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HMS Explorer - 2nd Commission Memories

By Alan West

Alan joined HMS Explorer in 'refit' at Barrow in Furness shortly before the Submarine moved from the Graving Dock to a berth at the in the Dock System at the Admiralty Development Establishment, Barrow (ADEB). The 'refit' completed in August 1959 after a slight delay owing to a fire in the Turbine Room - caused by a VSEL Coppersmith working with a blow lamp in a cramped bilge space. Alan's comment 'Nasty.'

Explorer in Walney Channel
Explorer in Walney Channel

Alan recalled that he joined the boat with another ERA and they were allocated the Engine Room - one U Class Submarine Diesel Generator sited in the Fore-ends and the Outside ERA's duties whilst the 'Experts' got on with the HTP 'bits'. All crew members joining the boat were given a laboratory demonstration of the volatility of HTP under various conditions – which was not very comforting.

The Plant Layout The Turbine Room was isolated from the rest of the Boat at its Forward Bulkhead during Plant operation. Small observation windows were fitted in the bulkhead but they 'fogged up' progressively during plant operation. It was possible to see red glows in the combustion chamber area – proven!

The Main Motor operational controls were forward of the Turbine Control Platform.

The HTP was stored in 'kidney shaped' bags to suit the contours of the Ballast Tanks. No HTP was stored within the Boat when the Plant was 'Shut Down.'

The Equipment consisted of the Triple Pump which was used to pump the HTP, water and fuel, the Proportioning Device which was used to control the required quantities of HTP, water and fuel, the Catalyst Chambers which was used to activate the HTP, the Combustion Chambers which burnt off the excess Oxygen by injecting and igniting fossil fuel entering the chamber and the de-superheating with water in the lower regions of the chamber.

A CO2 Compressor removed CO2 from the Condenser but was prone to water 'carry over'. Shear keys were fitted to prevent damage if the 'carry over' was excessive and the plant shut down. Propulsion was via a Single Stage Steam Turbine. An Excess Water Pump was fitted to remove water from the system - water was re-formed during HTP operations. The Triple Pumps operated in their own bilge spaces which were maintained at a suitable level to dilute any HTP leakage or draining after shutting down.

After 'Commissioning' HMS Explorer went to Faslane for the usual 'Work Up' during which there were no HTP operations and the post 'Work Up' Divisions ended with Captain SM saying it was nice to see us before we went to Campbeltown to run our own private little Navy! It was around this time when CERA Charlie Aldridge went 'Nuclear' and as I'd passed I was offered the job. After a bit of roster skulduggery it came to pass… end of quiet number!

Explorer and Excalibur each had their own little Depot Ship – Miner 8 for Explorer and Miner 1 for Excalibur but 'they' decided that both should be given names. Excalibur's Depot Ship became HMS Minstrel and the crew devised a musical motif for its funnel as a bar of music consisting of the first six notes of that 'sod's opera' masterpiece 'We're a Shower of Bastards'

I wasn't aware of any change in the crew up until the time that we all locked up the boat and left Barrow in Furness but Mike Kirk reckons that Explorer should have become HMS Mindful. Miner 8 had its own basic crew of half a dozen personnel or so and had the only radar between the two of us.


Operations The Explorer & Excalibur were not designed for being anything other than fast underwater targets and due to the limited provision of bunks, fresh water and domestic facilities it was basically 'day running' only. Further, if the plant was running, it was virtually 'watch on, stop on' for the operators. Running from Campbeltown consisted of leaving early am. to get to the exercise area at reasonable time at our 6 knots surface speed followed by rendezvous with our playmate(s) and exercise until:

  1. The playmate had had enough or had other plans
  2. We ran out of HTP
  3. We had plant problems

If we were due back out again the 'turn round' time was a minimum of 24 hours due to the refuelling process taking a very considerable time in the capable hands of the Chief Stoker. Refuelling was from the RFA Sparbeck who topped up from the bulk HTP storage at Faslane.

Two annual 'Jollies' were granted during the Second Commission. The first was to Ghent in Belgium and the second was to Copenhagen. The first was enjoyable - but uneventful with the submarine leading the way and Minstrel a respectful distance behind and in radio contact. Copenhagen was a different kettle of fish. No problems going apart from the requirement to hit the Pentland Firth at the right time to avoid going against the 6 knot current. The return was different – first night out our little U Class main propulsion generator had a camshaft problem. Fortunately Gothenberg was quite handy so we dropped in. We arranged for a spare which was delivered about four days later. There was a slight problem – U class engines are P & S and guess what! We turned our attention to the old camshaft, and with a few bits off the new one, effected a repair which actually lasted for the rest of the commission.

Towards the end of the Commission the Combustion Chamber steam outlet had to be replaced as the pipe wall had corroded through however a quick visit to Scotts shipyard across the river fixed that for us.

At the end of the Commission HMS Explorer returned to Barrow in Furness in March 1962 and 'Paid Off.' In April 1963, after a gradual reduction in the number of 'refit' crew personnel, it was decided that another 'refit' was not practicable – now the 'Nuclear' programme was in full swing. Locking devices were fashioned and fitted to the hatches and the last five 'refit' crew members went their separate ways after handing over the keys to the Reserve Fleet, Barrow. All in all Explorer had a reasonably successful Second Commission but HTP was pretty obviously not the way ahead.



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