effort (all unpaid) were put in but some twenty of so volunteers and more time and effort was put in writing several versions of the Business Plan, a Docking Plan, Risk Assessments, Method Statements and a Health and Safety Plan.


28-05-1962 : HMS Onyx ordered from HM Dockyard Chatham
18-08-1966 : Launched
12-06-2006 : Onyx arrives at Barrow where she will eventually become the main attraction at a new Submarine Heritage Centre
12-06-2013 : After the planned Submarine Heritage Center failed to materialise. Onyx was towed away from her berth at Barrow to begin her journey to the scrapyard


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Opportune (S20)Onyx (Ojibwa)