Disturbing the Universe

David L Clements, science and science fiction

HMY Britannia: The Royal Nuclear Bunker

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I’m current reading the book The Secret State by Peter Hennessy. It’s a history and examination of the UK’s secret preparations to prepare for, fight and try to recover from World War 3. It covers the period of the Cold War, starting at the end of WW2 and the development of atomic weapons, and progressing to the development of H-bombs, Polaris and Trident. The perspectives of what would be needed by way of defence, retaliation, and recover, changes considerably over that time.

I haven’t finished it yet, but it has already proved to be one of the most interesting historical accounts I’ve read, possibly because I grew up during the later stages of the Cold War, but also because physics and its applications are driving factors for the whole story. The shift from atomic to the much more powerful thermonuclear weapons, and the sobering effect that had on politicians, is a key point.

One of the key aspects is the preparation for post-nuclear survival of government, and who would go where when the balloon, and the mushroom clouds, were set to go up.

And that is where the Queen’s yacht, Britannia, comes in, because that is where the Royal Family and the Foreign Secretary were to be sent in the event that the Cold War turned hot.


It makes a lot of sense – there is a lot more ocean to hide in than land after all – but is something I had never considered before.

But it also leaves a question… Britannia was decommissioned in 1997, and is now on exhibition in Edinburgh. So what are the current plans for the evacuation of the Queen in the event of, to use the governmental term, general war (or, for fans of Charles Stross’ Laundry novels, CASE:NIGHTMARE:GREEN)?


Author: davecl

Astronomy, science, science fiction

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