Former nuclear submarine commander tells of cat-and-mouse game with the Russians

A FORMER submarine captain who now lives in Sandal is a man who had his finger on Britain’s nuclear button. Commander Paul Blythe spent nearly nine years of his life below the waves and last night (Friday) he shared his experiences with a packed audience at October's SCA wine and cheese evening at West Yorkshire Sports Club. “Deterring is all about threatening - and that threat has to be credible,” he said. He kept everyone spellbound with the story of his last 88-day patrol in Vanguard. It was a story not so much of playing cat-and-mouse at one point with a Russian submarine in the Atlantic as making sure they were not detected. After his talk he was bombarded with questions, a measure of just how much he held the attention of members and guests. Cdr Blythe, who had a high-tension career in which he had to be prepared to act on the order to fire nuclear missiles, joined the Royal Navy in 1987 as a warfare officer. He completed two years' training in different types of frigates, destroyers and patrol boats on operations in the Atlantic, Baltic, Barents Sea and North Sea on spying trips, searching for Russian subs, boarding fishing vessels and surveying the British Isles. In 1989 he chose to become a submariner, joining the nuclear attack submarine Turbulent, patrolling the Russian coast on his first trip, tracking Russian ships and subs. From Turbulent Paul was promoted to lieutenant and became operations officer of the diesel-powered submarine Opossum, conducting Special Forces operations around the Mediterranean and in the North Sea. He visited Russia for the first time as the Cold War ended in 1993. He progressed to lieutenant commander, moving between nuclear attack subs and nuclear missile subs, completing numerous patrol from the Atlantic and Mediterranean to the Persian Gulf and the Far East. In 2000 he passed the infamous Submarine Command Course or ‘Perisher’ after which he took up an executive role on the nuclear attack submarine Sovereign. After 17 years at sea he went to the nuclear bunker at Northwood – seven floors underground – where he ran secret submarine operations for the UK and NATO. Promoted to the rank of commander in 2009, he attended the Tri-Service, Advanced Command and Staff Course, gaining a Master degree before taking his first full command of the Trident ballistic missile submarine Vengeance. At 16,000 tonnes and  with a crew of over 250, these submarines complete nuclear deterrent patrols lasting about 90 days without mail, internet, television or radio. Another command, the Vanguard, followed Vengeance and Paul finally stepped ashore to the Ministry of Defence in 2013. He finished his service with the Royal Navy in Whitehall in 2015 as the specialist for the UK Nuclear Deterrent Policy and particularly the operational aspects, such as delivering the Prime Minister’s ultimate order to launch nuclear weapons. He completed more than 28 years’ service, of which 3,199 days were physically underwater, some 8¾ years of his life. He now advises on the next generation of Trident missile submarines.

Our picture shows Paul receiving a warm welcome from Coun Monica Graham, who is vice-chair of Wakefield Sea Cadets where the commander has often shared his experiences with the youngsters.

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