Favourite photos of 2013 #9: Royal Navy submarine HMS Ambush returning to HMNB Clyde

Pictured is HMS Ambush returning to HMNB Clyde in Scotland. © Crown Copyright 2013. Photographer: CPOA(Phot) Thomas McDonald

BBC Radio 2 – The People’s Songs, Shipbuilding

BBC Radio 2 – The People’s Songs, Shipbuilding
Original broadcast date: 4 September 2013

When Argentina invaded and occupied the Falkland Islands on the 2nd April 1982, few could have foreseen quite how this event would play out. Certainly not the Argentineans, who gambled on the fact that the Brits wouldn’t respond militarily. For them, a successful and swift campaign would be a welcome distraction from the country’s dire economic situation and would rally the nation’s flagging spirits. Unfortunately for the South Americans, Margaret Thatcher felt much the same way; a war could be a quick and simple way of uniting the country and boosting the industrial manufacturing base at a time of recession.

Though it occurred only 30 years ago, the conflict seems to have happened in an altogether different age. The BBC only found out about the invasion from some islanders, via amateur radio. But this conflict would last for 74 days, 649 Argentineans would die, as would 255 Brits. A British ship, HMS Sheffield was sunk, as was an Argentinean ship, The Belgrano, which was responsible for half of the total number of Argentinean casualties and which was sunk in debatable circumstances.

But beyond these sad and stark statistics, more existential matters arose. Firstly, as a nation how could we lay claim to islands that were thousands of miles from us? It also inspired some soul-searching as to what an empire meant and if it was worth the blood, sweat and tears to maintain it. It certainly provoked a reaction from some of the nation’s songwriters. You had The Pretenders’ “2000 miles”, New Model Army’s “Spirit Of The Falklands”, Billy Bragg’s “Island Of No Return” and probably the most famous example: a song written by Elvis Costello, but made famous by Robert Wyatt.

This is an interesting programme that will have you alternately nodding in agreement or gnashing your teeth in anger. There are some cracking insights from Roger Lane-Nott, commanding officer of HMS Splendid during the Falklands War.

Admiral Roger Lane-Nott.

Listen to the programme on your computer.

HMS Artful launch delayed by fear of quay collapse

£1.2 billion of naval hardware held up by a rotting dock. Ladies and gentlemen… broken Britain.

Quay concerns delay launch of navy submarine

Nuclear safety watchdog bars launch of reactor-driven HMS Artful due to doubts about structural integrity of Barrow quay

HMS Artful’s sister submarine Astute at the BAE Systems shipyard in Barrow-in-Furness. Photograph: Murdo Macleod for the Guardian

The nuclear safety watchdog has blocked the launch of the Royal Navy’s newest reactor-driven submarine because of a risk that a dockside could collapse.

The Office for Nuclear Regulation (ONR) has barred the launch of HMS Artful, the third of Britain’s Astute-class hunter-killer submarines, because of doubts about the structural integrity of the wet dock quay at Barrow-in-Furness, Cumbria.

The submarine’s manufacturer, BAE Systems, had previously planned for a launch this year but now says it will be early next year. It said the problem with the dock would not cause further delays.

ONR raised its concerns in its quarterly report on the Barrow shipyard covering April to June 2013. It has ordered BAE Systems, as the site licensee, to investigate and report back on whether the dock was safe to use. “ONR placed a hold point on the launch of the next Astute-class submarine which will only be removed once the licensee can address and justify the continued use of the aging wet dock quay,” the report says.

According to ONR, the quay is used to help commission the Astute-class submarines. “Recent surveys have indicated that there may be some deterioration in its structure,” said an ONR spokeswoman. “As a result, the safety justification for use of this facility is being reviewed by BAE Systems to ensure that it remains valid. Until BAE Systems’ investigations have been completed, ONR cannot say whether there will need to be a major programme of work. However, in the interim, ONR has placed a hold on launch of the next submarine so that we will have to be satisfied that the structure remains fit for purpose.”

In a report about a visit to the Barrow yard by the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge in April, BAE Systems said Artful was due for launch this year. The first two submarines in the much-delayed £9.75bn fleet, HMS Astute and HMS Ambush, are at sea and another four are still being built.

A spokesperson for BAE Systems said: “We do not expect this to delay the launch of the next Astute-class submarine, which is scheduled for early next year. As always, if any work is required to the wet dock quay, safety will be a priority.”

Peter Burt, of the Nuclear Information Service, which monitors military activities, pointed out that much of Britain’s nuclear infrastructure was decades old. “It’s showing its age,” he said. “Hundreds of millions of pounds are being spent in secret each year as the Ministry of Defence struggles to bring ageing facilities up to modern safety standards, adding even more to the already enormous costs of the Trident replacement and Astute submarine programmes.”