2000-2009 | Nuclear Armageddon

British submarine seconds away from a nuclear catastrophe

HMS Vanguard at Port Canaveral, Florida, 1994.
US Federal Government photo – Wikimedia.

4 February 2009

In the early hours of 4th February 2009, two nuclear powered submarines, HMS Vanguard and Le Triomphant, collided in the mid-Atlantic. The damage was estimated at some £50 million. Kate Hudson, chairman of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, commented that the accident was ‘a nuclear nightmare of the highest order.’

She added that ‘the collision of two submarines, both with nuclear reactors and nuclear weapons on board could have released vast amounts of radiation and scattered scores of nuclear warheads across the seabed. The dents reportedly visible on the British sub show the boats were no more than a couple of seconds away from total catastrophe.’1

HMS Vanguard was capable of carrying 16 Trident ballistic missiles with 48 nuclear warheads.  There is nothing to suggest that the submarine wasn’t fully armed at the time of the accident, which was far more serious than initially acknowledged.  Able Seaman William McNeilly, who served onboard,  revealed in 2015 that ‘the French submarine had taken a massive chunk out of the front of HMS Vanguard.’

He claimed that ‘a massive cover up’ followed the incident, explaining that ‘for the first time the “no personal electronic devices with a camera” rule was enforced.’  There had also been ‘many crazy incidents’ on board, which included ‘four floods and fires,’ including one in the missile compartment. He added that ‘A lot of people think the boat is cursed and try to avoid being drafted to it.’2


  1. ‘British, French nuclear submarines collide,’ CNN, 16 February 2009, accessed online at http://edition.cnn.com/2009/WORLD/europe/02/16/british.french.submarine.incident/
  2. ‘Trident whistleblower: nuclear “disaster waiting to happen,”’ Wikileaks, 17 May 2018  accessed online at https://wikileaks.org/trident-safety/ and ‘”Nuclear disaster waiting to happen” – Royal Navy probes Trident whistleblower’s claims,’ RT, 18 May 2015,  accessed online at https://www.rt.com/uk/259481-trident-submarine-safety-whistleblower/

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