Category Archives: Dockyard

local military history events this summer

Its looking like a bumper summer for all things military history in the Portsmouth area. If I’ve missed any out, feel free to comment!

Overlord Vehicle Show – 28 to 31 May 2010

This event takes place every year at the Horndean showground near Portsmouth, and is organised by the Solent Overlord Executive Military Vehicle Club. For 4 days from 9am until 5.30pm you can take a good look at a whole host of military vehicles, re-enactors, arena events and stalls. This year the shows designated charity is the Gurkha Welfare Trust. For more information click here, and to look at some pictures from last years event, click here.

South Coast Proms – 25 and 26 June 2010

This is a brand new event, featuring the massed bands of the Royal Marines – only the best military band in the world! Its taking place on Whale Island, a naval base normally closed to the public. Pre-show entertainment starts at 6.30pm each night, and the evening will end on a high with the traditional Naval Ceremonial Sunset and a fireworks finale. For more information click here.

Para Spectacular and Veterans Day – 3 and 4 July 2010

This event began life as the Pompey Paras spectacular over twenty years ago. This year, for the second year running, its a two-day event and incorporates the Armed Forces and Veterans Day. It takes place on Southsea Common, and features a range of dislays, arena events, and parachute displays. According to the local media an Apache might even make an appearance! The day ends with a marchpast of veterans and a performance from the Parachute Regiment band. As the Grandson of a Para I always try and make an appearance if I can. For more information click here, and to see pictures of last years event click here.

Navy Days – 30 July to 01 August 2010

This biennial event takes place at Portsmouth Dockyard. Aimed at showcasing the Royal Navy past, present and future, we can expect a wide array of ships, displays, arena events, aerial and water displays, and a whole host of entertainment. Already confirmed to appear are HMS Daring and Dauntless, the two new Type 45 Destroyers; RFA Argus, an aviation training and casualty receiving ship; two Type 23 Frigates; HMS Cattistock, a mine-countermeasures vessel; HMS Tyne, a fishery patrol vessel; and HMS Gleaner, an inshore survey launch. Nearer the event we can also expect some foreign warships to be announced. As well as the modern ships visitors will be able to see all the usual attractions of the historic dockyard. The Royal Marines band will be performing, along with the Royal Signals white helmets motorcycle display team, and the Brickwoods Field Gun competition. In the air, the Royal Navy Black Cats helicopter display team will appear, along with the Hampshire and Isle of Wight Air Ambulance, and the Royal Artillery Black Knights Parachute Display team. Looks like a great day out. For more infomation click here.

Shoreham Airshow – 21 to 22 August 2010

The last event of the year is the annual Battle of Britain airshow at Shoreham airport. Headlining the show this year are contributions from the RAF, in the shape of a Harrier GR9, Hawk T1, Tucano T1, King Air, Grob Tutor, the Lancaster, Spitifire and Hurricane of the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight, and the Falcons parachute display team (saturday only). On Sunday the Red Devils Parachute Display team will be performing. A wide array of civilian displays are expected – Hawker Hunter, Folland Gnats, BAC Strikemaster, De Havilland Vampire, Catalina Flying Boat, a large number of Spitfires and Hurricanes, B-17 Flying Fortress, and a number of aerobatic displays. As well as the aerial displays there are always a wide range of static displays, including from the armed forces, and re-enactors. I’ve been the past two years and always had a great time. For more information click here.

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New evidence shows HMS Victory was afloat in 1933 (Hoax!)

UPDATE – Sorry to disappoint everyone, but I’ve now found out that this was an April Fools Day Hoax!

New evidence discovered in the Royal Naval Museum’s archives has shown that HMS Victory, Nelson’s Flagship at the Battle of Trafalgar, was afloat in 1933 for that year’s Navy Week.

HMS Victory afloat for Navy week 1933

HMS Victory afloat for Navy week 1933

While researching Navy Days the Museum’s Head Curator found a logbook kept by a young officer onboard HMS Hood, the famous battlecruiser that was based in Portmouth at the time:

‘The entire Gunroom has had the good fortune to be appointed to the … Victory, which is due to sail for a fortnight’s cruise.’

