Category Archives: out and about

HMS Cumberland




HMS Cumberland

Originally uploaded by dalyhistory2010

HMS Cumberland paid a rare visit to Portsmouth earlier this week. The Batch 3 Type 22 Frigate is normally based at Plymouth.

The Batch 3 ships of the Class were much modified from their earlier counterparts. While HMS Broadsword and HMS Brilliant performed well in the Falklands War, a number of lessons were learnt. It was found that all ships needed a main 4.5 inch gun for shore bombardments, and the Exocet missiles were replaced with more advanced Harpoons. The two Sea Wolf launchers were retained, and each ship also carries a Goalkeeper close in weapon system.

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Solent Overlord Show 2010

Scimitar light tank

I spent a couple of hours earlier at the Solent Overlord Military Show 2010 at the Horndean Showground.

Organised by the Solent Overlord Executive, a group of military vehicle enthusiasts, this annual show brings together hundreds of military vehicles from the Second World War to the modern era – plenty of WW2 jeeps, half-tracks (includking a German one), several guns, a host of Land Rovers, Bren Gun Carrier, a Scimitar light tank, and an FV432 Armoured Personnel Carrier. There was even a Rapier Unit to provide anti-aircraft cover!

Rapier 2000 anti-air missiles

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It obviously takes real dedication to own and run a classic military vehicle. Obviously something like a WW2 military jeep is going to be harder to maintain than a Ford Focus. But there is usually something pretty redoubtable about a Jeep or a Land Rover. Military vehicle enthusiasts are a dedicated bunch. The only comment I would make, is that too few vehicles had any kind of information. I suppose I come from a museum background, but when I eventually get my Land Rover I will set up display boards about it, its history, the equipment, markings, and such like.

They might seem a bit nerdy but these kinds of shows are certainly popular, especially with the kids. And you can always see people huddled around vehicles, inspecting each others work and swapping notes. Throw in a host of military surplus stalls to rummage over, a beer tent and arena events and you’ve got a pretty good day out. And whats more, any surplus income from the show goes towards a suitable military charity, this year the Gurkha Welfare Fund.

Have a look at my flickr album of pics here – let me know if you can help identify any of the vehicles, or if I have made any mistakes!

56th (London) Division Jeep

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Filed under Army, cold war, event, Military vehicles, out and about, Uncategorized, World War Two

Portchester Castle #1 – the outer bailey

Portchester Castle lies at the top of Portsmouth Harbour. And, luckily, just over a mile from my house! Originally built by the Romans, and subsequently inhabited by the Saxons and Medieval Kings, today the Castle is open to visitors.

It’s unknown exactly when the first work on the site was carried out. The Romans called the area Portus Adurni, are thought to have built the first fort at Portchester in the 3rd Century AD. Goodall suggests a date of between 285 and 290 AD, while Cunliffe has written about evidence of a small settlement prior to this date. The outer Bailey is the main remaining part of the Roman Castle. It is easily recognisable, constructed from flint and mortar, and remarkably well preserved. There is ample evidence of the different occupiers of the Castle in its stonework. Roman flint, Norman and Medieval stone blocks, and later Georgian and Victorian repairs carried out in red brick. The Roman works in particular were an incredible achievement, with none of the machinery modern builders would rely on. That they are still standing now is testament to their skill.

The Flint Wall of Portchester Castle

The Flint Wall of Portchester Castle

The original walls were some five feet thick and twenty feet high, and include features such as crenellations and fire steps.

Crenellations

Crenellations

There are also large circular bastions in each corner. The Castle also has substantial outer defences – one two sides it faces the sea, and a system of moats on the landward sides. There is an excellent plan of the Castle here.

