Category Archives: Dockyard

Ark Royal to enter Portsmouth for the last time

HMS Ark Royal (R07)

HMS Ark Royal (Image via Wikipedia)

HMS Ark Royal is due to enter Portsmouth Harbour for the last time on Friday morning.

The Royal Navy’s flagship, due to be decommissioned as part of coalition budget cuts, will arrive in the Solent tomorrow morning, unusually entering via the Needles and sailing past Yarmouth, Lepe, Cowes, and Lee-on-Solent before anchoring up overnight for the usual assorted top brass, flunkies and hangers on to visit.

She’s due to pass the Round Tower at around 0940 on Friday morning. The best spots are likely to be along the hot walls in Old Portsmouth (the Round Tower will be packed), although Gosport will be a good spot due to the layout of the Aircraft Carriers deck, which means that the view from port is better as she enters harbour.

Weather permitting there will be a Harrier flypast, in what is likely to be one of the last public flights by the soon to be decommissioned jump jet.

It will be a sad sight indeed, after Portsmouth has become used to seeing brand new warships arriving, and throughout seeing flagships returning from war, almost always victorious. My parents were onboard a tug when HMS Hermes came back from the Falklands. How times change.

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Last Harrier takes off from Ark Royal

The last Harrier jump jets took off from HMS Ark Royal yesterday. Click here to watch video footage on the BBC website.

The four Harrier GR9’s effectively marked the end of naval aviation as we know it, by taking off from the soon to be decommissioned flagship in the North Sea. The last take off comes over 30 years since the first Sea Harrier landed on the deck of a Royal Navy warship, and 28 years since the Sea Harrier was at the forefront of the fight to retake the Falkland Islands.

Lt Cdr James Blackmore was the last Harrier pilot to take off from the iconic ski-jump:

“It is amazing. I watched a Harrier hovering over Chatham dockyard when I was eight years old and I am now fortunate enough to be flying the Harrier today… It’s an amazing aircraft, superb to fly and just very enjoyable.”

Captain Jerry Kyd said there was a tear in his eye when the last Harrier left. He showed extraordinary tact in the following statement:

“It was an emotional moment and also one of real pride as we look back over 25 years service to Queen and country… No naval officer wants to see any ship decommissioned early and she is a fine vessel and she has a fine history. She is at the peak of her efficiency but one understands that very difficult decisions have to be made across government.”

I wonder what Captain Kyd REALLY thinks?

Petty Officer Andrew Collins, 26, from Glasgow, described the situation in the usual directness of the British sailor:

“HMS Ark Royal is like the girlfriend you hate and you only realise you loved her when she has binned you.”

After a short visit to Hamburg in Germany, HMS Ark Royal is due to enter Portsmouth Harbour for the last time on Friday 3 December. Port movements are only announced 24 hours in advance, but looking at the high tides that day, I would predict that she will arrive sometime around 9am or shortly after. Expect a Harrier flypast and tugs spraying water cannons, as well as huge crowds thronging old Portsmouth.

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Filed under defence, Dockyard, event, Falklands War, Navy, News

Youtube picks

Heres a few vidoes on youtube that I’ve been watching recently. Enjoy!

HMS Hermes returns from the Falklands

This is a pretty historic piece of footage. Not only does it show the Flagship of the Falklands Task Force returning to Portsmouth, my mum and dad were on one of the black and buff Navy tugs escorting her in! Presented by Michael Buerk and Brian Hanrahan, we see thousands of people gathered on the waterfront at Portsmouth, and there are interviews with Margaret Thatcher, and the Captain Lin Middleton. There are interviews with the crews families at the quayside.

The Somme: From Defeat to Victory

A pretty good documentary about the Battle of the Somme that I’ve just found. It’s refreshingly non ‘Janet and John’ style, which makes a nice change!

Royal Navy Sea Wolf Missile firing

I’ve been having a look at clips of missile firings on youtube, because it occured to me that I write about them a lot, but have never really seen what they look like in evidence! Heres a clip of a Sea Wolf missile firing from a Type 22 Frigate.

Black Label Society – Parade of the Dead (Live)

From the new album, Order of the Black. Zakk Wylde is back to his best!

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Filed under Army, Dockyard, Music, Navy, videos, western front, World War One

Navy Days 2010 – the rest of the sights

7 Dock

There’s always plenty more to look at at Navy Days other than the Warships – OK, so they are the big draw, but you can find some pretty interesting stuff on the docksides too.

I had an interesting chat with a Gentleman at the Project Vernon stand. Project Vernon aims to erect a statue at Gunwharf Quays, commemorating the sites heritage as the Royal Navy’s centre for Minewarfare until its closure in 1996. I’ve been researching a minewarfare man, CPO Reg Ellingworth GC, so I think its a wonderful idea and a very good project – good luck to them!

