SECRETS OF THE CONQUEROR: THE UNTOLD STORY OF BRITAIN’S MOST FAMOUS SUBMARINE

Reviewed by: BILL EVERSHED

This book takes you to real wartime Action Stations in an SSN. But first you need to walk the boat, for’ard to aft, three decks, meet the Captain, the officers and many of the key ratings, know their names and their jobs. And mark one officer, a bearded buccaneering type, more ‘lad’ than ‘chap’, key to this story because he will be writing a diary, quite openly, but contrary to the OSA. Material for a book?  Yes, but not this one. You will be going with all of them in the boat to the South Atlantic.

And afterwards, on return to Faslane, you will become enmeshed in several years of political chicanery and obfuscation about the implications of the political decision to attack the Belgrano followed by the still unsolved mysterious loss of the Control Room logs. You will meet Soviet spooks, odd balls, journalists, diplomats, admirals, politicians including the Iron Lady, civil servants, Special Branch policemen, and lawyers. Finally attending the two trials, one criminal in which the Crown lost and one civil in which the Newspapers lost; both results a volte face. The revelations run smoothly, intelligently and perspicaciously, both on the surface and when dived beneath it.

All this takes up the bulk of the book, written in an easy-to-read style, slightly pinkish, but having the advantage of being written after the usual OSA 30 years rule, so this book is probably of greatest interest to those who served in the ‘60s/’70s/’80s Cold War, especially to submariners of that generation. But wait! Of even more dynamic interest, disclosed in two chapters as if almost an afterthought, is the revelation of the contemporaneous operation to acquire, while underwater and under-way, a Soviet towed-array sonar, the final success of which required much greater professional skills than those needed even in the South Atlantic. You could skip the rest of the book for these two chapters alone.

And my usual page 59 assessment test reveals the ‘kidnapping’ of the goalkeeper of a Women’s Police Hockey Team by a group of drink-taken submariners: This strength of crew bonding is a constant theme throughout the book. What better place therefore to glean any tiny snippet of information than a pub where walls have ears? So 40 years on, just as the ebb of the Cold War tide is on the turn, this book takes you to real wartime Action Stations in an SSN.