Resolution Class

Overview

Nationality: United Kingdom

Britain’s nuclear deterrent was at first carried by RAF V-bombers. As they became more vulnerable to interception, plans were put in hand to acquire the American Skybolt system. This air-launched missile would have provided a substantial stand off capability. Unfortunately the system failed to work well and the Americans cancelled it. At first the Americans offered to sell the whole Skybolt programme to the British and allow them to try and develop it into a reliable weapon, but the British turned down the idea. President Kennedy then offered both the British and the French the chance to have Polaris submarine launched missiles. The British accepted the deal; the French did not.

In February 1963 the Government announced it was ordering four ‘Resolution’ class nuclear powered submarines with an option for a fifth. When complete these new submarines would take over the nuclear deterrent from the Royal Air Force.

Ordered in two pairs from Vickers Shipbuilding Ltd, Barrow-in-Furness, and Cammell Laird, Birkenhead; the option on the fifth boat was never taken up and was formally cancelled in February 1965.

Although the government went to considerable lengths to argue that these submarines were British, both in build and design, they did incorporate design features found in their American contemporaries, the ‘Lafayette’ class.

The first, HMS Resolution, was launched in September 1966 and was commissioned in the following year. In 1968 she sailed for Florida for missile trials. She made the Royal Navy’s first successful Polaris launch on 15 February 1968.

In June HMS Resolution went to sea on her first operational patrol. At that time she was armed with Polaris A3P missiles.

Like other western nations operating nuclear missile submarines there is a need both to maximise the length of the cruise and to keep the boat operational at all times. To facilitate this two crews are carried; known as Port and Starboard.

The Royal Navy realised that Soviet missile defences and anti-submarine warfare was improving and during the 1980s all four submarines went through costly upgrades. The first part was to allow them to carry the much improved Polaris A-TK missile which was fitted with the British developed Chevaline multiple independently targeted re-entry vehicle (MIRV) warhead.

This upgrade, however, only put off for a short time the obsolescence of the Polaris system and in July 1980 the British government announced it would be replaced by the American Trident system. Two years later the contract was modified to allow for the purchase of the larger D-5 missiles.

As the Trident boats came into service the Polaris boats were retired.


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