Paying tribute to the submariners and civilian workers who have helped keep our deterrent out at sea for half a century
Barrow MP John Woodcock writes to mark the 50th anniversary of the UK's continuous at-sea nuclear deterrent following a debate in the House of Commons.
For the last fifty years, the Royal Navy have carried out a truly extraordinary achievement: maintaining a continuous at-sea nuclear deterrent.
In April 1969, HMS Resolution became the first nuclear submarine to take to the seas with the UK’s nuclear deterrent, launching Operation Relentless. Ever since then, the Royal Navy has kept a nuclear presence out at sea 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. The operation has run alongside some of the most formative periods in global history, including the end of the Cold War, and all that time the crew had to live with the daily reality that they might one day be required to carry out one of the most difficult tasks known to man.
Yesterday in parliament, MPs rightly paid tribute to the submariners and civilian workers who have helped keep our deterrent out at sea for half a century.
We heard about the extraordinary life of submariners who serve under the waves in a cramped metal underworld for months on end without seeing daylight. The families who carry on life not hearing from their loved ones, not knowing where in the world they are. And the many thousands of shipwrights, engineers and nuclear experts who deploy cutting edge skills in this national endeavour to make and maintain the undetectable nuclear submarines that carry and protect the deterrent.
During the debate marking 50 years of continuous at-sea deterrence we launched a cross-party campaign for a special medal for past and present submariners who have served on the ongoing Operation Relentless. These are men and women who serve in the most difficult of circumstances. For months at a time, they are called away from their families and loved ones, all in the pursuit of keeping our shores safe.
As it stands, the need for secrecy and the continuing nature of the mission have meant there has not been medal for Operation Relentless unlike so many other conflicts.
But this anniversary is the chance to change that. Shadow defence ministers Nia Griffith and Wayne David have lent their support, as has chair of the defence select committee Julian Lewis, and former defence secretary Sir Michael Fallon. I hope many other MPs in the days ahead will sign our new early day motion calling for the government to establish a working group to make this happen.
Campaigns for medals for past service can be frustratingly difficult. Those still urging the government and armed forces to grant a service medal for those involved in strategic bomber command know that all too well.
But where there is a will there is a way. And there must be a will to mark the sacrifice and responsibility of those who participate in Operation Relentless. The government’s announcement that it will create a new ‘bomber pin’ which submariners on the Vanguard class deterrent submarines can pin alongside the gold dolphins that denote membership of the submarine service. But these servicemen deserve a full medal.
The debate and anniversary has come at a time when Western allies are facing some of the gravest threats to our security since the Cold War. A recalcitrant Russia, a rogue North Korea and the US withdrawal from the Iran Deal are just three of many credible threats to our way of life that makes our nuclear deterrent so essential to the UK’s security strategy. Nuclear weapons are a reality that cannot be wished away, and for as long as these threats exist, we must be prepared to stand first against them.
We need to show political will for the deterrent to sure up our shores for generations to come. A key part of that should be this new way to show the nation’s gratitude for the submariners who put themselves in harm’s way under the oceans.
John Woodcock is MP for Barrow and Furness
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