Diesel Weasel
Yorkie and Spud
3 O Boats
forward mess
Taff Hartvelt and me
derelict boats


Submarine refitting at Devonport was done in a floating dock in the north-east corner of 5 basin in North Yard. I have happy memories of rushing from the Refit Group across the brow and up the steep flights of steps to attend the nightly fire exercise. The Refit Group was housed in a red brick building adjacent to the floating dock and was commanded by a Lt/Cdr Gibson, affectionately known as Tin-head. Tin-head was a bit of a bluff old duffer of the old school; during his service he had suffered an accident which left him with a depressed fracture to his skull, this had been repaired with a metal plate, hence his nickname. He was prone to having his 'lads' in for an informal chat, which could be an alarming experience due to his manner of speaking. He'd always start off a sentence booming away in a loud voice, but as the conversation progressed, his voice would trail away to an almost inaudible murmur before soaring back up to a bellow. So when he had me in his office he'd begun by telling me what an intelligent rating I was (remember, he'd suffered a blow to the head) and how I should...but then his voice dipped and I began to daydream before he startled me with "Of course they wouldn't make you an officer straight away but...mutter, murmur, mutter...". Obviously his injury gave him second sight, they never did make me an officer.

We were out on the booze almost every night, waiting at the pub door for opening time, being kicked out of the Commodore Club at half-past two. As the pubs in those far off days still shut at 14.30, you had to be creative in your choice of venue if you wanted to drink through to the evening session. The Griffin Club at Brickfields was a good option, this filled the akward gap between the pubs shutting and the Royal Naval Fleet Club opening at 16.00. The late nights and over-indulgence took their toll, but I'd constructed a special locker in the refit lay-apart store into which I could crawl to sleep off a hangover. There was also a floating canteen adjacent to the floating dock which had a lower deck. The canteen ladies would open up at nine and serve you a bottle of cider and a pasty and usher you below. Sometimes, like the Jews in occupied Europe, we could hear the fascist troops (Chief Stoker. Cox'n and POLTO) searching for us above, but the courageous canteen girls never did give us away. I should have kept a diary, I could've been famous.

During a refit it was usual for a proportion of the crew to change. Ginge Steer, the POLTO, was one of the first move on. His replacement was possibly the service's only Eskimo (or in his own description, Russo/Canadian/Polynesian), Terry Mortlock. Terry is one of the nicest people you could wish to meet, invaribly cheerful with a puckish sense of humour; he acquired to nickname 'Golden Bollocks' well before David Beckham was born. He has the really annoying knack of being revoltingly cheerful first thing in the morning, even after a night on the booze. The motor room was a happy place under his stewardship. Around the same time the motor room team received three new members, two Scotsmen, Slinger (Peter) Woods and Sheepie (Russell) Shearer, and a new LOEM Spud (Ian) Murphy. Spud was a fellow Yorkshire man and something of a rascal from the Sergeant Bilko school of leadership, with Spud's arrival went any hope of my being commissioned. Spud always had a project on the go, he'd go scavenging around the dockyard, blagging knives and God knows what from the stores. I think he had a thirst for knowledge; one day he wondered what would happen if he inserted a high pressure hose into a plastic barrel then sink it in 5 basin before turning on the air. The resulting explosion reverberated around the dockyard, we didn't hang around to see the reaction.

SM2, the Sunshine Squadron

Upon completing refit Opportune joined the Second Submarine Squadron, the so called 'Sunshine Squadron'. The squadron's base was alongside HMS Defiance a WW2 vintage submarine depot ship, formerly called HMS Forth. I think the boat we relieved in SM2 was the Cachalot, but I may be wrong in that. The other conventional boat in the squadron was definitely the Narwhal, an ageing P class boat . When Narwhal was finally paid off HMS Olympus became our sister ship, the two crewa got to know each other so well that its sometimes difficult to remember who was on which boat.

HMS Forth before she was renamed DefianceThere was a great atmosphere in the Junior Rates mess on Defiance when both boats were in, it was the equivalent of the Rosario Bar in Dolphin. The NAAFI ladies who ran the canteen and bar were a breed apart, one of them, Daisy, a one eyed lady of a certain age, sticks in my memory as being both a tartar and a mother figure rolled into one. The trip back to the boats down the steep brow after a dinner time session could be a hazardous business. We lost at least one crew member over the side, he'd decided that a visit to the Danish boat outboard of Opportune was in order. The Danish boats were tiny with very little casing to rest a brow on, alas Jolly Jack's arrival on said casing coincided with a tug passing. The resulting swell caused the boat to roll enough for the brow to overhang the casing with the result that a very soggy, and considerably more sober British tar was fished out further down the Tamar.

In those less environmentally friendly days the heads on Defiance were a source of amusement. It was possible to flush the toilet, have time to stick your head out of a scuttle and hail the boat's trot sentry who would then mark your effort out of ten as it shot out into the Tamar. Everything about Defiance was old and cranky, everything from the deck cranes to the Chiefs down in the workshops. The facilities in the workshops would be considered inadequate these days, but the quality of work the tiffs produced was remarkable.

