A tour of the ballistic missile submarine Redoutable (photos)

Tour the ballistic missile submarine Le Redoutable, the largest submarine you can tour without security clearance, and one of the only ballistic missile subs fully accessible to the general public.

Geoffrey Morrison
Geoffrey Morrison is a writer/photographer about tech and travel for CNET, The New York Times, and other web and print publications. He's also the Editor-at-Large for The Wirecutter. He has written for Sound&Vision magazine, Home Theater magazine, and was the Editor-in-Chief of Home Entertainment magazine. He is NIST and ISF trained, and has a degree in Television/Radio from Ithaca College. His bestselling novel, Undersea, and its sequel, Undersea Atrophia, are available in paperback and digitally on Amazon. He spends most of the year as a digital nomad, living and working while traveling around the world. You can follow his travels at BaldNomad.com and on his YouTube channel.
Geoffrey Morrison
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Le Redoutable

The French nuclear submarine Redoutablespent the '70s and '80s at sea and was home to 135 sailors for months at a time. The missile boat-turned-museum resides in the French seaside town of Cherbourg after extensive refurbishment. See inside this massive submarine and silent threat of nuclear annihilation through many pictures and a bunch of words.

It's pretty much impossible to get a full shot of the sub, given where it rests. Let's just say, it's big.

For the full story about the sub and the tour, check out A tour of the ballistic missile nuclear submarine Redoutable.

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Tail 'n' prop

You start your tour down (cut in specifically for this purpose) this end, through a door that's just off to the left of this shot.

Modern subs don't usually use propellers like that (too loud).

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Engine room

After the reactor generates steam, this steam spins some turbines, the turbines hit a reduction gear (all of this you'll see in a moment), and eventually it hits the prop shaft, which was cut away so you can walk more easily (the yellow cap is the end).

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Looking forward

To the left is where you enter, the yellow cap is the other half of the severed prop shaft. Above, you can see some of the big hydraulics that turn the rudder.

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If it doesn't run on electricity, it runs on hydraulics. Here, you can see one of the main hubs that direct the oil throughout the ship.

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Working our way forward

On the left, you can see the reduction gear (closeup in the next frame). Even though there's more space on this sub than most I've been on, they certainly don't waste any of it.

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Reduction gear

The turbines spin way too fast to directly turn the propeller, so a reduction gear is used.

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Where's Scotty?

Those huge tubes carry the high-pressure steam from the reactor to the turbines. These are heavily insulated, as you'd guess.

On the right is one of two electrical generators (the other was removed during the museum conversion).

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Tubes and tubes and tubes

A slightly different angle, showing the passage aft.

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Engine control room

Man, this looks like a nuclear power station control room.

Oh, wait, it is. Along with all the other moving and dangerous parts of the "drivetrain."

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Rear escape hatch

One of the few escape hatches. This thing looks creepy, even on dry land.

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Switches and circuit breakers

A nuclear sub is largely a power station that pushes around a missile base.

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How do you tell?

I think it's quite interesting that there's little way to tell, for a layman, what or where any of these go. It's not like it says "guest room" or "kitchen" like the panel at your house.

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This was the reactor room. It was wise that they removed the reactor completely for the museum refurb, since there was only a small space along the spine that allowed passage from the bow areas of the ship to the stern.

That and, you know, it's a nuclear reactor.

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Water, water everywhere

With nearly unlimited energy, a lot of very useful things can happen. You get propulsion, sure, but also electricity. And with electricity, you can take seawater and make pure drinking water. You can also separate out those pesky H molecules and make as much oxygen as your crew needs too.

CO2 scrubbers (lower left) take out that deadly gas.

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Missile room

The Redoutable carried 16 M20 ballistic missiles, each with a range of over 1,800 miles.

That's what was in the two curved tubes you see here.

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Creepy corridor

On the right are all the computers charged with programming the missiles with directions on how to get to their targets.

Along the left are all the missiles. They're blocked off now so you can't walk in and around them.

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Two of these missiles are more powerful than all the conventional explosives dropped in WWI and WWII combined.