Previously it had been thought that Victory had entered dry dock in 1922, and had remained there ever since. This fascinating new evidence suggests that in fact 11 years later, with a degree of towing, she managed to sail as far as Dover. The young officer commented further:

‘the greatest advantage gained in this fortnight is the unique experience of how a square-rigged ship – especially the old heavy bluff-bowed type – was handled’

Navy Week began in 1927, and was the forerunner of Navy Days. This years event takes place from 30 July to 1 August in Portsmouth Naval Base.

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Portsmouth Historic Dockyard




Victory

Originally uploaded by dalyhistory2010

For the first time in years I went and had a proper look round Portsmouth Historic Dockyard yesterday. Heres a picture of the bows of HMS Victory, Nelson’s Flagship at the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805.

I’d been on most of the attractions at the Dockyard several times quite a few years ago now, but I really enjoyed Action Stations. One thing I have about Museums or other attractions is when they have these wonderful activities for children – but what about Adults? What I really like about Action Stations is that its for everyone. Kids will enjoy it, but theres no need for adults to stand around like a lemon watching!

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Navy Days: then and now

After this week’s announcement about Navy Days 2010, I thought it might be interesting to take a look back at Navy Days over the years. It’s very much a Portsmouth institution, theres nowhere else where you can see so much of the Royal Navy’s past and present in one place all together. Not only is it a great day out but it’s also a great chance for the Royal Navy to showcase what it does.

Not only does Navy Days tell us about the History of the Royal Navy, it is a part of Naval History itself. They have been taking place for many years – I’ve seen posters advertising Navy Days dating back to the early 20th Century, showing rows of battleships decked out in flags. My Granddad can remember going just after the war, and watching Fairey Swordfish Biplanes attacking ships with bags of flour. I can remember my Gran telling me about going on the US Warships, and the American sailors serving up hot dogs!

I first went to Navy Days in June 1994. It was the 50th Anniversary of D-Day, and there were plenty of interesting Royal Navy and foreign warships in the Harbour, to take part in the International Fleet Review later that week. I can remember going on HMS Ilustrious, and plenty of Destroyers and Minesweepers. I can also remember seeing the US Cruiser USS Normandy, and the wartime liberty ship Jeremiah O’Brien. But what I remember most of all is my dad showing me round the Dockyard that he worked in, explaining how the Docks and caissons worked, and pointing out the parts of the ships that he worked on – ‘oh look, there’s number two weapons shop!’ and ‘that’s number three basin!’ sounds quite impressive when you’re 11!

The last time I went to Navy Days was in 2008. What I remember most from then is the foreign warships – Japanese, Chilean, Danish and French. It was interesting to have a look at HMS Ilustrious again 14 years later, and the Landing Ship RFA Largs Bay was a rare visitor to Portsmouth. And of course theres nothing quite like watching the Royal Marines Band close the day.

I’m looking forward to Navy Days already. I had a sneak peak of HMS Daring last year at the Royal Navy past and present event, and she really is something else. It’s a long time since RFA Argus has been in Portsmouth too. A former merchant vessel that served in the Falklands War before becoming and RFA ship, it will be a rare opportunity to visit a Falklands veteran. Hopefully we can expect to see some foreign warships too.

To watch a British Pathe newsreel clip of Portsmouth Navy Days 1969, click here!

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Line-up announced for Navy Days 2010

The Royal Navy’s two newest warships are set to take part in the Royal Navy’s annual showcase this summer, alongside historic ships such as HMS Victory and HMS Warrior.

The first two Type 45 Destroyers, HMS Daring and HMS Dauntless, will be open to visitors during Navy Days 2010 in Portsmouth Dockyard, between Friday 30 July and Sunday 1 August. As well as Royal Navy ships a number of vessels from foreign navies are also expected to visit Portsmouth for the event. Other ships on display will include two Type 23 Frigates. A rare visitor will be RFA Argus, a helicopter training and casualty recieving ship. She is one of the only ships in the world to have a CT scanner fitted among her medical facilities. She served in the Falklands war as a civilian ship, before being taken into RFA service.

