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  • Writer's pictureShaun Lewis

Another submarine salty dit – or how my mother learned I had grown a beard

In submarines it is quite common not to shave when on patrol. This is a throw- back to the days when the Royal Navy operated conventional submarines and fresh water was in short supply. Accordingly, on my first submarine patrol, I stopped shaving and sported a full set.

This patrol was a top secret, intelligence gathering mission in the South Atlantic. However, every four weeks or so, we approached the Falkland Islands to meet with the General commanding the islands to exchange intelligence. The General would be brought out to us by helicopter at first light as it was dark enough to maintain our clandestine posture, but light enough for the helicopter pilot to see the horizon for the winch transfer to our submarine casing. On such occasions, I was usually the officer of the watch on the bridge controlling the transfer. As soon as the transfer was over, we would dive in order to avoid prying eyes. We prided ourselves on our slickness in being on the surface for the minimum time.

It was with some surprise, therefore, that I received a letter a few weeks later from my mother, complaining about the distortion of my youthful looks by the fungus of hair on my face. I had not told her, so how on earth did she know?

It later transpired that one of our ‘top secret’ helicopter transfers had been captured by a film crew in the back of the helicopter and featured on News on Ten. We learned that our operations had been too clandestine and the MOD was worried that the Argentinians might venture another attack on the Falklands. By deliberately leaking details of our presence in such a visual form, the MOD hoped that the Argentinian Naval Attaché in London would brief his lords and masters that there really was a submarine lurking in the South Atlantic. It demonstrates that submarines are not always the best instrument for gunboat diplomacy.

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