On Her Majesty's Nuclear Service

Eric Thompson

The first ever memoir by a Royal Navy nuclear submarine officer, this is the inside story of the men who ensured that 'Mutually Assured Destruction' was maintained at all times during the Cold War.
Date Published :
October 2020
Publisher :
Illustration :
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Binding. : Paperback
ISBN : 9781612008943
Pages : 288
Dimensions : 9 X 6 inches
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During the Cold War, nuclear submarines performed the greatest public service of all: prevention of a third world war. History shows that they succeeded; the Cold War ended peacefully, but for security reasons, only now can this story be told.

Eric Thompson is a career nuclear submarine officer who served from the first days of the Polaris missile boats until after the end of the Cold War. He joined the Navy in the last days of Empire, made his first sorties in World War II type submarines and ended up as the top engineer in charge of the Navy’s nuclear power plants. Along the way, he helped develop all manner of kit, from guided torpedoes to the Trident ballistic missile system. In this vivid personal account of his submarine operations, he reveals what it was like to literally have your finger on the nuclear button.

In his journey, the author leads the reader through top-secret submarine patrols, hush-hush scientific trials, underwater weapon developments, public relations battles with nuclear protesters, arm-wrestling with politicians, and the changing roles of women and homosexuals in the Navy. It is essentially a human story, rich in both drama and comedy, like the Russian spy trawler that played dance music at passing submarines. There was never a dull moment.

Behind the lighter moments was a deadly serious game. This, the inside story of Britain’s nuclear deterrent, reveals the secretive life of submarines and the men who served on them; they kept their watch, and by maintaining the threat of ‘Mutually Assured Destruction,’ helped keep Britain and the world safe.

About The Author

Eric Thompson was born in Scotland during the Second World War. He won a scholarship to Britannia Royal Naval College Dartmouth at sixteen, was streamed as an Engineer Officer, volunteered for submarines and thirty-seven years later retired as Commodore of Britain's principal nuclear submarine base at Faslane. A creature of the Cold War, he served in five submarines, two squadrons, the staff of Submarine HQ and the Ministry of Defence. In addition to being a nuclear propulsion specialist, he took a Masters degree in Acoustics and became a lead officer in the ultra-secret world of underwater warfare and stealth technology. His MBE was awarded for leadership during a submarine emergency on patrol.


"Endowed with a wry sense of humor and a literary bent, Thompson paints at times a disquieting picture of the darker, human side of life in submarines. His characters are portrayed vividly, and anyone who has served will recognize their types instantly."

- Naval War College Review

"The book is well-written and the story flows smoothly from one topic to another. In time, this book will become one of the autobiographical accounts that future naval historians will consult when writing about the Royal Navy during the Cold War."

- PowerShips

"This memoir is not just a personal tale but a chronicle of insights and activities during the period of [Commodore Thompson's] service (1961-1998). Both witty and serious, his social commentary is as insightful as those of a maritime nature. This book is not just easy but fun to read. The language alone is worth the trip."

- Naval Historical Foundation

“A revealing book and essential reading for those wanting to understand the chilling detail of how Britain's nuclear deterrent is operated.”

- Britain at War

“Overall, I would thoroughly recommend the book. It was an interesting, sometimes thought provoking, but above all an entertaining read.”

- Nuclear Futures

“One wonders now if the "mutually assured destruction" threat has any real meaning with respect to Britain's nuclear deterrent. Fascinating slice of cold war history.”

- Books Monthly

“…an engaging, thoroughly entertaining read, which also serves up contemplation (and education) about the unthinkable.”

- Warships International Fleet Service

“After so often reading of accidents and problems afflicting Britain's nuclear submarine fleet in often sensationalised articles in the general media, it is refreshing to learn what really happens directly from a knowledgeable and reliable source.”

- Baird Maritime

"Presented with humility, humour, and political and technical awareness, this remarkable book provides a succinct insight into the daily reality of maintaining nuclear deterrence."

- Mountbatten

"It is written in a delightfully understated, humourous style with some quirky turns of phrase, which forms an unusual didactic prose but nevertheless makes it an absorbing read."

- Scuttlebutt

"...well and entertainingly written and thus, easy to keep on with, as well as informative of a submariner’s career."

- The Northern Mariner

“A well-written book offering readers a fascinating glimpse into the little-known world of the modern Navy and its submarine service. Littered with amusing stories and anecdotes, Thompson’s writing entertains as well as informs. I was a little surprised some of the content isn’t covered by the Official Secrets Act but we must be grateful that its time constraints allow us to now read what was actually going on beneath the waves and how these dedicated people helped prevent the Cold War becoming more.”

- Love Reading

"This book is highly recommended, not just for the detail and historical perspective it gives, but also for the lightness of the writing. This reviewer could almost sense Eric Thompson smiling wryly as he put his memories down on paper or computer screen."

- Warship World

"This is a personal memoir, but a superior one. As well as being a cracking read, Thompson puts his professional experiences in their wider context which is why this book should have broad appeal. There is much to learn here about the RN’s submarine service and about the UK’s nuclear weapons policy."

- Naval Review

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