Captain Paul Lemkes, Deputy Naval Base Commander, said: “Navy Days is a fantastic opportunity for the Royal Navy to be able to show the public, close up, the capabilities it contributes to UK Defence. I am particularly delighted that we are planning to have two Type 45 destroyers on show in their home port so that visitors will be able to see how the Royal Navy is maintaining its place at the forefront of maritime operations with this cutting edge class of warship. I am sure that RFA Argus will be a big hit with visitors too. She is a one-off ship with a very special capability and does not often get the chance to have the public on board.”

As well as ships many other displays are planned. The Royal Navys Black Cats helicopter team, the Royal Signals White Helmets motorcyle display team, the Royal Artillery Black Knights parachute team, the Royal Navy Dive Team and a Field Gun competition are just some of the displays already confirmed, with more expected.

Events such as this are absolutely crucial to the Royal Navy. Now more than ever it is important for the armed forces to work hard to let the general public know what they do. Especially the Royal Navy, who might expect severe cuts in the upcoming Defence Review. While operation commitments are important, it is also important for the Navy to pull out all the stops to put on a first-class show. The RAF, ever publicity savvy, would not miss a chance to showcase itself. It would be really good to see a bigger ‘headline’ act. Fingers crossed!

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Revealed: the face of the man who sank the Mary Rose

Mary Rose

The face of the Bosun of the Mary Rose has been can be seen for the first time for over 560 years. The Bosun’s reconstructed head will go on display at the Mary Rose Museum in Portsmouth Historic Dockyard from tomorrow.

The head has been modelled by the internationally renowned forensic artist Richard Neave and two of his colleagues, from a skull recovered from the wreck. Only a handful of the more than 500 crew and soldiers survived when the ship sank in July 1545 and Henry VIII was reported to have heard the screams of the drowning men as he helplessly stood and watched from Southsea Castle.

This man was found with the emblem of his comparatively senior status, his Bosun’s call – a whistle – suggesting he was the man who may have been at least partly responsible for the disaster. Expert analysis has suggested that he was in his 30’s or 40’s. His skeleton indicated that although he was doing a relatively sedate job, at some point in his life he had previously carried out heavy physical work. This suggests that he had worked his way up through the ranks. His teeth reveal that he came from south-west England.

John Lippiett (Chief Executive of the Mary Rose Trust) commented that “it is great to have the opportunity to see what the Bosun looked like after all these years and to welcome his arrival in our Museum”.

The Mary Rose sank on 18 July 1545, during a confrontation with the French Fleet in the Solent, before the eyes of Henry VIII himself. There are many theories about why the ship sank, but evidence from the wreck itself suggests the ship put about with its gunports open, was hit by a squall and sank like a stone. Ensuring that the gunports were closed would have been the Bosun’s job. The Mary Rose settled deep into the silty bed of the Solent, which preserved the many thousands of unique artefacts in excellent condition.

The prominent Historian David Starkey has referred to the Mary Rose as ‘England’s Pompeii’. Not only is the ship important, but the time-capsule like artefacts that have been recovered along with it. The silty bed of the Solent ensured that thousands of arefacts and the remains of many of the crew were preserved.

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Portsmouth Harbour tour #2

There were a couple of foreign warships in port this weekend, so I thought I would take the chance to go on the Pompey harbour tour and take some pics!

FGS Mecklenburg-Vorpommern

FGS Mecklenburg-Vorpommern

FGS Mecklenburg-Vorpommern is a German Frigate of the Brandenburg Class, and its the first time a ship of that class has visited Portsmouth. They’re very impressive ships with a 76mm main gun, Vertical launch anti-air missiles and exocet anti-ship missiles, as well as Rheinmetall 20mm cannons. They’re currently underoing an upgrade and the Vertical launch missiles are being replaced with Sea Sparrow, and the Exocets with RBS 15 Mk.3. Interesting how she looks like a German warship – high, stacked and mean looking.

