• May 24, 2015


When Belfast man Able Seaman William McNeilly revealed safety problems relating to British Royal Navy Ballistic Missile carrying nuclear submarines (SSBNs) one of the issues he highlighted was a collision between HMS Vanguard and the French Navies similar ballistic missile submarine Le Triomphant.

This was not exactly a new ‘revelation’ as the incident was known to have occurred and been well publicised in 2009.

In April 2009 on Celtic News we publicised the fact that the incident had occurred and that over a 30 year period there had been 14 collisions and 234 on board fires on British nuclear submarines.

However the British played down the Vanguard/Triomphant collision with both governments saying both submarines had only sustained minor damage.

McNeilly’s account, however, reveals a much more serious incident occurred:

“The French submarine had took a massive chunk out of the front of HMS Vanguard and grazed down the side of the boat. The High Pressured Air (HPA) bottle groups were hanging off and banging against the pressure hull. They had to return to base port slowly, because if one of HPA bottle groups exploded it would’ve created a chain reaction and sent the submarine plummeting to the bottom. Luckily the boat made it back safely for repair. There was a massive cover up of the incident. For the first time the no personal electronic devices with a camera rule was enforced.

The HMS Vanguard crash didn’t appear in that submarine disaster book but there’s a book it will be in. I was talking to a SWS Navigation supervisor. He told that HMS Vanguard has had so many crazy incidents that they’ve got their own book filled with them.”

McNeilly also reveals an incident in which the Vanguard was involved in an unsafe dive in which it went many metre deeper than its safe diving depth due to a systems malfunction.

The 2009 collision involving the Vanguard and the French Submarine was said to have occurred in the Atlantic although the MOD have not confirmed where.

It is likely to have been in the area of the Rockall bank between Malin Head and the Rockall Isle. NATO nuclear submarines have defined separation areas (to avoid collisions of this type), but there appears to be an overlap in the area.

In the “The Evolution of the U.S. Navy’s Maritime Strategy, 1977–1986” it says:

“On occasion, surface combatants, attack submarines, intelligence collectors (AGIs), and aircraft have conducted joint ASW operations off the Rockall Bank, west of the US and British SSBN bases near Holy Loch, Scotland, during major exercises. We have also seen joint AGI-SSN operations off SSBN bases in the United States. We therefore believe that the Soviets would station intelligence collection ships, nuclear attack submarines, and possibly even surface combatants off Western bases in the period preceding hostilities and attempt to detect and trail SSBNs leaving port.”

This may also be why the United Kingdom has gone to such lengths to claim Rockall to the extent of even on one occasion, for a publicity stunt, siting a sentry box next to a beacon they had installed with two Royal Marines in full dress uniform! (The pic can be seen at the Secret Scotland link below).

The so called beacon was a bit of a mystery though its likely it was a dry run for setting the SSBN navigation beacons that littered the west coast of Britain from the late seventies onwards (there were two on the Isle of Man at Langness and Cregneish). However weather and the elements seem to have put paid to that plan and any other antics the UK had planned for Rockall. (Don’t know how long the Royal Marines lasted!).

Donegal fishing vessels occasionally site and photograph nuclear submarines in the area north of Malin Head which is obviously an active zone for them. The environmental consequences of a nuclear submarine foundering in the Rockall basin area (or indeed in the Irish Sea where accidents have also occurred) could be horrendous.

Perhaps the Irish Government should pay some attention to the debate in the UK parliament scheduled for this week on McNeilly’s allegations

The ‘weird’ RM sentry box on Rockall can be found at this link.

McNeilly’s full diary of safety failings can be found at this link.

J B Moffatt (Mr)
Director of Information
Celtic League


(Please note that replies to correspondence received by the League and posted on CL News are usually scanned hard copies. Obviously every effort is made to ensure the scanning process is accurate but sometimes errors do occur.)


The Celtic League has branches in the six Celtic Countries. It works to promote cooperation between these countries and campaigns on a broad range of political, cultural and environmental matters. It highlights human rights abuse, monitors all military activity and focuses on socio-economic issues

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