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Visit to HMS Courageous

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A nuclear submarine may not be the most obvious place to learn about project management, but if you consider the captain as a project manager, his orders as a customer specification and his submarine, crew and stores as resources, we can begin to feel on familiar territory.

APM members and guests visited Devonport Dockyard (part of the Babcock International Group) and took a tour of HMS Courageous, a 4,500 ton Valiant Class hunter-killer nuclear submarine built in the early 1970s, decommissioned in the 1990s and now a floating museum. The visitors were given a vivid picture of life on board (by guides who had served on the submarines) during missions that could last up to three months, with a crew of around 120.

The visit consisted of a tour of the forward ends of the boat, from the control room forward and covered the control room itself, the accommodation spaces for officers and crew, the galley and the torpedo compartment. At each section, the guides gave a detailed picture of life on board while submerged, including why chips were such a luxury for the crew (air purification) and the limited space available to each crew member, the majority of whom had to hot bunk. It came as a surprise that trainee submariners slept in the torpedo compartment until they were fully trained a powerful incentive to complete their training!

When the tour took us to the torpedo compartment, it then came as a sharp reminder that the purpose of Courageous and her sisters was that of ships of war her sister ship HMS Conqueror sank the heavy cruiser General Belgrano during the Falklands conflict. The dangers of submarine service also came home when the workings of the escape towers were explained by the guides.

The tour gave the visitors a rare view into the little known life of the submariner and gave some new insight into how the principles of project management can be found in some unlikely places.


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