Eventually the floating HMS Defiance was replaced by a concrete one also called HMS Defiance (ultraconservative is the Admiralty). There was no bar for Jack's DTS, times were changing. Before Defiance was towed away Spud led a raiding party which liberated many shiny objects, including a brass voice pipe and tank contents tally, which found a home in Opportune's motor room.

Sent Forward

As an OEM (Ordinance Electrical Mechanic) my natural place of employment was the motor room, a place I had become comfortable with. Their Lordships of the Admiralty must have got wind of this for they put into place an experiment whereby OEMs would be cross-trained to become part of the fore-ends torpedo team. Formerly the torpedoes had been operated by their own dedicated branch of seamen, the UWs. However it was felt by the powers that be that torpedoes were becoming complicated electrical things so, therefore, they should be served by electricians. Quite how an intimate knowledge of motors and generators equated to the electronics of modern Mk 24 torpedoes escaped me, but to the fore-ends I had to go. The killick of the fore-ends was George Richardson, a craggy geordie ex-miner. George was one of the hardest men I ever met, not at all the swaggering bully would-be hard men you could meet down Union Street, but a phenomenally capable fellow with the fastest head in the fleet. He was, despite being as hard as nails, an amiable bloke full of good humour. Once, whilst in Faslane, Prince Charles had parked his mine sweeper on the same jetty as us and, knowing our skipper of old, had wandered down the boat. The skipper took him on a tour of the boat and he shared a tin with the duty watch in the fwd mess. He accidentally sat on George's hand, George said he'd never wash it again. When George offered him a cigarette the prince declined, saying that he didn't smoke, "Howay, you don't?" said George, peering at the royal warrant on the packet, "well your mother likes them man!".

As part of the fore-ends team I was nominally a seaman so, whilst on the surface, had to take my turn on the helm and as lookout on the fin. I enjoyed this aspect of the job, even in foul weather. Of course you got soaked if there was a sea running, but it was exciting none the less. Depending on who was the officer of the watch you could have a good conversation whilst on the fin. Of course some officers were more welcoming than others, one subby I remember was sulking after getting a wigging from the Jimmy about something or other. He was taking it out on the lookout telling him to keep a sharp lookout or he'd know all about it. I was on the bridge delivering a flask of coffee when the lookout, a three badge Irishman, reported a contact "Ship at green 70 sorr, it's a tanker" the officer picked up his binoculars and and scanned the horizon eventually picking up the tiny speck of a ship on the reported bearing. "How can you tell that that's a tanker at that distance lookout?" to which he replied "Well it's too far out to be a fecking horse and cart sorr"

Another story concerning the same Irishman, although it's probably apocryphal: the skipper was on the bridge and was furious at the erratic course been steered. He shouted down the voice pipe "Who's the idiot on the end of this voice pipe!" to which Paddy answered with great aplomb "Which end sorr?"

We had Flag Officer Submarines (FOSM) John Fieldhouse as a sea rider whilst I was in the fore ends. He was chatting with the skipper saying that he thought the experiment with greenies in the fore ends was going well at which I spluttered my disbelief. "Are you having a seizure or disagreeing with me young man?" the great man asked.
  "Well, it's not going so great from where I'm standing sir"
  "That's enough Sugden!" the skipper growled.
  "No, that's alright Captain" FOSM said "we Yorkshire men are allowed to speak as we find." I could tell from the skipper's face that he had different views on that. It certainly changed my opinion of Rear Admiral Fieldhouse, he had the common touch with the lads; he even remembered my name when I passed him in Dolphin a year later, minds 't you, I did have it emblazoned across my number 8 shirt. And he must have taken my views on board, the experiment was eventually abandoned to be replace with an equally bizarre scheme.

I spent four months in the fore ends, polishing the bright work and heaving torpedoes about. In many ways I enjoyed the experience, it was quite exciting pulling the levers to shoot the fish, but it wasn't where my heart lay. The only way out was to pass for leading hand, a drastic step involving much study. I passed the written exam without too much trouble, the next stage was to pass an oral examination by an engineering officer back at Defiance. The oral took place in an officers day cabin, I was thoroughly prepared by Terry the POLTO, but was confused by the examining officer, a LT/CDR. Every time he asked me a question he'd do an extravagant wink, "is he trying to give me a clue?" I thought to myself, I couldn't really see what he was getting at. "How would you test this desk lamp?" wink, "How would you work out the remaining battery capacity?" wink. leer. I eventually got through the ordeal by not looking at him. "Well done OEM Sugden" he said winking furiously "A good board despite a shaky start. Carry on." wink, wink. I passed him on the quarter deck the following morning, he winked as he returned my salute. As I fell into step next to Spud he asked how I got on at my board, I told him we'd just passed the examining officer "Oh, you had old Winky did you?" It transpired that he had a nervous twitch.

There being something of a shortage of leading hands in my branch at the time, I made good my escape from the fore ends six weeks later and returned to the motor room in triumph as a senior motor room watch keeper. I suppose had it not been for my trip to the fore ends I could have remained an AB for the rest of my career.

next page >>