One of the highlights of the day, for me, was getting to visit the Royal Navy Historical Branch. This is one of those quiet departments that you know exists, but get to actually visit once in a blue moon. Their library seemed to have the Mariners Mirror, the Navy List, and practically every other kind of naval and maritime journal. While I was there a number of visitors were getting some advice about their ancestors naval service. I had a very interesting in-depth discussion with one of the members of staff about naval service records – how difficult they are to read, what all the abbreviations mean, and how to interpret them. The conclusion? Somebody needs to write a book on it! And also, it would be great if resources like this could be more accesible.

Type 26 model

The BAe System stand was very interesting. In effect the only shipbuilding company of note in Britain nowadays, BAe are leading the work on the Type 45 Destroyers, the new Queen Elizabeth Class carriers, the Astute Class submarines, and design work for the new Type 26 Frigates. As you might expect their stand was very flash indeed.

Another stand I found interesting was the HMS Intrepid stand. A small group dedicated to perserving her memory had on display some relics from the Falklands veteran landing ship. Apparently when it came to scrapping her the old girl put up quite a protest, and even her name plate would not come off without a fight!

RM

In terms of harbour and air displays, things were a bit thin on the ground. I did catch the Royal Marines anti-piracy boarding demonstration, which looked excellently conducted, and shows what they can do when they’re actually allowed to (reference the incident in the Indian Ocean last year when a Marine boarding party was not allowed to rescue a kidnapped British couple). The Royal Navy Lynx Helicopter display team the Black Cats put on a display, as did the Royal Navy’s historic flight Harvard, but I’ve seen both of them before several times now. While I was on one of the warships the Royal Artillery’s Black Knights parachute display team – why is it that every armed forces unit has its own parachute display team?

The arena events were ok, if not spectacular or unusual. The Royal Marines, Royal Navy volunteer and Rose and Thistle Pipe Bands are firm fixtures at these type of events. I’m a bit mystified as to what the Solent Dog team has to do with Navy Days – I could have understood if it was an MOD police dog display or something like that. The Royal Signals white helmets motorbike display team disappeared from the programme, even though they had been announced earlier in the year. I can’t say I was particularly excited about Bloodhound either – the supersonic car. Again, quite what its got to do with the Navy, who knows…

Re-enactment groups are always good to see, whatever you think about re-enactors, it brings history to life in a far more accesible way. I spotted the Fort Cumberland Guard, The Coldstream Guards, some gentleman doing Napoleonic Musket firing near HMS Victory, and a group rowing a Victory-era small boat in 1 Basin. There weren’t as many wandering entertainers as I’ve seen in previous years, however.

Aachen

While we’re talking about boats, I forgot to mention RCL Aachen, a British Army operated and crewed large Landing Craft. She’s run by the Royal Corps of Logistics, and based at Marchwood in Southampton Water. According to her crew she can operate with the Royal Navy’s amphibious forces, but spends much of her time operating as a kind of water-borne taxi for the army, taking small numbers of men and equipment from one place to another by water.

However, the biggest pleasant surprise was finding Jason Salkey, who played Rifleman Harris in the Sharpe TV series. This was really quite something, as Sharpe is probably the reason why I am into military history in the first place. Jason’s a very nice bloke, and happily talked about Bernard Cornwell’s books, Sean Bean, and how sad he is that after he was killed off in Sharpe’s Waterloo he cannot appear in any future programmes.

1 Basin

Something that not a lot of people appreciate, is that the Dockyard buildings themselves have an awful lot of history – all you need to do is take a look at one of the many books by Ray Riley or Brian Patterson – every dock, storehouse, boathouse, jetty or basin has its own history. If only those bricks could talk… And when Navy Days is on you get to look round parts that aren’t normally open to the public, and take pictures from different angles – especially of 1 Basin from the top of RFA Argus!

All in all, there could have been a more and better displays, in particular in the air and in the arena. I can’t believe that on its biggest showcase of the year the Navy – or indeed the other armed forces – could not put on more. Its either lack of resources, costcutting, or sheer lack of effort. Thankfully some of the rare gens – such as meeting Jason Salkey, the Historical Branch, finding out about Project Vernon, RFA Argus and talking to some of the sailors on the ships made up for things. But theres something wrong when the sideshows are more interesting than the ships…

Apparently the word is that there won’t be a Portsmouth Navy Days in 2012 as it clashes with the Olympics – what that’s got to do with it I’m really not quite sure… why not just move it to another part of the year? Sounds like cost-cutting to me, unless of course the Type 45 Destroyers are going to be part of the air defence cordon off the Thames Estuary… There is talk of an event being put on next year, but as usual it looks like Portsmouth will miss out.