The Castle’s location is extremely important. Located in the middle of the South Coast, opposite France, and at the top of a well defended harbour, it was an ideal base for travelling to the continent, for defending the local coastine, and assembling armies. The English Armies that sailed to Crecy and Agincourt were assembled at Portchester. As time passed by the top of Portsmouth Harbour silted up, and Portchester was eclipsed by Portsmouth. But in the middle ages, Portchester was a crucial settlement. And naturally, a village soon grew up near the Castle, along the approach road.

After the fall of the Roman Empire the castle was probably taken over by the indigenous english. The area received its current name around the 6th Century AD. Ancient chronicles describe how a Saxon Warrior landed and captured the fort. For the next 4 centuries the Castle was in Saxon hands, and the current Watergate is largely of Saxon origin.

Watergate

Watergate

Over time extra bastions have been added, as well as latrine chutes and several gates. In particular, latrine chutes can be seen on the south wall, where the old Priory once stood.

Latrines

Latrines

On the north side we can also see a nasty looking archway, where the defenders would have been able to pour boiling hot oil onto any attackers attempting to scale the walls.

Arch

Arch

After the Norman Conquest the Castle was handed over to one one of William’s trusted Lieutenants. The Domesday Book shows William Mauduit as being the owner of the Castle. This was part of William’s policy of handing Castle and manors to trusted Frenchmen, in order to control the english population.

The large Keep was constructed in the early 12th Century. It now stands at over 100 feet high, after various phases of construction. The Keep was the main stronghold of the castle, surrounded by the inner bailey and then the outer bailey (more on the inner bailey at a later date).

The Keep

The Keep

Located close to the Forest of Bere, a prime hunting area, the Castle was also used by many English Kings as a hunting lodge. Nowadays the Castle is surrounded by trees and other buildings. But for many years it would have been by far the biggest building for miles around, a powerful status symbol of the local lord, and by definition the King. The building of the Round and Square Towers at the mouth of Portsmouth Harbour in the 15th Century, and later Southsea Castle in 1544, largely made Portchester obsolete. Redundant as a fortress, it served as a storehouse and a Prison over the following centuries.

My next post will look in detail at the inside of the Castle – in particular the Church, the Inner Bailey, and the Keep.

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Filed under Ancient History, Architecture, Local History, Medieval history, out and about, Uncategorized

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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Filed under airshow, Army, d-day, Dockyard, event, maritime history, Music, Navy, out and about, Royal Air Force, Royal Marines, Uncategorized

World at War weekend at Fort Nelson

I’ve just got back from the World at War weekend at Fort Nelson.

The main event involved an re-enactment of a raid on a fort on the Franco-German border in late 1944. The British had captured the fort, and a scouting force had left the fort on a patrol. A German force entered the fort, killed the commanding officer and set up an ambush.

The British troops – of the Devonshire and Hampshire Regiments – returned, in a half-track and on foot. Suddenly the Germans fired a Panzerschrek at the half-track, and ambushed the British. Returning fire, the British were hard pressed. Reinforcements arrived in the shape of an American patrol, a British airborne anti-tank gun, and a Royal Artillery Sexton Self propelled gun. With the extra firepower the British eventually assaulted the German positions, clearing the fort and taking them prisoner. Although slightly fanciful, interpretations such as this make great watching for kids and adults alike.

I also watched a brilliant interpretation of the Cockleshell Heroes raid – Operation Frankton – based on the recollections of Marine Bill Sparks, one of the survivors of the raid. Again, brilliant to watch.

There were also a whole host of military vehicles on display – including a number of Second World War Jeeps, with one in British Airborne Recce markings, and another marked as a Red Army lend-lease Jeep. There was also a British Army truck in 2nd Army markings, and a US Army truck.

Also outside were a number of post-war British vehicles. There were a number of Land Rovers, including a Bomb Disposal, and a couple of lightweights. Interestingly, there was also a Humber Pig, an armoured vehicle used in Northern Ireland, in the markings of J (Sidi Rezegh) Battery, 3 Regiment Royal Horse Artillery. Two of my uncles served in J Battery in the 1970’s.

