Maritime History > Harbours and Dockyards

Brazilian Submarine -- Tonelero

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The Government of the day dressed it up as a "Gift from the people of Great Britain".

Ref the refit of Tonelero, I assisted in a small way, I was a health physics monitor employed in the nuclear complex. After welding the new hull section was very carefully x rayed by the NDTC (none destructive test center) this involved the use of some fairly intensive radio active sources, much stronger than the NDTC would normally use, a couple of monitors were loaned to assist in setting up "exclusion zones" in the test areas.
I understood there was a fair old upset over payment for the contract, I think it eventually came out of the yards funds ?

Just to clarify (and I'm not doubting that there was a fire in No.5 Dock when Tonelero was in there), the fire that caused the damage requiring the boat to be repaired at Chatham occurred when the boat was in the Fitting Out Basin at Barrow.

I read in one of the comments on the thread on the old Forum that the repairs at Chatham were funded by the UK Government. Such were the state of Vickers' finances at the time that they couldn't afford to pay for the repairs themselves and the boat had been contracted by the Brazilian Government on a fixed price, so they weren't going to pay for them either. The alternative was for the Brazilian Government to cancel the contract and then sue Vickers for the money they had spent on it so far back.

Then, as now, Defence was a cut-throat business.

Although I worked on No 6 dock at the time, even I did not know what was going on, until I saw
black smoke coming out of the No 5 dock. I was high up on my crane , I could only see the Fin
(Conning Tower) - then the fire engines arrived. Very good pictures, that brought back memories.

And here it is, retrieved from the old Forum....

The Tonelero was a Brazilian Oberon class submarine, sister-boat to HMS Ocelot and was the last Oberon class boat to be completed for any navy.

Tonelero was originally ordered from Vickers on 22nd May 1970 by the Brazilian Navy. She was laid down at Barrow-in-Furness on 18th November 1971 and was launched on 22nd November 1972.

The Chatham connection to this comes about now - During fitting out at Vickers, there was a serious fire aboard and the submarine was very badly damaged. So much so, that the decision was taken that the only way to salvage the boat would be to replace the damaged section of Pressure Hull completely. The only place in the country with the facilities, skills and tools to perform a repair on this scale was Chatham.

The Tonelero was towed to the naval base at Chatham. Once there, she was docked in No 5 dock. She was dismantled sufficiently to allow the centre 60ft section of her pressure hull to be cut out. The new Pressure Hull sections were built on No 7 slip and taken on low-loaders to No 5 Dock, where they were inserted into the hull. Once that was complete, the boat was completely rewired from scratch.

Repair sections leaving 7 slip

Repair sections arriving on site at 5 dock

Repair sections going into the hull

Tonelero left Chatham in April 1975 and returned to Barrow, where fitting out was completed and the boat was handed over to the Brazilian Navy.

As a result of this delay, Tonelero didn't commission into the Brazilian Navy until 8th September 1978, making her the final Oberon Class submarine to be built.

Tonelero went on to have a long career with the Brazilian Navy. She was given a mid-life upgrade in 1995 by HDW/Ferrostal. An unfortunate incident happened to the boat on Christmas Eve 2000, when she sank at her mooring in the Rio de Janiero naval base. All 9 crew members aboard at the time escaped safely. The boat was refloated on 8th January 2001. The cause of the sinking was put down to crew error. At the time, the boat was under repair, but has since been decommissioned.

Tonelero sunk:


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