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Navy Days 2010 – The Ships

I’ve just got back from Navy Days in Portsmouth Dockyard. Here’s my round-up of the ships that were on display:

RFA Argus

RFA Argus

RFA Argus is a Primary Casualty Receiving Ship, with secondary roles as an aviation training ship and a general transport. She was launched in 1981 as the civilian container ship MV Contender Bezant, and served in the Falklands War as an aircraft transport. After the 1982 conflict she was purchased by the MOD and fitted out as an aviation training ship. In the Gulf War of 1991 she served as a casualty receiving ship, and its in this role that she was given a major refit over the past few years. She now has a very impressive medical facility, crewed by over 200 medical staff. There are 3 operating theatres, a recovery wing and a full general ward. Apparently the patients receive one-to-one care, with a nurse for each person. The ward has exactly the same facilities you would expect in an NHS Hospital, but tailored very much with the need for treating freezing cold sailors in mind.

The medical staff do not routinely stay onboard the ship unless on a specific tasking. The ship is on very short notice to sail, and the medical staff will be picked up along the way. Apparently she was put on notice to go to Iceland during the volcano affair. She was also almost used as a casualty ferry during the first phase of the Afghanistan War in 2001, when it looked like she would be the only way of bringing casualties home.

Argus has a very impressive flight deck and hangar – ideal for receiving casualties and then sending them on home when well enough. The ships company of Argus also put on a very good display and were very informative.

RFA Argus flight deck

HMS Dauntless

HMS Dauntless

HMS Dauntless is the Royal Navy’s newest Type 45 air defence Destroyer. Navy Days 2010 is the first time she has been open to visitors, and not surprisingly there were lengthy queues to get onboard. The tour did not go up to the bridge, but did include a very interesting look in the Ops room. I enjoyed talking to the Principle Warfare Officer, about Sea Viper (Dauntless are due to test it in September) and how it can track 36 targets at once, and how the command system is light years ahead of what the Navy is used to. All of the command systems are based on Windows, meaning that any young sailors joining up wont take long to learn how to use it! The most impressive thing about the Type 45’s is the space – they are so much more roomy than older ships, so claustrophobia is not such an issue as on a Type 42.

Apparently, the Phalanx systems due to be fitted to the 45’s are brand new, and not ripped off of the old Type 42’s as reported in the media – the Phalanx’s from the 42’s are now guarding Kandahar airport! Apparently the 45’s are also built with the space for a surface weapon system such as Harpoon in mind – there is space on the superstructure, a space for the electronics in the Ops room, and even the crew is designed with it as a possibility.

Sadly it was difficult to linger on Dauntless, given the crowds. It would have been nice to see a bit more of the ship too. Her sister ship Daring was also on display, but I’ve already been on her, so I gave those queues a miss.

HMS Westminster and HMS Richmond

Richmond and Westminster

HMS Richmond and Westminster are two of the Royal Navy’s Type 23 Frigates. The Captain of HMS Westminster was on the bridge when I went round – why dont more Captains do it? – and was happily talking to visitors. Apparently there is a waiting list to join the Navy at the moment, and more than a few of his junior seamen have degrees.

The Type 23’s are not exactly the most interesting ships to look round, but it would still be nice to see more of the ship and to see some interesting demonstrations or displays.

HMS Cumberland

Cumberland

HMS Cumberland is a Batch 3 ship of the Type 22 Class Frigates, and as my friend recently said, is a ‘proper warship’, and looks like one too. She’s interesting to look round, helped by the fact that her Sea Wolf launchers are more visible than the Type 23’s vertical launch systems. We don’t often see 22’s here in Portsmouth, as they are based in Plymouth. Its a shame most of them were flogged off on the cheap in the 90’s…

HMS Cattistock

Cattistock

HMS Cattistock is a Hunt Class Mine Countermeasures Vessel. The Portsmouth Minesweeper Flotilla at present rotate, with ships spending several years in the Gulf, and the crews rotating on them every 6 months or so. The crew on Cattistock put on a first class display, talking about their role, how they deal with mines, and the Chief Petty Officer gave a very good talk about firefighting at sea. And apprently the Coxon likes a spot of fishing, and has a rod and line ready most of the time.

Just goes to show, the little ships can be the most interesting, and its not size that counts – if the crew put the effort in, everyone learns something. Only one thing, I counted 5 other Hunt Class ships in the Basin – why not open up another one to relieve the queues for Cattistock?

