British Porpoise-class submarine

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HMS Rorqual
Class overview
Name: Porpoise
Operators:  Royal Navy
Preceded by: Explorer class
Succeeded by: Oberon class
Built: 1956–1959
In service: 1961-1980s
In commission: 1956–1988
Completed: 8
General characteristics
Type: Patrol/Attack submarine
  • 2,080 tons surfaced
  • 2,450 tons submerged
Length: 290 ft (88 m)
Beam: 26 ft 7 in (8.10 m)
Draught: 18 ft (5.5 m)
  • 2 × Admiralty Standard range diesel generators, 1,650 hp (1,230 kW)
  • 2 × English Electric main motors, 12,000 hp (8,900 kW)
  • 2 shafts
  • 12 kn (22 km/h; 14 mph) surfaced
  • 17 kn (31 km/h; 20 mph) submerged
Range: 9,000 nmi (17,000 km; 10,000 mi) at 12 kn (22 km/h; 14 mph)
Complement: 71

The Porpoise class was an eight-boat class of diesel-electric submarines operated by the Royal Navy. This class was originally designated patrol submarines, then attack. They were the first conventional British submarines to be built after the end of World War II. Their design was, in many ways, influenced by the German World War II-era Type XXI U-boats.


The Porpoise-class submarines were larger but shorter than their T-class predecessors and used a much improved steel known as UXW.[1] This, and improved design and construction techniques allowed much deeper diving. It was found in tests that the unusually long engine room was liable to collapse, so there were extra large frames in this section, which proved to be something of an operational inconvenience.[1]

Designed with a top speed of 18 knots (33 km/h; 21 mph), the boats were capable of 17 knots (31 km/h; 20 mph), or 16 knots (30 km/h; 18 mph) once fitted with silenced propellers. However, quieter running was felt to be a positive trade-off for the reduced speed. The Porpoise class were exceptionally quiet underwater, more so than their NATO counterparts and far more so than the Soviet Whiskeys.[1] This was in part due to careful attention to detail in the mounting of machinery, and advances made in propeller design to prevent cavitation. Initially, the silenced propellers actually set up a distinctive resonant "singing", and it was said that Rorqual was once identified leaving the River Clyde from a listening station from Long Island.[citation needed] However, grooves were cut into the propellers and injected with a damping filler which cured the problem; Rorqual was later able to surface undetected off the Statue of Liberty.[1] The silent running abilities made their sonar equipment particularly effective.

Each submarine's armament consisted of eight 21 inch (533 mm) torpedo tubes; six in the bow, and two in the stern. Initially, up to 30 Mark 8 or Mark 23 torpedoes were carried, although these were replaced in the 1970s by the Mark 24 Tigerfish torpedo. The class were also the first since the World War I-era R class to not carry a deck gun.

The Porpoises were far more capable than previous submarine classes in operating for prolonged periods, thanks to much improved air recirculation and cleaning systems. The class also performed excellently in clandestine operations, such as surveillance and inserting special forces.

The first Porpoise-class boats were launched in 1958 during the ever-increasing threat of the Soviet Union's submarine fleet. The Porpoise-class boats were all decommissioned by the 1980s. The Oberon-class submarines, which were almost identical to the Porpoises, and the first of which was commissioned in 1961, survived their predecessor only a little longer, all being decommissioned in the early 1990s.

Boats in the class[edit]

Name Launched Fate
Porpoise 25 April 1956, built by the Vickers at Barrow-in-Furness Sunk as a target in 1985.
Rorqual 5 December 1956, built by Vickers at Barrow-in-Furness [2] Broken up 1977
Narwhal 25 October 1957. Built by Vickers at Barrow-in-Furness Sunk as a target on 3 August 1983
Grampus 30 May 1957.[2] Built by Cammell Laird at Birkenhead. Sunk as a target in 1980
Finwhale 21 July 1959. Built by Cammell Laird at Birkenhead. Broken up in 1988
Cachalot 11 December 1957 Built by Scotts at Greenock Broken up in 1980
Sealion 31 December 1959.[2] Built by Cammell Laird at Birkenhead. Sold in 1987; scrapped 1990
Walrus 22 September 1959[2] Built by Scotts at Greenock Sold in 1987; scrapped 1991

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d Rebuilding the Royal Navy : Warship Design Since 1945, D. K. Brown and George Moore, Chatham Publishing, 2003, pp.114–115
  2. ^ a b c d

External links[edit]