HNLMS Johann De Witt

HNLMS Johann De Witt

HLMS Johann De Witt is a Dutch Landing Ship. Launched in 2007, she is from a class of two ships. She can accomodate numerous landing craft, which use the stern dock to embark troops. She also has a large flight deck and hangar for up to 6 Lynx helicopters. She can carry 611 marines, 170 armoured personnel carriers or 33 Main Batle tanks – a impressive sealift capacity. The Dutch Navy and Marines can form a joint task force with the Royal Navy’s amphibious task group, so she could well operate with British ships. She’s very similar to the British Bay Class. Unlike the Bay Class however she has good self-defence – 2 Goalkeeper guns and 4 Oerlikon 20mm cannons – and the Bay Class lack a hangar.

HMS Manchester

HMS Manchester

HMS Manchester is a Batch 3 ship of the Type 42 Class of Destoyers. She’s looking her age now and her and the rest of the class are due to be replaced as the Type 45 Destroyers come into service. The Sea Dart missile system is pretty much obsolete now compared to the Sea Viper, even if it hasn’t yet been fully proven in trials. Notice also how shes longer than the earlier Type 42’s – they proved to be very poor in rough seas, so the later ships were lengthened. But this would have cracked the hull, so they had strengthening fitted along their sides.

HMS Iron Duke

HMS Iron Duke

HMS Iron Duke is a Type 23 Frigate. She has a 4.5inch main gun, Sea Wolf verital launch anti-air missile system and Harpoon anti-ship missiles. They were originally designed as anti-submarine ships for the North Atlantic, but nowadays are more likely to be seen fighting pirates and drug-smuggles. The Iron Duke performed well in the Carribean last year, but is a Cold War anti-submarine frigate the best ship for fighting drug smugglers? She has a proper warship name though, named after the Duke of Wellington. My Great-Grandad served on the First World War vintage Iron Duke, a battleship.

HMS Invincible

HMS Invincible

Finally we see HMS Invincible, the mothballed Falklands veteran aircraft carrier. She was withdrawn from service in 2005 – technically she is in ‘extended readiness’. Not sure what the Navy means by this, as if you look on Google Earth you can see her propellers on the flight deck – I don’t think shes going anywhere anytime soon. She’s probably been robbed of parts to keep her sister ships Illustrious and Ark Royal running. My dad worked on Invincible when she first came into the Dockyard, many moons ago. She’s due to be towed to the breakers yard later this year.

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Jack the Painter: Burning Portsmouth Dockyard

Very few people know that perhaps the first ever terrorist act on British soil took place in Portsmouth Dockyard. In December 1776 James Aitken, a British sympathiser for the American colonies in the war of independence, tried to burn down Portsmouth Dockyard.

A petty criminal, Aitken had travelled to America. After developing sympathy for the American struggle for independence, he travelled to France to suggest a scheme to the American agent in Paris. Aitken had gone to very one of the six Royal Dockyards in England, and had even developed an incendiary device to use. He had even managed to slip into the Dockyard, undetected, and inspect storehouses and make sketches.

On 7 December 1776 Aitken entered the Ropehouse, which ran the width of the yard. After trouble lighting his fuse he rushed out, and made his escape on a cart and then on foot, before looking back and seeing flames.

Hundreds of men fought the blaze, including marines, yard workers and even sailors. The fire was put out with little damage, but near panic reigned. Newspapers across the country reported the fire. Even King George III followed developments closely. The authorities were soon on the trail of Aitken, who had been spotted lurking around the Dockyard.

Aitken had made his way to London, but the contact he had been told to meet by the agent in France was in fact a double agent. After un-successfully trying to burn the Dockyard at Plymouth Aitken was arrested for housebreaking at Odiham in North Hampshire. He was charged with the Dockyard fire and then tried, convicted and hanged in March 1777. His trial at Winchester was a huge public spectacle, and dominated Newspapers and Magazines. Even his execution was a spectacle, Aitken having been hung from the mizzenmast of the Frigate Arethusa. After death his body was hung in irons at Fort Blockhouse, across the Harbour entrance at Gosport.