Fort Nelson is definitely one of the best-kept secrets about local military history. There’s always plenty of events going on up there, and you only have to pay to go in on special event days. How many people live only a mile or two away but don’t even know that exists?

Click here to look at my Flickr photo album

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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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HMS Bulwark

I managed to catch a rare sight today when HMS Bulwark came into Portsmouth Dockyard. Conveniently when I was able to dash out of work in my lunch hour! Known as Landing Platform Docks, Bulwark and her sister ship HMS Albion are replacements for the HMS Fearless and HMS Intrepid.

HMS Bulwark

HMS Bulwark

Their primary role is to embark, transport and deploy troops, their vehicles and equipment. To do this she carries 8 Landing Craft – with a resident Squadron of Royal Marines to operate them – which can be loaded through the dock at the stern of the ship or off of a side door and ramp. They can operate Helicopters up to the size of the Chinook, although there are no Hangar facilities onboard.

Albion and Bulwark, as well as carrying troops, can act as the Flagship for an Amphibious Task Group, containing the Helicopter Carrier HMS Ocean and several ships from the Bay Class of Auxilliary Landing Ships. They can carry 305 troops for long periods, and 710 in an emergency. The whole ship has been specifically designed around the needs of the embarked military force.

Weighing 18,500 tons, they are a significant improvement on Fearless and Intrepid. Although their top speed, 18 knots, is pretty low.

Albion was commissioned in 2003, and Bulwark in 2004. Both are based in Plymouth, along with HMS Ocean. This probably makes sense as the Commando Brigade is based in the West Country. Therefore it is not very often that one of these ships comes into Portsmouth.

Earlier this year HMS Bulwark headed a UK task group taking part in Amphibious exercises and ‘flying the flag’ operations in the Far East. She’s looking pretty rusty – her predecessor used to be nicknamed ‘Rusty B’ so obviously she is living up to the nickname!

a view showing the stern door and internal dock

a view showing the stern door and internal dock

The introduction of Albion, Bulwark and Ocean represents a commitment to the UK’s amphibious capability. For years up until the Falklands war the Navy was not quite sure what to do with the Royal Marines, and preferred to spend time and money on aircraft carriers and submarines. The Falklands War changed all that, and along with 16 Air Assault Brigade the amphibious ships and the Commando Brigade comprise the UK’s readily deployable forces, ready and able to deploy into any enviroment from the Arctic to the Tropics.

It is difficult to envisage what kind of environment such a force would be used in – although securing a destabilised country, such as Sierra Leonne, could be one. The Falklands showed that amphibious operations are extremely vulnerable to air attack, and as the Royal Navy is getting shorter and shorter of Destroyers and Frigates armed with anti-aircraft missiles to act as escorts it might be difficult to deploy our amphibious forces against anything more than medium opposition.

But in an unpredictable world a capable Amphibious Task Force is a sound insurance policy.

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Bay Class Landing ships

It was a busy day in Portsmouth Harbour earlier today, as RFA Mounts Bay and RFA Largs Bay left and arrived in the Naval Base respectively.

Largs Bay and Mounts Bay are two ships from the Bay Class of LSL (Landing Ship Logistics) vessels, manned by the Royal Fleet Auxilliary. The Bay class ships were ordered to replace the ageing Round Table class Landing ships, all of which saw service in the Falklands War, with Sir Galahad being sunk and Sir Tristram being seriously damaged. They are considerably larger, weighing in at 16,000 tons.

The Bay class have a similar role to their predecessors – to support amphibious landings, and provide amphibious capability alongside HMS Albion, Bulwark and Ocean. Between them, the Navy’s seven amphibious ships are capable of lifting the entire 3 Commando Brigade.

In any amphibious task group, the key vessels are the LPH (Landing Platform Helicopter) and LPD (Landing Platform Dock) ships. These provide the landing craft and helicopters to allow the first wave to secure the beachead. The LSL’s can then offload their heavy vehicles. To do this the ships have two 30 ton cranes on deck.

