Britain’s Only WW2-Era Submarine Reopens to Public

Britain’s Only WW2-Era Submarine Reopens to Public

HMS Alliance – Britain’s only WW2-era submarine – reopens to the public today after a three-year restoration project. Around £7m has been spent revamping the boat at the RN Submarine Museum in Gosport, making her appear brand new both inside and out.


Pristine on the outside and alive with sounds, voices and smells inside is Britain’s only World War 2-era submarine today unveiled after a £7m ‘refit’.

HMS Alliance, the jewel in the crown of the Royal Navy Submarine Museum in Gosport, has received the most extensive refurbishment in the 33 years she has been on display to the public.

Before the restoration – funded by a mix of public donations and lottery money – the hull of the diesel submarine was in a poor state after more than three decades of exposure to the elements, and from pigeon droppings.

Over the past two and a half years, every inch of Alliance’s hull has been restored, repaired or replaced – and a jetty built beneath her so visitors to the museum can walk underneath for the first time, and her conservators can work more easily on the boat.

And inside every nut, bolt, cog has been removed, cleaned or restored, then replaced.

Britain’s Only WW2-Era Submarine Reopens to Public.

The attack periscope – previously stored in its well – has been restored and raised; it’s trained on shipping moving around in the Solent – just as any submariner would want it.

And the museum has also added what they call ‘soundscapes’ – from banter in the messdecks to taking Alliance to periscope depth have been created by a sound artist throughout the boat.

Also when it comes to enhancing the Alliance experience, staff have scoured eBay and made use of the generosity of enthusiasts and former submariners to root out not just ephemera from the late ’40s through to the ’60s, but also fittings, dials and kit not present before Alliance’s £7m revamp.

“It’s not about how Alliance works, but how she feels, what she was like to be aboard,” explained curator Bob Mealings who’s overseen the boat’s restoration.

“The sound system is phenomenal – very subtle, very atmospheric. It’s all part of making Alliance much more vivid.

“Everything you see has been cleaned, restored, re-painted, plus there’s a lot of new equipment. It has been hard – particularly working in a confined space, but the results are superb. It’s actually worked much better than we ever imagined.”

Among those privileged to look around the boat ahead of her re-opening former crewman CPO(ERA) Bill Handyside who served in Alliance from 1956-58 and hasn’t been aboard her in more than 50 years.

“I think she’s great – especially the sound effects, it really brings her back to life. They have got the spirit of Alliance right, right back to her early days. She’s just the same as when I was serving in her,” he said.

Also as part of the revamp, Hollywood actor and former Lovejoy star Ian McShane – who filmed an episode of his antiques comedy-drama at the museum 20 years ago – has added his voice to a new documentary film charting Alliance’s career.

Before the boat’s restoration the museum attracted around 45,000 visitors a year.

With the boat’s new look plus the fact that tourists can now buy a pass for all the naval museums on both sides of the harbour from April 4 (including a water bus link with the historic dockyard), museum staff are hopeful of upwards of 80,000 people a year visiting.

Alliance, which serves as a living memorial to all British submariners on eternal patrol, will be formally rededicated at a ceremony on May 12 attended by Prince William, who’s patron of the restoration appeal.

Press Release, April 3, 2014; Image: Royal Navy