The Cold War was the open, yet restricted, confrontation that developed in 1945, after the end of the Second World War, between the West and the Soviet Union across many fronts of the globe; it ended with the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. For most of the period it involved a secretive underwater competition and submarine rivalry in the North Atlantic and Pacific oceans.

The United Kingdom has many military museums, but few dedicated to a single period in time and confrontation. Plymouth, arguably the port with the longest association with the Navy, has only the Devonport Naval Heritage Centre as a maritime museum, which does not include the more recent history of the Cold War.  An initial campaign to preserve the late 20th century nuclear powered submarine HMS COURAGEOUS has therefore been developed and its scope expanded to create a Cold War & Maritime Heritage Museum as part of the Oceansgate regeneration project for part of Devonport Dockyard.

HMS Courageous

A small team led by Rear Admiral John Weale is developing an ambitious project to tell the Cold War story. Working with Plymouth City Council, The Royal Navy, MoD, volunteers from HMS COURAGEOUS and with the support of We Remember Submariners and the National Museum of the Royal Navy they have started to scope the practicality of establishing a Cold War & Maritime Heritage Museum to preserve and display Plymouth’s recent maritime history. 

At its heart would be the nuclear-powered submarine, HMS Courageous, one of just three nuclear submarines on permanent display anywhere in the world. However, the museum would be far more than a single historic submarine; it will be a place where the Cold War roles of submarines, ships and maritime aircraft can be presented. The Museum would have a strong theme telling the story of the part Plymouth played in supporting submarines, ships, crews and their families during the Cold War.

The UK does not have a dedicated Cold War museum, some would say that is because the events never happened! However, creating such a museum would present a tangible history of experiences from the sea, in the air and underwater, at the same time demonstrating a direct link between innovation and technology from the past through to the future. This aligns with the planned Submarine Memorial for the National Memorial Arboretum which will commemorate the sacrifice of all those that have died whilst in the submarine service. One is to remember how lives were lived, the other to remember lives lost. Two strands, one purpose.


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