The Rt. Hon. Sir John Major KG CH

Prime Minister of Great Britain and Northern Ireland 1990-1997

1996Prime Minister (1990-1997)

Mr Major’s Speech at Ceremony marking the end of Polaris – 28 August 1996

Below is the text of Mr Major’s speech at a ceremony to mark the decommissioning of HMS Repulse and the end of the Polaris programme, held on 28th August 1996.


Secretary of State for Defence, First Sea Lord, Ladies and Gentlemen.

We are here today to pay tribute to the work of the Polaris Force.

The debt we owe is very large. For the last 28 years this Force has mounted continuous patrols that have been vital to ensure this country’s peace and security. Because of these patrols any possible aggressor has known that to attack the UK would provoke a terrible response.

In particular, we are here today to pay tribute to the last of the four Polaris submarines, HMS Repulse, which returned from her sixtieth and final deployment in May.

But not only Repulse, of course. I pay tribute, too, to the other three boats and their crews in her Class: the Resolution herself, Renown and Revenge. Each has made its own unique and invaluable contribution to the remarkable record of maintaining a Polaris submarine at sea, on deterrent patrol, undetected by friend or foe, every day, of every year, from 1969 until May this year.

To those of you who have served aboard any of these submarines, past and present, I offer you the thanks not just of those others of us here but of people throughout the country.

The years of the Polaris Force have seen some dramatic changes. In 1968, when Resolution began her first patrol, east/west tension was running high. The Soviet Union had invaded Czechoslovakia. and the Vietnam War raged. And yet, in 1994, I signed an accord with President Yeltsin agreeing no longer to target our nuclear forces at each other’s territory. Today, the West enjoys a co-operative relationship with Russia unthinkable even 10 years ago.

But throughout the turbulent years. the Polaris force has always been there, always ready, always prepared, always the ultimate guarantee of this country’s security.

As I said, the debt is very great.

No tribute to those of you in the SSBN force, however, would be complete without a special mention of the contribution of your families at home. They, as well as you, have borne the continual strain of enforced separation. They have had to maintain the family while you were gone, relying for communication only on the forty words of the weekly “familygram”. None of the achievements of the Polaris fleet would have been possible without their forbearance and their understanding. To them, too, I offer a very special thank you. and I am glad that so many are here today.

I would like to thank, too, all those who maintain the submarine and its deterrent away from the boat itself, whether at the base here, in Coulport supporting the weapons system, on the tugs moving these massive submarines in and out of port, at the headquarters at Northwood, or in the design and support organisations further afield. Each of you has played your part.

Throughout the Polaris programme we have enjoyed very close co-operation with the United States. This will continue with Trident. Our two Navies have a very special trust and understanding. I am delighted that so many representatives of the United States Strategic Systems Programme are with us today, together with the officers and crew of the USS West Virginia.

There is naturally a tinge of sadness today. But it is the ending of a chapter only. As Trident takes over from Polaris and Chevaline, so the Vanguard Class takes on the torch from Resolution and her sisters.

Let me say a word about our deterrent.

I have no doubt that we are right to maintain a minimum credible strategic nuclear deterrent for the United Kingdom. We will continue to do so for as long as our security needs require. It would be folly for us not to do so. Vanguard and Victorious are already fully operational and meeting all our expectations. I look forward to seeing them joined, in 1998, by Vigilant and, around the turn of the century, by Vengeance. Together, these four submarines will carry the UK’s strategic and sub-strategic deterrent well into the 21st century.

In a few moments I shall unveil this plaque marking the proud achievements of the Polaris Force. And, as I unveil it here, so, at the entrance to this facility a little way away, a small stone monument is also being unveiled. This monument is to serve as a quiet and dignified reminder of the unique contribution made to peace and security by these submarines and the men who served in them.