It came from the deep… to a fancy dress party – IWM’s Mk 9 Submarine Escape and Immersion Equipment (SEIE) suit

RICHARD MADDOX

IN THE MUSEUM WORLD PROVENANCE – THE DOCUMENTED HISTORY OF AN ARTEFACT – IS EVERYTHING.

Its important for a variety of reasons as it can answer a number of questions – is the item genuine? Is it really connected with the person, place or event that it is believed to be connected to? etc.

A FRONT VIEW OF THE ESCAPE AND IMMERSION SUIT fully closed up. Copyright: © IWM. IWM catalogue reference EQU 463. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/30013185

A FRONT VIEW OF THE ESCAPE AND IMMERSION SUIT fully closed up. Copyright: © IWM. IWM catalogue reference EQU 463. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/30013185

large_© IWM (EQU 463)_Mk_9_Escape_suitC

A THREE-QUARTERS VIEW OF THE ESCAPE SUIT, MK9 (SUBMARINE) showing the outer hood folded down to reveal the inner hood and face protection. Copyright: © IWM. IWM catalogue reference EQU 463. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/30013185

REAR VIEW OF THE ROYAL NAVY ESCAPE SUIT WITH OUTER HOOD DEPLOYED. Copyright: © IWM. IWM catalogue reference EQU 463. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/30013185

REAR VIEW OF THE ROYAL NAVY ESCAPE SUIT WITH OUTER HOOD DEPLOYED. Copyright: © IWM. IWM catalogue reference EQU 463. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/30013185

 

Museums think a lot about provenance and use the verified information to describe not only the item’s history but sometimes also its technical description – what it is made of and what it was used for.

Unusually, the label for the Royal Naval Mk 9 Survival Suit on IWM’s website is short on detail. It gives the physical description for the item –  Suit bright orange day-glow one-piece with hood, integral boots and gloves and breathing system.

But it’s the next few lines that are perhaps the most fascinating: (1)

The suit was left in a pub in Barrow in Furness, Cumbria, following a fancy dress party attended by members of the ship’s company of one of the Vanguard class of ballistic missile submarines.

The suit was presented to the Dock Museum at Barrow in Furness by the publican.

 

The physical artifact label on the display case gives no more informative…

THE LABEL ON THE MK 9 SUBMARINE SURVIVAL SUIT DISPLAY CABINET at IWM London. Image © R Maddox 2018.

THE LABEL ON THE MK 9 SUBMARINE SURVIVAL SUIT DISPLAY CABINET at IWM London. Image © R Maddox 2018.

 

A little further research reveals that the suit was made by RFD Beaufort, a company that has been making military inflatable rafts and life jackets since the Second World War. (2)(3)

Designed for use at a depth of up to 600 feet (183 m), the suit has three separate COinflated chambers to enable the wearer to float in the water.

The outer hood is closed for the initial escape from the submarine, and unzipped on the surface.

It has a variety of Safety Of Life At Sea (SOLAS) approved features including light reflective panels and a light powered by a salt water battery. (4)

Regarding the story of how the suit was acquired, a member of staff at the Dock Museum in Barrow-in-Furness take up the story…

The survival suit was donated to the Dock Museum on 16 November 1995 and catalogued. It was ‘surplus obsolete stock’ from one of the four ‘Vanguard‘ submarines that were constructed at the shipyard in the town. It is now part of IWM’s collection.

The Dock Museum’s catalogue entry goes on to confirm the story that IWM has about the suit being taken to a fancy dress party and names the pub in question. (5)

The four Vanguard class submarines were built in Barrow in Furness between 1986 and 1998. Each is around 492 feet (150 metres) long. (6)

They were the first vessels to be constructed in the covered Devonshire Dock Hall (DDH) complex –  at the time known locally as ‘The Trident Shed’ because of the intended weapons the submarines would carry or  ‘Maggie’s Farm’ after the Conservative Prime Minister who headed the UK government at the time.

The huge  facility allows vessels to be constructed and modified in a secure and weather-proof environment. A huge moveable platform (531 feet/162 metres long and 72 feet/18.5 metres wide) called the shiplift enables completed vessels up to 24,000 tons to be lifted in and out of the water regardless of tidal conditions. (7) (8) (9)

Weather permitting, the DDH complex can be seen from up to 20 miles away.

All are still in service as of late 2018, having had a number of mid-life modifications during a lengthy refit and refuel period. (10)

These vessels are due to be replaced by the Dreadnought class which will be the largest British submarines ever built. They are due to enter service sometime from 2030 onward and continue the Royal Navy’s Continuous At Sea Deterrent (CASD), whereby at least one of four nuclear armed submarine is at sea for every hour of every day, every year . (11) (12) (13) (14)

_________________________________________

Sincere and grateful thanks are due to Eilidh Young (Collections and Exhibitions Manager) and to the Admin Team at the Dock Museum for their helpful, informative and speedy replies to my queries.

This post would not be here in its present form without their generous assistance.

On the edge of Britain’s Lake District, the Dock Museum at Barrow-in-Furness charts the story of the town from the Vikings to the present day. With ships and shipbuilding, the steelworks and the Furness railway such a prominent part of the social town’s history, these feature greatly in the exhibits and artefacts on display in this modern museum.

In addition the museum’s website provide much useful information on the museum and its themes.

For further information please see:

http://www.dockmuseum.org.uk

_________________________________________

SOURCES

(1)  http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/30013185 – retrieved 11 November 2018

(2) https://survitecgroup.com/about-us/our-history/ – retrieved 11 November 2018

(3) http://rfdbeaufort.com/rfdBeaufort/rfd_Commercial/about/ – retrieved 11 November 2018

(4)  https://www.worthpoint.com/worthopedia/mk9-submarine-escape-immersion-suit-314573805 – retrieved 11 November 2018

(5) Email exchange between authors and Dock Museum – November 2018

(6) https://www.naval-technology.com/projects/vanguard-submarine/ – retrieved 11 November

(7) http://www.dockmuseum.org.uk/Shipbuilding-Modern-Days – retrieved 11 November 2018

(8) https://www.nwemail.co.uk/news/barrow/16454716.nostalgia-construction-of-shipyards-devonshire-dock-hall-30-years-ago/ – retrieved 11 November 2018

(9) https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-cumbria-14762995 – retrieved 11 November 2018

(10) https://www.naval-technology.com/projects/vanguard-submarine/ – retrieved 11 November 2018

(9) https://nationalinterest.org/blog/the-buzz/introducing-the-successor-class-the-largest-submarines-ever-18064 – retrieved 11 November 2018

(10) https://www.babcockinternational.com/News/Landmark-week-for-Vanguard-Class-Submarines-at-Devonport – retrieved 11 November 2018

(11) https://www.naval-technology.com/projects/vanguard-submarine/ – retrieved 11 November 2018

(12) https://www.baesystems.com/en-uk/article/production-begins-on-successor-programme – retrieved 11 November 2018

(13) https://www.gov.uk/government/news/new-successor-submarines-named – retrieved 11 November 2018

(14) https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/uk-nuclear-deterrence-factsheet  – retrieved 11 November 2018