The Bay class ships have a large vehicle deck, which opens out at the back of the ship to a stern door and internal dock. Landing Craft, carried by Ocean, Bulwark of Albion, can drive right up to the vehicle deck. The vehicle deck can accomodate 24 Challenger Tanks, or more than 150 light jeep type vehicles. This is almost three times the capacity of their predecessors. They can also carry 350 troops for long periods, or up to 700 in the short term. The large helicopter dock has two landing spots, capable of operating two medium sized helicopters such as the Merlin. There is no permanent Hangar, but some of the ships have a retro-fitted aircraft shelter.

They have no weapons of their own – presuming that escort vessels would provide air defence – but have emplacement for 30mm guns and Phalanx systems should the need arise.

I’ve been onboard Mounts Bay and the vessel is designed very much like a roll on roll off ferry, everything is designed to allow for ease of getting on and off as quick as possible.

They are very light on crew, carrying only 60 officers and men of the Royal Fleet Auxilliary. This is somewhat cheaper than them being manned by the Royal Navy. Also, when not in use for amphibious operations the ships have a secondary role of transporting vehicles around the globe.

That the Royal Navy insists on having such a powerful amphibious force is strange. We have stronger assault capability than we had during the Falklands War, but we have only a tiny fraction of the escort vessels and submarines needed to defend such an operation, and our potential to provide air cover via aircraft carriers is also hanging in the balance. It is no doubt impressive to see so many capable ships in the Navy’s listings, but curious given how imbalanced it makes Fleet. Perhaps the Navy sees itself in the role of deploying forces by sea into troublespots around the world, which is very sensible but troubling given that we lack the Frigates and Destroyers and also the supply vessels to make this possible.

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Duisburg, Germany

Duisburg

Duisburg

More than 8 years ago now, when I was Leader of Portsmouth City Youth Council, I was invited on an official council visit to Portsmouth’s twin city in Germany: Duisburg.

Duisburg is in the Ruhr Industrial area, on the banks of the river Rhine. It is the twelfth largest city in Germany, with a population of 495,668 people – thats over twice as big as Portsmouth. Like other cities in the Ruhr area, Duisburg is well known for being an industrial centre. In particular, Duisburg has been well known for its steel production. Indeed, on the banks of the Rhine, it is ideally placed to ship steel by river. It also has a large Brewery, which produces König Pilsener beer.

It has been the major central trading place of the city since the fifth century. The city itself was located at the “Hellweg”, an important medieval trade route, and at a ford across the River Rhine. Due to the town’s favourable geographic position a palatinate was built and the town was soon granted the royal charter of a free city. The rise of tobacco and textile industries in the 18th century made Duisburg an industrial center. Big industrial companies such as iron and steel producing firms (Thyssen and Krupp) influenced the development of the city within the Prussian Rhine Province. Large housing areas near production sites were being built as workers and their families moved in. In 1938, as part of the Kristalnacht, the Nazis destroyed the Synagogue.

A major logistical center in the Ruhr and location of chemical, steel and iron industries, Duisburg was a primary target of Allied bombers. A total of 299 bombing raids had almost completely destroyed the historic cityscape. 80% of all residential buildings had been destroyed or partly damaged. Almost the whole of the city had to be rebuilt, and most historic landmarks had been lost.

Like most cities in Germany, Dusiburg made a fantastic job of rebuilding after the war. Arguably, German cities had a much clearer canvas as they had been destroyed far more than cities such as Portsmouth, Coventry and London. Although the steel industry is perhaps not quite as strong as it once was, the city still has a thriving port. Its a fascinating city to visit. One of the old steelworks has been turned into a landscaped tourist attraction, fully lit up with colourful lights at night. Its a clean, green city, like most in Germany, and with impressive public transport. Only in England do we paint the tarmac red and call it a cycle lane!

