HMS Conqueror (S48)

HMS Conqueror was a British Churchill-class nuclear-powered fleet submarine which served in the Royal Navy from 1971 to 1990. She was the third submarine of her class, following the earlier Churchill and Courageous, that were all designed to face the Soviet threat at sea. She was built by Cammell Laird at Birkenhead.

Conqueror returning to the Clyde Submarine base (Faslane) after the Falklands War, 4 July 1982
United Kingdom
Laid down: 5 December 1967
Launched: 28 August 1969
Commissioned: 9 November 1971
Decommissioned: 2 August 1990
Nickname(s): "Conks"[1]
Honours and
Falkland Islands, 1982[2]
Status: At Devonport awaiting dismantling
General characteristics
Class and type: Churchill-class submarine
Displacement: 4,900 tonnes (submerged)
Length: 86.9 m (285 ft)
Beam: 10.1 m (33 ft)
Draught: 8.2 m (27 ft)
Propulsion: One Rolls-Royce PWR nuclear reactor, one shaft
Speed: 28 knots (52 km/h) (submerged)
Range: Limited only by food stored on board
Complement: 103

Conqueror is the only nuclear-powered submarine to have engaged an enemy ship with torpedoes, sinking the cruiser General Belgrano during the 1982 Falklands War.[note 1]


Conqueror was ordered on 9 August 1966 and was laid down at Cammell Laird's Birkenhead shipyard on 5 December 1967; she was launched on 28 August 1969.[3] Construction was delayed by slow working by Cammell Laird's workforce, and sabotage of the ship's gearbox, which delayed completion by several months.[4] Conqueror was finally commissioned on 9 November 1971;[3] she was the last nuclear submarine built by Cammell Laird.[4]

Operational history

Falklands War

Conqueror, commanded by Commander Chris Wreford-Brown, was deployed during the Falklands War, setting sail from Faslane Naval Base on the Gareloch in Scotland on 3 April 1982, one day after the Argentine invasion. Conqueror arrived in the exclusion zone around the Falkland Islands 21 days later and was ordered to scan the area for Argentine shipping, particularly the aircraft carrier Veinticinco de Mayo ("25th of May").

On 30 April, she spotted the Argentine light cruiser General Belgrano sailing southwest of the Falklands, just outside the exclusion zone imposed by the British on all shipping. With Veinticinco de Mayo approaching the islands from the north, the commander of the British Taskforce, Admiral 'Sandy' Woodward, feared a pincer attack, with General Belgrano attacking from the south and Veinticinco de Mayo from the north and requested permission from the British government to sink General Belgrano.

After some debate, permission to engage General Belgrano was sent to the submarine from the Royal Navy's fleet command centre in Northwood in the United Kingdom. In the intervening period, General Belgrano had retired from its attack position and turned west, since Veinticinco de Mayo was not yet ready to engage the British fleet. This would cause some controversy, although General Belgrano's captain and the Argentine government acknowledged that the attack was a legitimate act of war.[5][6][7]

On 2 May Conqueror became the first nuclear-powered submarine to fire in anger, launching three Mark 8 torpedoes at General Belgrano,[note 2] two of which struck the ship and exploded. Twenty minutes later, the ship was sinking rapidly and was abandoned by her crew. General Belgrano was unable to issue a Mayday signal because of electrical failure; this and poor visibility meant the two escorting destroyers ARA Piedra Buena and ARA Bouchard (both also ex-United States Navy vessels) were unaware of the sinking until some hours later. A total of 323 men were killed.

Adding to the confusion, the crew of Bouchard felt an impact that was possibly the third torpedo striking at the end of its run (an examination of the ship later showed an impact mark consistent with a torpedo). The two ships continued on their course westward and began dropping depth charges. By the time the ships realised that something had happened to General Belgrano, it was already dark and the weather had worsened, scattering the life rafts.

Conqueror's war did not end there. The crew of the submarine had to face Argentine Air Force attempts to locate her in the days after the attack, which had shocked the Argentine people and ruling dictatorship. Conqueror did not fire again in anger throughout the war, but provided valuable help to the task force by using sophisticated monitoring equipment to track Argentine aircraft departing from the mainland.

After the war, Conqueror returned to Faslane, flying a Jolly Roger adorned with torpedoes, a customary act of Royal Navy submarines after a kill. When asked about the incident later, Commander Wreford-Brown responded, "The Royal Navy spent thirteen years preparing me for such an occasion. It would have been regarded as extremely dreary if I had fouled it up".[8]

Operation Barmaid

Later in 1982, Conqueror completed a raid to acquire a Soviet sonar array from its Polish-flagged towing vessel. The operation, a joint mission between British and American forces, was conducted on the boundary of Soviet territorial waters. Conqueror used cutters affixed to her bow to shear through the three-inch thick wire before silently returning to her base on the Clyde.[9]


On 2 July 1988 Conqueror was involved in a collision with the Army Sail Training Association yacht Dalriada south of the Mull of Kintyre. The yacht sank and four crew members were rescued.[10]


Conqueror did not take part in any other conflicts, and was decommissioned in 1990. The periscopes, captain's cabin and main control panel from the submarine's control room are on display in the Royal Navy Submarine Museum in Gosport.

In April 2019, it was reported that Conqueror was one of 20 nuclear submarines still held in storage by the Ministry of Defence, awaiting final disposal.[11]


  1. The only other submarine to sink a warship since World War II is the Pakistani Navy's PNS Hangor in 1971.
  2. Conqueror was also equipped with Tigerfish torpedoes, but her captain chose to use the more reliable, 55-year-old Mark 8 design


  1. Hastings, Max; Simon Jenkins (1983). "Chapter 9". The Battle for the Falklands. Bungay, Suffolk: Book Club Associates. p. 147.
  2. "Falklands Campaign Battle Honours". Hansard. 25 October 1983. Retrieved 5 September 2008.
  3. Moore 1985,  p.617.
  4. Hennessy and Jinks 2016, 300–301.
  5. One Hundred Days: The Memoirs of the Falklands Battle Group Commander, Admiral Sandy Woodward. First Edition (1992). Naval Institute Press. ISBN 978-0-00-215723-0.
  6. Elliott, Francis (28 December 2003), "'Belgrano' ordered to attack British ships on day before sinking, secret report reveals", The Independent, London, retrieved 25 February 2009
  7. Belgrano legal action fails, BBC News Report, 19 July 2000
  8. Sandy Woodward, Patrick Robinson. One hundred days: the memoirs of the Falklands battle group commander, Naval Institute Press, 1992, ISBN 1-55750-651-5, ISBN 978-1-55750-651-1. p.161
  9. Neil Tweedie (12 October 2012). "HMS Conqueror's biggest secret: a raid on Russia". The Daily Telegraph. London. Retrieved 28 August 2014.
  10. "HMS Conqueror (Collision)" Hansard HC Deb 21 July 1988 vol 137 cc722-3W
  11. "MoD criticised over submarine disposal". 3 April 2019. Retrieved 23 October 2019.


  • Hennesey, Peter; Jinks, James (2016). The Silent Deep: The Royal Navy Submarine Service since 1945. Penguin. ISBN 978-0-241-95948-0.
  • Moore, John (1985). Jane's Fighting Ships 1985–86. London: Jane's Yearbooks. ISBN 0-7106-0814-4.

Further reading

  • Rossiter, Mike (2007). Sink the Belgrano. Bantam Press. ISBN 978-0-593-05842-8.
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