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Meet Britain's first lady submariners

May 06, 2014 12:58 IST

Meet Britain's first lady submariners

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Three women have become the first female submariners in the 110-year history of United Kingdom's Submarine Service, 24 years after the Royal Navy first allowed women to go to sea.

Lieutenants Maxine Stiles, Alexandra Olsson and Penny Thackray earned their "Dolphins" after months of training, including operations on HMS Vigilant.

Defence Secretary Philip Hammond hailed their "huge personal achievement" and said it was "an historic moment for the Royal Navy and our armed forces".

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Image: (Left-right) Lieutenants Maxine Stiles, Alexandra Olsson and Penny Thackray
Photographs: Royal Navy

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A ban on women submariners based on health fears was lifted in 2011.

A review of concerns that submarines' higher levels of carbon dioxide could carry risks to female health decided the fears were unfounded, the BBC reported.

Lt Olsson, 26, described joining the 165 male fellow crew members of HMS Vigilant as like living "as a very strange family".

"I felt like a little sister to 165 brothers," she said.

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Image: HMS Vigilant
Photographs: Royal Navy

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"Of course it's been challenging, but women are absolutely capable of doing this job. I think that change can always be a bit of a shock, but I look forward to seeing more and more women getting on board," Olsson said.

Lt Stiles, 29, said: "As long as you can do your job and you're good at what you do, I don't think they [the crew] cared whether you were male or female."

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Photographs: Royal Navy

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Describing the experience of being away at sea on a submarine, Lt Thackray said: "You limit your horizons. I found I just forgot about the existence of some things.

 "I just forgot the outside world -- you get a whole new world," said the 39-year-old from West Yorkshire. 

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Image: Penny Thackray
Photographs: Royal Navy

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Stiles will continue as a logistics officer on board HMS Vigilant, while Olsson is undertaking deputy weapons engineering officer training.

Thackray is due to become an education officer.

HMS Vigilant's commanding officer, Cdr Matt Dennis, said: "I was impressed with how seamlessly the three women integrated on board."

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Image: Alexandra Olsson
Photographs: Royal Navy

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Meet Britain's first lady submariners

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Second Sea Lord Vice Admiral David Steel said: "Women have been serving in ships at sea with the Royal Navy for more than 20 years and integrating them into the Submarine Service completes their inclusion into all seagoing branches."

The Royal Navy first allowed women to go to sea in 1990.

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Image: Maxine Stiles
Photographs: Royal Navy

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During the rigorous training, previously only undertaken by men, the three female officers conducted operations on submarine HMS Vigilant learning how to run the complex systems onboard.

The final hurdle was a robust examination programme, culminating in an intensive board with the Commanding Officer -- which they all passed with flying colours.


Photographs: Royal Navy
Tags: HMS , Britain

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