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the Purbeck Coast

the Purbeck coastline

the Purbeck coastline

With the long nights drawing in and a chill in the air, its hard to believe it was only a few months ago that I did the 30 something miles from Swanage to Weymouth in 3 days. The Jurrasic coast of south dorset has to be one of the best kept secrets in outdoor leisure. People talk about Dartmoor, or the Brecon Beacons, and we all know that Kent is the Garden of England? well, personally I think that Dorset is one of the most under-rated areas of England.

The route from swanage to weymouth is remote and rugged, with a fair few challenging ascents and descents along the way – particularly just after st aldhelms head, worbarrow tout and bats head. But there is some lovely scenery to see too. But its worth it because there is some lovely scenery, plenty of wildlife to see, a cracking pub in Langton Matravers along the way, some ancient field strip markings, other ancient features in the landscape, and some more modern sights in the form of second world war pillboxes, bunkers and anti-tank defences.

the Lulworth Ranges

the Lulworth Ranges

For a long part of the walk you pass through the Lulworth Cove army training area. Here the Royal Armoured Corps – and other units – practise live firing. All paths are swept on a regular basis, and the simple instruction is that if you stay within they yellow markers, you should be ok. But if you see anything that looks like an artillery shell, dont touch it! There is also a fair amount of shrapnel lying around. A friend of mine was delivering something in the area once and saw the unsettling sight of an Apache gunship in his rear view mirror! On the ranges there are a fair few old tanks and vehicles that have obviously received a fair bit of attention, for training purposes of course! not far away is the Royal Armoured Corps Headquarters at Bovington, as well as the Bovington Tank Museum.

don't touch it!

don't touch it!

During the second world war the village of Tyneham, smack bang in the middle of the ranges area, was cleared of its inhabitants for security reasons, and the residents have never been allowed to return. The village is still there, almost as it was left over 60 years ago – even down to the village church.

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The National Archives

The National Archives

The National Archives

I’ve just got back from a day at the National Archives in London, where I’ve been doing some research on Portsmouth Airport.

The National Archives is the UK government’s official archive, containing almost 1,000 years of history, with records ranging from parchment and paper scrolls through to digital files and archived websites. The National Archives’ collection is one of the largest in the world, with 11 million records, from Domesday Book to modern government papers.

I’ve visited the National Archives many times over the years, ever since I first went in search of Admiralty correspondence when researching the compass-making exploits of George Stebbing. Since then I have looked at Second World War unit diaries, the ships logs of HMS Beagle, Hydrographic Office records, Cold War British Army records, and now pre-war and post-war Air Ministry and Treasury documents regarding Portsmouth Airport.

It really is a fascinating place. You can search the Archives complete catalogue online. You order a document or file on a computer terminal, then half an hour or so later it arrives in a double-doored locker with your seat number on it. You then take it to your desk, and leaf through age-old documents that open doors to bygone ages. Some of the documents I’ve looked at have had the handwriting of Winston Churchill himself, or mentioned a certain Mr C. Darwin.

The National Archives are also a great place to do some family history research, and they have all kinds of records available to look at. Some of the most common records, especially ones that many people want to look at, are on microfiche or microfilm, to save the original records from getting worn out. Add in a fascinating museum, that includes the Magna Carta and the Domesday Book, a cracking – if a bit overpriced – cafe, and a well stocked Bookshop, and its one of those must-visit places for any Historian.

When you’re sat at the desk reading, you can’t help but look round, and wonder what all the other people are researching – which of them are bestselling authors working on ther latest book? Or, are they simply family history enthusiasts in it for the enjoyment of it? Thats the beauty of researching histor, everyone is getting their hands dirty with real history, and not just getting spoonfed by celebrity historians.

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NATO warships visit Portsmouth

5 Nato warships are in Portsmouth Harbour over the weekend, preparing for an electronic warfare exercise in the English Channel starting on Monday.

