Breaking Through: HMS Dreadnought at the North Pole

30 May 23

Edited by Commander ROBIN WHITESIDE OBE RN

(Friends of the Royal Navy Submarine Museum)

68 pages

Available from

The polar mission (Exercise SNIFF to the MOD) was proposed by Commander Alan Kennedy OBE in 1969, who had been appointed Dreadnought’s commander and whose narrative makes up the bulk of the book. The target date for the polar mission was February to March 1971 during a three week window when the polar ice could be penetrated. A long refit was carried out at Rosyth until October 1970, during which time the boat’s nuclear core was replaced after five years of continuous operations. Naturally, having been Dreadnought’s first navigator, Commander Kennedy is greatly interested in the navigational problems associated with polar operations, a theme that runs throughout the book.

The book contains many fascinating details concerning the operation of nuclear reactor technology and life aboard a 1960s-era nuclear attack submarine more generally (red lighting conditions, smoking cigarettes, burning oxygen candles for the CO2 scrubbers, the novelty of unlimited fresh water, high speed runs…).

The tension increases at pace with each chapter, as the more routine day to day activities dissolve into the pressure to prepare for the Arctic mission and execute it (de-icing procedures, extra stores of food, emergency supplies and anti-freeze, safety measures to protect the masts, briefly operating in freezing conditions with the Oberon-class HMS Oracle…).

The Arctic mission itself is revealing regarding the numerous difficulties experienced (difficulties with navigation due to atmospheric conditions and equipment, attempts to surface – or not – under variously thin ice ‘skylights’, operating in -33ºC weather with wind chill putting the temperature at -61ºC, frozen instruments as a result, damage to the propeller from ice…), but also the submarine and its crew’s high degree of skill, efficiency and innovation. The attendance of noted polar explorer and glaciologist Charles Swithinbank ensured that the mission recorded a plethora of scientific details.

The book is effectively illustrated, contains spectacular and unique photographs of Dreadnought operating in the Arctic, and is accompanied by several useful Appendices, including details on Arctic navigation (how to find North at the North Pole!), a mission summary and list of crewmembers for SNIFF, a summary of the career of Commander Kennedy, and a list of previous and future HMS Dreadnoughts of the Royal Navy.