With the advancement of ballistic missile technology came the arrival of the "ballistic missile submarine". These attack platforms, typically nuclear-powered and nuclear-armed, now allowed submarines to attack land-based targets at range from the safety of the ocean. For the Americans and British, embedded in a long-running "Cold War" against the mighty Soviet Union, the answer arrived in the Lockheed UGM-27 "Polaris", a two-stage, solid-fueled, nuclear-capped ballistic missile. The weapon entered service in 1961 and led a healthy life into the mid-1990s, used by some of the boats making up both the United States Navy and British Royal Navy submarine services.
The Royal Navy's first ballistic missile-minded boat was the Resolution-class led by HMS Resolution (S22). Resolution came about through a May 1963 order and Vickers Shipbuilding Limited of Barrow-in-Furness was selected to constructed the powerful vessel. The keel was laid down on February 26th, 1964 and she was launched to sea on September 15th, 1966. She was formally commissioned for service on October 2nd, 1967.
At the time of their introduction, the Resolution boats took over the role of nuclear deterrent from the Royal Air Force's "V-bomber" lot detailed elsewhere on this site. This group of strategic heavy bombers was made up of the Avro Vulcan, the Handley Page Victor and the Vickers Valliant. Beyond this honor was the fact that the Resolution-class marked the first-ever ballistic missile submarines to serve the Royal Navy.
The new boats were influenced some by American design that included the compartment to house the American-originated missile (some of the missile's design, however, involved British know-how and financing as well). The missile section was inserted between the bow and stern sections during final assembly. Unlike American boats of the period, they situating their dive planes at the sail, the new British boats relocated these planes to the bow sections. The overall hull appearance was very reminiscent of the earlier Valiant-class boats (two completed, 1962-1963) with some features borrowed from the American Lafayette-class (nine completed, 1961-1964).
The sail was positioned just ahead of midships and behind the rounded bow cap was a sonar transducer. The torpedo room was held just aft of the sonar fit while the crew quarters was positioned just aft of this and ahead of the sail. Three complete stories made up the height of the boat. The missile compartment was set aft of the sail and the reactor compartment was added aft of the missile section. At the extreme rear of the slim design was the engine compartment which drove a multi-bladed, single-shaft propeller unit. The machinery was "rafted" to minimize any touching of the hull (and thusly reducing the noise signature of this powerful boat). Other notable features included welded hull sections, a machinery loading hatch and standardization of valves. A cruciform rudder plane pattern was adopted for controlling.
As completed, HMS Resolution displaced 7,500 tons when surfaced and 8,400 tons when submerged. Overall length reached 425 feet with a beam measuring 33 feet and a draught down to 30 feet. Power was from a single Vickers/Rolls-Royce PWR.1 series pressurized-water nuclear reactor (the same as used in the Valiant) developing 27,500 horsepower to a single shaft (driven by an English Electric turbine) and offering essentially unlimited operational ranges. Surfaced speeds reached 20 knots while submerged speeds could hit 25 knots. Aboard was a crew of 143 arranged in two groups.
The Polaris missile compartment was neatly arranged in a bulged section of deck behind the sail and these cells housed up to sixteen of the potent missiles. First-firing of the Polaris from HMS Resolution took place on February 15th, 1968. Once cleared, the boat was sent on her first general patrol action in June of that year - beginning a service tenure that would take her into the early 1990s. Beyond their missile armament, the Resolution-class carried a standard six-tube torpedo fit at the bow.
Amidst a growing concern of the viability of the first-generation Polaris missiles carried and their effectiveness against improved missile screens by the Soviets, the series was progressively updated through several variants (A-1, A-2 and A-3). The A-3 used s cluster-type warhead and held a range out to 2,500 nautical miles. In 1982, the British upgraded their stock to the "Chevaline" warhead (originally known as the "Super Antelope") replacing the older WE177 warheads. The Chevaline offered in-built countermeasures for survivability to the target / target area and were introduced on Resolution as soon as 1984.
With service introduction of the class had in 1968, the V-bomber fleet stood down in 1969. Before the end of that year, all four boats of the four-strong (five were originally planned) Resolution-class were now in active service as part of the Royal Navy - complete with their nuclear payloads. Sister boats were HMS Repulse, HMS Renown and HMS Revenge (HMS Ramillies was cancelled in 1965). As proved common practice for the Royal Navy, at least one boat of the group was to be in active service during any one period so scheduling of down time was of the utmost importance to retain the deterrence screen against Soviet belligerence.
In 1986-1987, HSM Resolution was berthed at Rosyth to undergo work to reduce her noise signature which, at that time, became a growing concern for a boat that required stealth for its role. In 1991, she conducted the longest patrol concerning the Polaris missile when she stayed out at sea for the period of 108 days. With the arrival-in-strength of the Vanguard-class submarines (detailed elsewhere on this site) and their more potent Trident missile-carrying capability, the days of Resolution and her sisters were marked. HMS Resolution was decommissioned from service on October 22nd, 1994 after completing what turned out to be sixty-nine total patrols in service to the West.
As of 2018, HMS Resolution is found at the naval base at Rosyth with an empty nuclear reactor with plans for her dismantling and ultimately scrapping still being finalized.