Breaking Through – HMS Dreadnought at the North Pole

HMS Dreadnought at the ice edge

HMS Dreadnought was the Royal Navy’s first nuclear powered submarine. On 3 March 1971 she surfaced through the ice at the North Pole. This account of that pioneering voyage was written by members of the ship’s company to celebrate the 50th anniversary of going to the Pole 

By Vice Admiral Sir Tim McClement KCB OBE, Patron of the Friends of the Royal Navy Submarine Museum:

Breaking Through’ has it all. A unique mission for the Royal Navy’s submarine service driven by the passion, unshake­able self-belief, determination and persuasiveness of Alan Kennedy, the Commanding Officer, who got it approved by the authorities. The patrol was fraught with many dangers the main one being that Dreadnought had no secondary means of propulsion. If her single propeller had been seriously damaged, there might have been no way of extricating the boat from under the ice. The professionalism of the crew in operating their boat safely under the ice in the harsh environment of the Arctic does them all great credit. Teamwork and extensive training for unknown emergencies so everyone would react instinctively in any crisis were required from all on board. Navigation was a huge challenge making the best of equipment not designed to work in such high latitudes. Alan and his Navigator, Christopher Napier, did a magnificent job in getting the boat to the North Pole. The hardest part was when they left the Pole where every course to steer is South. They got it right, skilfully finding the correct meridian down which to bring the boat safely home. All these things ensured Dreadnought and her crew completed the mission successfully and returned home triumphant. That they did so was a huge achievement by all on board. They can justifiably be immensely proud, they deserve to be, and I salute them all.

Dreadnought’s patrol was the forerunner of all subsequent RN surfacings at the Pole. She led the way for those of us privileged to follow in her wake. I took HMS Tireless there twenty years later in 1991 in rather more benign conditions and with much improved equipment. I can thus appreciate the challenges Alan Kennedy and his ship’s company faced. I am full of admiration for them and commend this book to you. 

By Admiral of the Fleet The Lord Boyce KG GBE OBE DL: 

I much enjoyed Breaking Through. It is a cracking good read and it conveys extremely well the qualities of the submariner: adventurous spirit and courage in the face of the unknown, calling to mind those who first went forth under the water 120 years ago; the training regime to ensure everyone knows what to do in any crisis – each individual is a professional – and the palpable spirit of camaraderie that comes through that is the ethos of ‘The Trade’. And on top of all that, of course, was the ground(ice)-breaking advance in submarine warfare.