For a while in 1978, Polaris submarine HMS Revenge had been prevented from completing its preparations to leave the Clyde due to industrial action.

Then Minister for Defence Mulley announced to the House of Commons in July of 1978 that the Government had decided to use military personnel to get the Revenge to sea.

Subsequently, the Royal Navy closed Faslane and RNAD Coulport to all civilian workers and, using naval personnel, proceeded to prepare HMS Revenge for sailing. The most delicate task which the navy would take over from the normal civilian operators was the loading of the Polaris missiles on the submarine.

HMS Revenge transits the Rhu Narrows as she departs the Gareloch for INDEX in the Clyde Submarine Exercise Areas. The red buoy to the left is the channel marker at the end of Limekiln Point.

The union “blacking” of the Revenge was part of a wider pay dispute between the government and the unions representing blue collar government workers.

While this incident is relatively well know, what isn’t well known is that the interest was of significant interest to the United States Government, with Sheryl P. Walter of the US State Department saying in a now unclassified diplomatic cable:

“In justifying its decision to use military personnel to get revenge to sea, mulley cited the need to maintain Britain’s obligations to NATO. His private secretary has told us that the government is committed to doing whatever is necessary to maintain an SSBN at sea.

If the pay dispute with the industrial civil service workers is not settled soon, this could mean that the Royal Navy will itself have to complete work on tne of the SSBNs in the Rosyth dockyard, and the operating cycle of all four SSBNs could in the end be seriously disrupted.”

A Polaris missile lifts off after being fired from the submerged British nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarine HMS REVENGE (S-27) off the coast of Florida near Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.

Also of note to the United States was the impact of these strike actions in the United Kingdom on US Naval movements, nothing that the event has:

“Impacted on the US ability to conduct port visits at British naval bases, leading the UK to refuse one proposed visit, and limiting facilities available to the Nimitz in Portsmouth last month.

We understand from TUC (Trades Union Congress) sources that the leaders of the two major unions involved–the transport and general workers and the general and municipal workers–have been in close touch with the government and promised their cooperation in trying to limit the effects of the unofficial actions and to allow the SSBNs to meet their schedules.

To these ends they have refused to sanction industrial actions, urged workers to return to their jobs and/or work normally, and sought to isolate the dissident within their respective unions. They have also closed their eyes to government efforts to overcome the effects of the unofficial actions by use of military personnel.”

The Americans however were optimistic of the outcome, ending the diplomatic cable saying:

“For now, at least, it seems unlikely that this dispute will significantly limit British defense readiness.”

In hindsight, it seems that it didn’t with the wildcat strikes not spreading much further in the defence industry.

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Cam Hunter

Civilians load our nukes! I supose they build them to….


Yes. Yes they do build them.


Yeah I knew it wasn’t the millitary who built our nukes lol


Daniele Mandelli

Cam check out the loading facility on the shore of RNAD Coulport. The wider Defence Munitions organisation of the MoD has civilian specialists maintain and storing all munitions for the 3 services. It does not need the military for this but there is of course some input. DM sites at Glen Douglas, Beith, Kineton, Longtown, Ernsettle, Gosport. While Coulport is a part of this group it has special status due to its nuclear links. Below these the army has ammunition collections in Aldershot, Larkhill, Sennybridge, Catterick. So yes, civilians involved all the time. As for building nukes, that is civilian… Read more »


Yeah it’s pretty cool, seems the government are handing over lots of millitary sites and services to civilian company’s. what do you think about them driving the nukes by road to Scotland Daniele? U think it’s as big a danger as the hippies say it is?

Daniele Mandelli

Nope. Not in danger in my view. Depends what the “danger” is: Better than flying them, and they used to fly nuclear materials with VC10’s out of Brize flying west to the states, final destinations places like Los Alamos or Oak Ridge. And probably still do. The nuclear convoys originate from Aldermaston or Burghfield, and travel up to Coulport / Faslane. These are the “green” convoys, there are also “blue” convoys of nuclear materials too and from the AWE sites. They have an escort of armed MoD Police. They also have an escort of Royal Marines, and civilian police clearing… Read more »



Broughton Moor in Cumbria used to host naval munitions of the nuclear kind…

Guarded Longtown on Ex.

wouldn’t be a problem now we’ve the mighty archer boats to escort them out


Its a frequently expressed belief by some of on this site that there are too many feckless money wasters working in support of defence as civil servants.
If people knew the complexity and training involved in support roles, and the sacrifices given they may have a change of heart.
Driving tank, flying aircraft and repairing helicopters are all very glitzy, but civil servants are a vital part of modern defence.

Daniele Mandelli

Quite. Most are not “pen pushers” at all and the military could not run without this support.


Yeah there’s over 40,000 of them doing all sorts of roles in the MOD, but the government seems hell bent on cutting the numbers of staff….

Daniele Mandelli

Agree Cam. They cut the staff but not the need for someone to do the job. The requirement remains, so they hire people in at greater cost.


its not common knowlage, but last year the two top m.o.d civil servants earned£3800,000 between them!


After a patrol, would all Polaris (or Trident) be routinely removed from the sub and returned to the storage bunkers or loaded into the next sub to prepare? I wonder how many missiles are at sea or loading/unloading at any given point?

captain P Wash

I would guess most of that question will be Classified. Or at least I hope It Is.

Daniele Mandelli

They are removed under cover, using the facility at Coulport so enemy satellites cannot see for certain what is loaded or unloaded onto an SSBN.

captain P Wash

I know the chaps who hold the cover in place, Igor and Vladimir are old friends !!!!!!

captain P Wash

But Seriously, We have 4 boats and that’s all we need to tell anyone.

Daniele Mandelli

LOL exactly.

Captain P Wash

Yup, and they have had a lot of success over the years too. Vlad can’t wait till he retires back to Moscow.



A Nimitz can fit in Portsmouth? I’d of thought they would be way too big

Captain P Wash

Well I thought that too when I read It. Can’t ever remember a Nimitz class Carrier ever entering the Harbour, Infact i’ve only ever seen them out in the Solent off Fishborne and Calshot.

happy to be corrected though.

Martin S

Now the channel has been dredged for QE class carriers you could get a Nimitz class into Pompey but they normally park up in Stokes Bay. Remember our parking bays are smaller than the Americans.


Yeah the A ericans always have to be bigger, there waists included…

Captain P Wash

Cam, You Ain’t wrong there.

Captain P Wash

Stokes Bay, That’s the place, I was on the Isle of Wight last time one pulled up !

the auld tarpaulin ones have been replaced by plastic with big zips, business is good