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1990 - 1994: Upholder Class

HMS Upholder was the first of an entirely new class of diesel-electric submarine to be built for the Royal Navy. It was intended that the Upholder Class would be in service with the RN well into the next century, gradually replacing their predecessors, the Oberon Class.

Originally it was intended to build seven of the class but only four were produced.

  • Upholder
    Built by VSEL, Barrow. First of 2400 class. Launched by Her Royal Highness the Duchess of Kent on 2nd December 1986. After much deliberation she was allowed to sail under Wanklyn's crest instead of the official one. Commissioned on 9th June, 1990. Paid off 1994. Mothballed at Barrow.
  • Unseen
    Built by Cammell Laird, Birkenhead. Launched Nov 1989, commissioned Summer 1991. Paid off 1994. Mothballed at Barrow.
  • Ursula
    Built by Cammell Laird, Birkenhead. Commissioned May 1992. Paid off 1994. Mothballed at Barrow.
  • Unicorn
    Built by Cammell Laird, Birkenhead. Launched April 1992. Paid off 1995. Mothballed at Barrow.

The Upholder design benefited considerably from the research and development programme carried out for the Royal Navy's nuclear-powered Fleet Submarines. The hull form, in particular, embodies features, which have been derived from the extensive hydrodynamic testing carried out in connection with these latest-generation SSNs.

The two subs here are Osiris and Unicorn, the O Boat is being taken apart as spares for the Canadians, Unicorn is either getting ready for trials or just back from them, the dock is 5 dock, just over the wall from the Birkenhead Priory


The propulsion system propulsion system comprises two high-speed diesel engines, each of which is coupled to a 1.4 MW generator, and a double-armature main motor, which drives a single propeller. The generators can be used either to provide power to the main motor directly or to charge the boat's main battery.

With two motors on a common frame driving a single propeller. It is conceivable that in future they could be fitted with fuel cell technology (Air Independent Propulsion).

Tactical Weapons System

The Upholder Class have six bow-mounted weapon discharge tubes, each capable of discharging dual-purpose wire-guided heavyweight torpedoes, anti-ship missiles and submarine mines.

HMS Upholder entering Walney Channel. The new dock gates to accommodate Trident were under construction in the background

Command System

A fully integrated computerised sonar suite provides long-range detection and attack capabilities. Information from the sensors is digitally processed and passed by link to a central Action Information Organisation (AIO) computer, where it is displayed in a coherent form for the Command Team.

The system also processes visual data from the periscopes, information from the radar and ESM masts and manual inputs such as navigational data.


The external communications system provides reception facilities across a wide spectrum of radio frequencies, and transmission within the military, HF, VHF and UHF bands.


The maximisation of remote control and automatic surveillance systems has resulted in a reduction of the Ship's Company from 120, for a similarly equipped SSN, or 75 for the much more labour-intensive Oberon Class, to a total of 47 - comprising 7 Officers, 16 Senior Ratings and 24 Junior Ratings.

During the design phase, considerable emphasis was placed on improvements to the living standards onboard.

Upholder passing through the Thames Barrier


In 1998, after much speculation the Upholder Class were sold to Canada and a programme of reactivation began at the Barrow yard. The first vessel to receive the attentions of the yard was HMS Unseen which took on the mantle of first of class when commissioned as HMCS Victoria.

The collection of photographs to the right shows HMS Unseen being lifted out of the water and moved inside the huge Devonshire Dock Hall for her six month long docking period.

The Hall was initially built to support the Trident Submarine programme and it includes Workshops, Offices, Machine Shops, Pipe Manufacturing Facilities and just about everything else the shipbuilder needs in one location. Thus the majority of the tasks required to reactivate the boats is undertaken during this period ashore.

There is a Canadian Naval tradition of naming vessels after Canadian communities to establish a tangible and enduring link between the Canadian Navy and and its people.

The criteria for the selection of names for the subs was further refined to consider communities that have an association with the Atlantic/Pacific coasts or a major Canadian waterway. Thus four Canadian port cities were selected.

This will also enable the Canadian Navy to foster strong ties with these communities and the surrounding regions.

The full transformation proceeded as follows:

Build Order
1 2 Unseen Victoria
2 4 Unicorn Windsor
3 3 Ursula Cornerbrook
4 1 Upholder Chicoutimi
Related Pages
The Upholder FiascoRead
To many serving in the fleet it now appeared that anything which was not cost effective or productive was a potential candidate to be retired or sold-off. The exception everyone presumed was, of course, new vessels including the Upholders - but even they tell victim.
Upholder Class Boats Go To CanadaRead
The Royal Navy's all nuclear-powered submarine force arrived just a few years after it accepted for service four modern diesel-electric submarines of the UPHOLDER (S40) class (designated SSK for hunter killer). The decision to retire these excellent boats was made for financial reasons following the Cold War. This note reviews the Upholders and their retirement from the fleet.
Upholder/Victoria Class PropulsionRead
Electrical Propulsion of the RCN Victoria Class Diesel-Electric Submarine


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