HMS Artemis: An actual-life submarine drama in two acts

The latest BBC drama, “Vigil”, was set on a fictional Royal Navy Vanguard-class submarine used as part of Britain’s “Continuous deterrent at sea”. It played Suranne Jones as a detective who flew out to join the crew of the submarine to investigate the death of a crew member. Filmed on a specially constructed set, the audience got a real feeling for the claustrophobic living conditions, although the real submarines have even tighter spaces.

Working on a submarine has always meant living in cramped conditions with minimal privacy for months, 24 hours a day – hardly an attractive prospect for most people.

One recent Royal Navy recruiting campaign, “Made in the Royal Navy”, consists of short, one-minute commercials that show young people traveling, learning skills and becoming professionals. Everyone carries a slogan like “I was born in Blyth but I was made in the Royal Navy”.

Travel and responsibility seem to have been the most important selling points when recruiting the Royal Navy since the mid-20th century at the latest. A wonderful example of this is the film “Voyage North,” which was commissioned by the Central Office of Information (COI) in 1964 and shot on the Royal Navy’s service submarine, HMS Artemis. You can watch ‘Voyage North’ for free on the Imperial War Museums movie website.

The National Archives has the “production file” for “Voyage North” which contains COI working papers such as scripts, story outlines (treatments) and lists of required camera shots. One document states that the film was aimed at “5th to 6th grade students in public and elementary schools” with the intention of “stimulating the most intelligent 5th to 6th grade students to do the To join the Royal Navy as an officer recruit by being inspired “. him and appeals to his spirit of adventure “.

The production file for ‘Voyage North’ showing the film is aimed at adventurous boys in public and high school. Catalog number: INF 6/2100

The film is a little over 20 minutes long and features a new young officer, Ellison, sharing his experiences on Artemis as she sails from the UK to the Arctic and eventually Copenhagen. At the beginning of the film, Ellison can be seen with a group of other young recruits at the submarine base in Gosport. You go through a simulated underwater escape; Ascent through 30 m of water in the Submarine Escape Training Tank – now known as Fort Blockhouse – which is still in Gosport.

Later in the film we see Artemis making his way through ice rivers and the crew playing cricket on the ice. At one point, Ellison recounts a letter he is writing home, saying:

“We had some difficult moments leaving the frozen north and maneuvering the boat around loose pieces of pack ice. Lots of hard work, but also very interesting. My next job involves a lot more responsibility. What I would really like to have been a design for one of the new nuclear submarines, that is where the future lies. “

Production file for “Voyage North” with a narration by newly recruited officer Ellison. Catalog number: INF 6/2100

Another point of interest in the file is a list of sound effects recorded during the filming, such as boot polishing and a sonar ping, that should be kept in the library for possible use in other films.

Handwritten excerpt from the 'Voyage North' production file with a list of the sound effects.Production file for ‘Voyage North’ with a list of the sound effects. Catalog number: INF 6/2100

Attending a Royal Navy recruiting film, however, wasn’t the last time HMS Artemis was involved in drama. In fact, what happened to the sub a few years later is well worth a feature film.

On July 1, 1971, the HMS Artemis sank while refueling in Gosport, the home of the submarine service. A report of the sinking on a BBC Making History website explains:

‘Artemis was in Gosport for maintenance and was made ready to go again. She had been removed from the dock, but most of the senior officers were not on board and she was under the command of the sonar operator.

When she was alongside fetching fuel, they’d run cables through the hatches into the engine room to power their systems, and when she was ballasted to fuel her diesel engines, water seeped in through the hatches, what because of the cables were not closed.

The ship began to sink very quickly. Sergeant on duty David Guest went downstairs to shut down whatever parts of the ship he could. There was a group of midshipmen on board, and Guest quickly put them away and continued to make sure there was no one left.

He found two engine room mechanics on board, but all three could not get out because of the penetrating water and locked themselves in the forward compartment in the torpedo stowage room.

The ship sank to the bottom of Haslar Creek. The three men were trapped aboard the sunken submarine for 13 hours but were eventually able to escape through the forward escape tower in diving suits. ‘

The real-life escape recalls the early scene in “Voyage North,” in which the new recruits ascend through the submarine escape training tank at Gosport – which was believed to be visible from where Artemis sank.

Three officers and one rating from Artemis were charged with negligence and tried before a court-martial. The National Archives file ADM 194/154 contains the quarterly return by the Admiralty of officers charged in court-martial for October-December 1971, showing that the submarine’s lieutenant commander was not found guilty of negligence but two other officers were found guilty. Newspaper reports from this period also show that a stoker was found guilty of negligence, although it was found he had no education for 18 years.

On the positive side, the National Archives’ file DEFE 49/34 contains recommendations for awards of valor to the four men who took action to save others when Artemis sank. The men were:

  • David Guest, an Ordnance Electrical Artificer First Class aged 37 who had been in the service for 19 years
  • Robert Croxon, a senior marine mechanic, aged 23 who had been in the service for seven years
  • Donald Beckett, a current senior marine mechanic, aged 24 who had been on the job for seven years
  • Ian Ralphs, a 23 year old marine mechanic who had been on the job for five years

The file states that the general criteria for evaluating prizes for valor were:

  • More than 50% mortal danger – George Medal
  • More than 20% but less than 50% danger to life – the British Empire Medal or something similar
  • Up to 20% Can Cause Death or Serious Injury – QCBC (Queen’s Commendation for Brave Conduct)

Recommendations for instant awards for Guest, Croxon, Beckett, and Ralphs with the criteria for rating the award level.Recommendations for instant awards for Guest, Croxon, Beckett, and Ralphs with the criteria for rating the award level. Catalog number: DEFE 49/34

The papers in the file indicate that it was originally proposed that Ralphs be awarded the Queen’s Commendation for courageous behavior and the British Empire Medal for bravery for the other men. Ultimately, however, David Guest was awarded the George Medal and the other men all received the British Empire Medal for bravery. You can read the full recommendations, which are the same as those in the file, in the London Gazette online.

The National Archives are working with the Imperial War Museums and the British Film Institute to highlight our joint collections on the COI and to celebrate 75 years since its inception. Be on the lookout for more blogs focusing on other movies over the next few months and search for # COI75 on Twitter.

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