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British Navy employs first female submariners

Published time: May 05, 2014 17:07
Edited time: June 27, 2014 08:12
HMS Vengeance, a British Royal Navy Vanguard class Trident Ballistic Missile Submarine (Reuters / David Moir)

HMS Vengeance, a British Royal Navy Vanguard class Trident Ballistic Missile Submarine (Reuters / David Moir)

Three women have become the first females in the British Royal Navy to assume the role of submariners in the Submarine Service's 110-year history. A ban on female submariners, which was originally instituted due to health concerns, was lifted in 2011.

UK Defence Secretary Phillip Hammond commended the “huge personal achievement” and labeled the occasion a “historic” one for both the Royal Navy and the British armed forces.

The initial ban was in place because it was believed that the elevated levels of carbon dioxide in the vessels posed a risk to women in particular. A subsequent independent analysis revealed that health risks were only significant in the case of pregnant women.

The following year, in 2012, a similar ban was abolished in the United States.

“Women are absolutely capable of doing this job,” 26-year-old Lieutenant Alexandra Olsson, from the Wirral Peninsula near the Welsh border, told the BBC. “I felt like a little sister to 165 brothers,” she said. “At the end of the day manpower is a big thing for the Navy – as long as you can do the job, it doesn't matter.”

The three women – Lieutenants Maxine Stiles, Alexandra Olsson, and Penny Thackray – obtained their ‘Dolphins’ (emblems worn by qualified submariners) after several months of study.

Lt. Stiles, 29, from Greater Manchester in the north of England, told the BBC: “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.”

The Royal Navy began using submarines at the beginning of the 20th century. The institution was initially adverse to their utilization, with Admiral Sir Arthur Wilson, then Controller of the Navy, labeling them as “underhand, unfair and damned un-English.”

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