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Never wet

The missiles are fired using compressed air and never actually get wet. As they breach the surface, their engines fire, quickly accelerating to over 9,000 mph.

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Be careful...

Some things in here don't react too well to bullets.

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Two stories high

This is the top deck of the sub. The previous pictures were the main deck; the missiles extend above and below, as well.

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Around the corner from the missile bay is the command center. The big box you see here is the inertial navigation system.

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Missile command

No joke -- this is where you'd launch the missiles, if so commanded.

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Apparently they did actually use red lights during high alert and/or exercises. Also, throughout the rest of the ship, they'd use red lights to simulate night.

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Anybody got the keys?

Stick or automatic?

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Oh sure, bury the sound guy

That console in the back is the sonar table, off in its own corner.

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Seismic anomaly?

Took the combined power of my phone's LED and the camera's (hardly ever used) flash. Still not great, but pretty good for the dark.

The sonar station, where ears are the eyes of the boat.

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Down periscope

Periscopes for the XO and captain.

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Hatch up the sail

Very few subs let you climb up into the sail. Not sure why. Is climbing a liability?

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A hallway!

All of a sudden, we've left a submarine and entered a '70s kitsch hotel that's been squished from the sides.

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Captain's bunk

The wide-angle lens makes this look bigger than it was, but by sub standards, it was still pretty roomy.

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Officers' galley

Of course, the French would have an espresso maker. That can't be original equipment, can it?

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Officers' mess

This is the single nicest space I've ever seen on a submarine. Downright cozy.

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It's like your neighbor's basement (presuming you grew up in the '70s or early '80s).

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Stylish, too

Nice design to cover the curve of the hull. Quite a lovely space...reserved for officers, of course.

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Most of the subs I've been on have been one main deck only (plus the sail). This one not only has stairs, but an elevator (OK, a dumbwaiter, but still).

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Screen door

Well, that doesn't look water-tight.

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The only thing that prevents a sub from touring indefinitely is having sufficient food for the crew. So as much as possible goes in here. Normal tours were about 70 days.

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How's this for a big wide-open space? The crew's mess, a place to eat and relax while off duty.

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Even the galley is impressively sized.

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8 on, 16 off

Normal crew rotation is for 8 hours on duty, 8 hours for sleep, and 8 hours for everything else, including studying, maintenance, relaxing, and so on.

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No hot bunks

Apparently the Redoutable was the first sub to have enough space for every member of its crew to get their own bunk. Now, that's luxury.

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I'm a doctor, not a dentist

Through the (not original, obviously) glass in the floor, you can see the chair of the ship's doctor, which doubles as the dentist's chair, for the ship's dentist, who also doubles as the ship's doctor.

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With unlimited water, there are sinks and showers galore (relatively speaking).

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Torpedo room

Unlike most subs, a 'boomer' (US Navy slang for ballistic missile submarine) has torpedo tubes for defensive use only.

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Torpedo tube

The torpedoes the Redoutable carried had a range of about nine miles.

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Thanks to a cutaway for the exit door, you can see the inner pressure hull and the exterior hull.

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Cross bracing for sure, but a ladder? Who knew?

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Normally subs cruise from around 164 to 656 feet below the surface. Unless they're headed for the legendary "periscope depth."

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The 16 missile hatches, with the lovely Cherbourg harbor in the background.

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Long boat

Out of the water, it looks huge. I can only imagine how much sleeker it looked while cruising.

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Many modern subs use pump-jets instead.

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Under the long keel

This is a view I didn't expect. You can actually walk all around it, even touch the rudder. It's coarser than you'd expect.

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I would have expected a smoother overall surface, but then, it's not like they can forge it out of a single piece of steel.

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Dive planes

The dive planes on the sail help the sub fine-tune its depth, or assist in surfacing and submerging.

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Quietly into history

The Redoutable's long and graceful lines sit peacefully next to Cherbourg harbor. Not a bad way to spend retirement.

For the full story about the sub and the tour, check out A tour of the ballistic missile nuclear submarine Redoutable. Also check out CNET's tours of the HMS Alliance and HMAS Ovens submarines.

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