HMS Tyne

Tyne

HMS Tyne is an Offshore Fishery Patrol Vessel. She guards the UK’s territorial waters, and inspects the catches of fishing vessels, and generally makes sure they are playing by the rules. The young officer on the bridge gave a very interesting talk about how maneouvreable the ship is, and how tricky it is navigating around boats with miles of nets trailing behind them. Apparently the Tyne and her sister ships are also occasionally tasked to ward off snooping Russian warships in the North Sea…..

Thoughts

Obviously I’ve been quite vocal in my thoughts that Navy Days without a major surface ship – such as a Carrier of Landing Ship – is not really on. I still think the Navy has scored a big own goal by depriving its major annual profile-raising event of a star attraction. But I must confess what was on show was still worth seeing. RFA Argus in particular was very interesting. Another point I would stress, is that some ships made a lot more effort than others – after a while looking at the same SA80, GPMG and firefighting displays gets a bit repetitive. And crew members who are knowledgeable and good at engaging with the public really make these kind of events.

I’m puzzled as to why a Type 42 was not put on display – as far as I know there are several in the Dockyard at present. Perhaps the Navy wants to forget that they exist, in favour of the Type 45’s. The lack of any foreign warships is a mystery, its unknown for a Navy Days to take place with not a single visitor. One wonders whether we have offended everyone – have we not been sending any ships to their Navy Days? A foreign visitor would really have made a difference, as would an aircraft carrier or a landing ship.

Tomorrow – the other sights and attractions at Navy Days 2010

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HMS Cumberland added to Navy Days

The Type 22 Frigate HMS Cumberland has been confirmed to appear at the Navy Days event in Portsmouth at the end of the month. Cumberland is normally based in Plymouth, so it will be a rare opportunity to take a look round a Type 22 Frigate in Portsmouth. It also goes some way to bolstering what is a rather weak-looking line-up.

Despite this new announcement the line-up for Navy Days is still looking decidedly anaemic. HMS Ark Royal, HMS Ocean, HMS Albion, HMS Liverpool, HMS Sutherland, RFA Fort George and RFA Largs Bay are all off the east coast of the US for the AURIGA deployment and are obviously unavailable. HMS Invincible is rusting in 3 Basin and in no condition to be on display, and HMS Illustrious is in deep refit at Rosyth. HMS Bulwark is in refit in Plymouth. As Portsmouth is the home port of the Type 42 Destroyers at least one of those should be on display, but perhaps the Navy is keen to emphasise the future where Destroyers are concerned. The survey ship HMS Echo is currently undergoing operational sea training and might be available, or how about the other survey ship, HMS Scott? Navy Days might also be an ideal opportunity for the Royal Navy to show off the new Astute submarine – even if visitors could not go onboard, it would be a PR coup to even be able to see her tied up alongside, and with some suitable displays about her next door.

There have been noticeably few announcements about foreign warships too. Apart from the French fishery patrol ship FS Cormoran Navy Days is looking like a solely British affair. The last Navy Days in Portsmouth had French, Danish, Chilean and Japanese ships on display. Hopefully we’ll get some announcements in the next couple of weeks – there was talk at one stage of an Italian warship, which would be great if it turned out to be one of the Italian Navy’s new Destroyers, which are almost identical to the Type 45’s and would make for an interesting comparison.

The Royal Navy has never been good at PR, even its own senior officers have dubbed it the ‘silent service’. Its not difficult to work out that poor PR makes you vulnerable when it comes to cuts, as politicians, civil servants and the public at large will be poorly-informed about who you are and what you do. The RAF, on the other hand, has a strong heritage of promoting itself – it has always had to, right from its early days. You can be it will not be wasting a single opportunity to emphasise what it does in these critical days while the Strategic Defence Review is ongoing.

Officials will cite ‘operational commitments’ for the poor showing at Navy Days, but in the case of exercises such as AURIGA would it not have been possible to either move the dates of Navy Days or scale down our involvement so at least one major ship might have been available? Of course it must be nice for Admirals to go on flag-waving exercises and to practice the rarity of fixed-wing flying on a UK Aircraft Carrier, but with bad PR this might end up being a thing of the past entirely.

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USS Boise




USS Boise

Originally uploaded by dalyhistory2010

The USS Boise is an unusual visitor to Portsmouth Naval Base at the moment.

A US Navy Los Angeles Class Nuclear Attack Submarine, USS Boise has a displacement of 6,000 tons, and a crew of 129 men. She can fire Tomahawk Land Attack Missiles, Harpoon anti-ship missiles and conventional torpedoes. She was commissioned in 1992, and saw action in the second Gulf War in 2003.She is normally based in Norfolk, Virginia.

The security around US vessels is always tight when they visit foreign ports, and especially so with nuclear submarines. There is a 100 metre exclusion zone around the vessel, maintained by MOD police boats. When the boat I was on passed the Boise the US sailors on the deck tracked us through their binoculars!

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