That ‘Jack the Painter’ chose to target Portsmouth Dockyard shows just what an important site it was in the late 18th Century, during the wars with Revolutionary America and later France. The Yard would have been bustling with the ‘wooden walls’ of the Royal Navy’s warships. Not only was it important militarily, but the Dockyard was also a very public symbol of British power.

But what is also interesting about ‘Jack the Painter’ is that his acts instilled fear much greater than their actual consequences, and in this sense he was the first Terrorist. And it happened here, in Portsmouth Dockyard. What more evidence is needed about just how important the Dockyard was?

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The Dockyard: like the writing on a stick of rock

Portsmouth Historic Dockyard have just published my first guest article on their blog. You can read it here, but I have reproduced it here as well.

There’s something about Portsmouth – the clue is in the name, I guess – that has made it a place where people come to and go from, for hundreds of years of its history. Think about it, how many Portsmouth families can trace back their history in the city to past 1800? Not many, I suspect. Because people come and go so much.

Take my own family for instance. In 1900, my various ancestors were living in Lancashire, Sussex, Ireland and London! Yet by 1914 all of my great-grandparents had somehow found their way to Portsmouth – and for most of them, it was the sea that brought them here.

Two of my great-grandparents came to Portsmouth to join the Royal Navy – both of them became Stokers, in fact. My great-granddad on my Dads side served in Battleships and Submarines for over 20 years, and my great-granddad on my Mum’s side fought at the Battle of Jutland in 1916.

And in the Second World War my great-uncle joined up as a Stoker, serving on the Cruiser HMS Enterprise. Sadly, he died of illness after being torpedoed in the South Atlantic on his way home on the SS Laconia. One Granddad worked for Vospers Shipbuilders in Old Portsmouth before joining the Army in 1942, and my other Granddad worked in the Dockyard as a painter and labourer.

Even after the war the trend carries on. Two of my uncles were shipwrights, and one uncle and my Dad were both electrical fitters. One uncle even moved down to Plymouth to work in the Dockyard there.

I’ve heard some fascinating Dockyard stories. Just before the Falklands War in 1982, the Government announced cuts to the Dockyard, including redundancies. The Defence Secretary, John Nott, visited the Dockyard for talks with Union leaders. Most of the workers gathered around the building to hear the outcome. When the Union men and John Nott emerged, the Union leader barely got past “I would just like to say…” before a missile was launched from the crowd and hit John Nott on the head. A full-scale riot ensued and John Nott had to be smuggled out by the back door.

Another thing my Dad remembers is the sometimes lax attitudes in the ‘yard. At the end of one summer two ‘new’ faces emerged on his section. Asking the charge hand who they were and where they had been, he was told “oh, that’s so and so, they’ve been down the beach all summer”. You wonder how anything got done! But in 1982, the Dockyard managed to get the fleet ready to sail to the Falklands in a matter of days. You get the impression that when things had to be done, they were done and done well. But all the same, it sounds like it was a parallel universe all of its own.

My Dad still has many of his old Dockyard tools – one of the things about serving a Dockyard apprenticeship, is that you get to keep your tools, complete with Government broad-arrow mark on them. Many of them have long outlasted their counterparts from B&Q. He even has his coffin-like toolbox in the shed, with P DALY stencilled on the side. My Dad even can remember cutting the grass with one of my uncles old shipwrights adzes that he found in the shed at my grandparents.

When he’s doing DIY around the house, you can see the apprenticeship training. Everything has to be just so, there’s no rushing. But then you wouldn’t expect anything different from someone who had to spend a month shaving a block of brass to within a tenth of a millimetre during his apprenticeship! You can understand why it had to be done properly, because often men’s lives depended on it.

I’ve often heard it said that many of the tools and materials in the Dockyard mysteriously grew legs and managed to walk out of the gate. At one point, Shipwrights even had it written into their contracts that they could keep off-cuts of wood! I wonder how much of Portsmouth would fall down if you took away all of the wood stolen from the Dockyard over the years…

So the Dockyard really does run through Portsmouth, like the writing on a stick or rock. It’s made the city – and its people – what it is. I cannot help but feel that even though few people work in the Dockyard now, its influence will take many years to disappear.

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