HMS Alliance Reopens After £7 Million Restoration

HMS Alliance Then and Now: In its heydays and after its restoration
HMS Alliance Then and Now: In its heydays and after its restoration

The only surviving WWII-era submarine of the British – the HMS Alliance – has reopened its doors to tourists after successfully undergoing major restoration which costed £7 million.

HMS Alliance Then and Now: In its heydays and after its restoration
HMS Alliance Then and Now: In its heydays and after its restoration.

HMS Alliance, the 281-feet WWII submarine based at the Royal Navy Submarine Museum, went through a complete overhaul. It was fitted with new interpretation as well as soundscapes and lighting, The Daily Mail reports. The restoration project was in connection to the HMS Alliance being one of the three chief exhibits which mark the centenary of Portsmouth Historic Dockyard’s untold stories.

HMS Alliance tours will now start with a brand-new film featuring the narration of British actor and Hollywood star Ian McShane. The said documentary highlights how life was while living inside HMS Alliance from the Second World War to the Cold War and up until 1970s.

The HMS Alliance makeover took care of even the tiniest details inside the WWII-era submarine including the smells which make it seem like its crew had just gone ashore. Tours inside the newly renovated underwater craft started late March. Visitors now have the chance to delve deep into the decades the HMS Alliance was in service, that is, from the 1940s until the 70s.

Visitors can also make use of the submarine’s working periscope to get a view of Portsmouth Harbor. Additionally, former submariners will be on duty acting as tour guides and are more than ready to share their own personal accounts about their times under the waters.

As Royal Navy Submarine Museum director Chris Munns put it, a tour inside HMS Alliance is really an assault to the visitors’ senses as the visit will really be realistic, bringing to life the how-tos of a submariner inside a submarine.

He further added that the museum is quite proud of HMS Alliance and is grateful that the craft has been restored so the future generation can still see its glory.

HMS Alliance was a memorial in honor some 5,300 British submariners. The underwater craft was designed during the Second World War for service in the Far East. It was launched in 1945 in time of the Allies’ victory over the Axis Powers.

HMS Alliance stayed in service for 28 years. She even held the world record for the longest dive b y a submarine when she stayed underwater for 30 days in 1947. She served during the Cold War and got retired in 1973.

The only surviving specimen of the Royal Navy’s class-A submarine, HMS Alliance was put into exhibit in 1981 and became the museum’s main feature on Gosport waterfront. However, the museum had to shut it down last year to make way for its restoration.

According to John Buffery, a Gosport native and former serviceman on Royal Navy submarines during the Cold War, HMS Alliance is the only surviving submarine from the WWII era which the public can visit and look into. So, the refurbishments done in the craft were a reflection of what she was like back then in her years of service – from the Forties up to the Sixties.

When asked to describe life on board the subs, John was quick to say that it was smelly with the odor of both the gas and diesel permeating into their clothes and even in their skin pores. He also added that submariners did not mind hygiene and would go on days without bathing and wearing the same clothes. They didn’t have to wear uniforms; just clothes which afterwards they could just throw away when they get on shore.

Bill Handyside, 86 and from Portsmouth, worked as an engine room artificer in HMS Alliance in 1965. He’s on tour duty retelling his submarine days as part of the exhibit.

He recounted that his life was completely turned around when he became a submariner. He’d go sick and feel horrible when he was on the surface and couldn’t wait to go on aboard where everything  seemed stable. For most of the time, he said, they’d work hard and played hard. Once they got ashore, though, he and his comrades drank a lot.

He commented about how people thought being a submariner was volunteer work. Even his discharge papers pointed to that. But then, Bill knew he never volunteered to be a submariner. Same was true for most of his friends. They were all drafted into the subs.

On the other hand, the Head of Heritage Lottery Fund South East England Stuart McLeod stated that they are happy to have made a vital contribution to the restoration of HMS Alliance. The organization awarded a grant of £3.4 million to the project.

HMS Alliance tickets cost £12.50 for adults. The ticket includes tours in Holland 1, Royal Navy’s first submarine and X24, WWII’s only surviving midget sub.

Heziel Pitogo

Heziel Pitogo is one of the authors writing for WAR HISTORY ONLINE