Keith Hall. Polaris: The History of the UK’s Submarine Force. The History Press, 2018. 160 pp., ISBN 9780752451770. £16.99GBP.
Keith Hall’s Polarisis a meticulously researched study of the history of the United Kingdom’s submarine force. Over four chapters Hall focuses on the establishment and service of the 10th Submarine Squadron that carried Britain’s nuclear missile deterrent between 1968 to 1996. Hall brings to bear not only the official history and context of the UK’s Polaris submarine program but also brings it to life with his own judiciously placed anecdotes as well as observations from other former Royal Navy submariners. The inclusion of both open Government license historical images, press clippings and photos from personal collections also adds greatly to satisfy curiosity and add depth to the book.
Setting the scene with a historical narrative upon the origins and causes of the Cold War and Britain’s evolving strategic predicament during the 20th century, the book provides a fascinating insight into the initial rivalry over which service would provide Britain’s independent deterrent role in the Cold War. Interesting observations on issues for example between key figures such as Sir Solly Zuckerman, Lord Mountbatten, Sir Gerard Templer and Conservative Defence Minister Duncan Sandy’s provide not only important insight into critical defence decision making about the submarine force but also provide valuable insights into the relationships and alliances between these key figures and their’ role in 20th century British history (p.90).
Hall importantly allows the reader a window into these conundrums and competing arguments upon a variety of issues that include but is not limited to whether RAF aircraft armed with the nuclear deterrent presented too much of a stationary risk to the British isles, and whether the submarine force could carry enough missile of an adequate range, potency and accuracy to be a valid deterrent. The author provides a great deal of valuable context in which decisions over weapons systems such as ‘Blue Streak’ and ‘Sky Bolt’ were considered and how eventually the Polaris submarine program was justified as the most efficacious compared to these and other British and US suggested solutions.
Hall also provides the reader valuable insights into the design and production of the submarines from Captain Moore’s briefing paper to the Ministry of Defence in 1962 (p.77) to various important issues over the course of their production from access to appropriate steel supplies, industrial and scientific issues to the induction of new management processes to ensure a timely production of the submarines. Hall notes for example early concerns as to whether Britain’s shipyards had the capacity to build the new submarines while also being able to maintain its other naval commitments (p.89).
An important feature of the book is how Hall describes British party- political positions on the Polaris program as well as Britains ‘special relationship’ with the US and its NATO commitments. The author spends some time on these important internal British considerations. Hall also valuably traces the history and implications of US assistance to Britain during the Second World War, the impact of Churchill’s ‘Sinews of Peace’ address in Fulton Missouri in 1946 (p.44) to post-war difficulties arising out of the Suez crisis to Britain’s efforts to ensure a US commitment to Europe
This book is ideal for those who wish to understand the evolution of UK Naval, defence and alliance strategy during the Cold War. More specifically it would be a useful addition to any students or party with an interest in the Cold War, the nature of deterrence, the notion of mutually assured destruction (MAD) as well as more generally those with interests in UK Naval History and British US relations.
Dr Mark F. Briskey is currently a Senior Lecturer at Murdoch University Perth Western Australia. Mark has been employed in a number of Government and Academic roles. Prior to joining Murdoch University Mark was employed as a Historian at the Australian Department of Veteran Affairs. He has a PhD from the Australian Defence Force Academy at the University of New South Wales and a Master of Strategic Affairs from the Australian National University. He can be contacted at Mark.Briskey@murdoch.edu.au.