HNLMS De Zeven Provincien (near side)

HNLMS De Zeven Provincien (near side)

HNLMS De Zeven Provincien is a Dutch air defence frigate, launched in 2000 and commissioned in 2002. Weighing in at 6,050 tons she has a top speed of 29 knots. She carries Sea Sparrow vertical launch anti-air missiles, 2 Goalkeeper close-range air defence guns, and 2 Harpoon anti-ship or surface launchers. The Dutch Navy refer to them as Frigates, but in terms of size and armament they’re really closer to being Destroyers.

SPS Alvaro de Bazan

SPS Alvaro de Bazan

SPS Alvaro de Bazan is a Spanish air defence frigate. Weighing 6,250 tons all-up weight, she has a top speed of 29+ knots. Armament wise she carries one 5 inch gun for engaging surface and shore targets, vertical launch sea sparrow missiles, and Harpoon missiles. The builders Navantia have won a contract to build the Royal Australian Navy’s new air defence frigates, which will be very similar to the Alvaro de Bazan class.

TCG Oruc reis

TCG Oruc reis

TCG Oruc Reis is a Barbaros Anti-air warfare frigate of the Turkish Navy. With a displacement of 3,100 tons and a top speed of 32 knots, she is somewhat smaller but faster than other similar vessels. She carries 1 5 inch gun, Sea Sparrow and Harpoon missiles. She is based on the MEKO class of modular warships, designed by Germany and built by various countries around the world.

HNoMS Otto Sverdrup

HNoMS Otto Sverdrup

HNoMS Otto Sverdrup is a Norwegian air-defence frigate, based on the Spanish Alvaro de Bazan Class. Sverdrup is the newest ship ofthe group taking part in the exercised, having only been commissioned in April 2008. With a displacement of 5,290 tons and a top speed of 26 knots, she carries one 5 inch gun, Norwegian built Naval Strike Missile anti-ship missiles, and US manufactured Sea Sparrow anti-air missiles.

Also part of the exercise is the FFS Latouche Treville, a French Frigate. Unfortunately I haven’t managed to get any pics of her, as she was tied up and obscured by the Otto Sverdrup. In any case shes French so we dont need to bother too much about her :P Our very own Type 23 Frigate HMS St Albans is also taking part in the exercise.

USS Henson

USS Henson

Also in port but not taking part in the exercise is the USS Henson. The Henson is a US Navy Oceanographic survey ship. She has an entirely civilian crew, surveying oceans around the world. Their work is similar to our own survey ships and the UK Hydrographic Office.

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HMS Illustrious

I managed to grab some pictures today of HMS Illustrious leaving the Harbour.

HMS Illustrious leaving Portsmouth Harbour

HMS Illustrious leaving Portsmouth Harbour

The second ship in the Invincible Class of light aircraft carrier, Illustrious was commissioned in 1982. Her completion was brought forward during the Falklands War to provide cover for HMS Hermes and HMS Invincible. Weighing in at 22,000 tons, with a full crew of over 1,000 men and a top speed of 30 knots, Illustrious and her sister ship were the biggest ships in the Royal Navy until the completion of the helicopter carrier HMS Ocean.

They can operate as either fixed wing aircraft carriers, or helicopter carriers should HMS Ocean be unavailable. They have a ski jump, which enables the Harrier vertical or short take off jets to take off with a slightly higher weapon payload. They can also carry Sea King Helicopters in the anti-submarine role.

Interestingly, in the years before they were ordered, the Navy announced that its receding commitments meant that it would no longer need aircraft carriers. However, it rapidly became clear that naval air cover would be necessary, so a new class of smaller carriers was designed. However, to avoid political embarassment, they were dubbed ‘through deck cruisers’. My Dad, a former Dockyard electrical fitter, can remember working on Invincibles underwater sonar in dry dock when she first came into Portsmouth.

I’ve been on Illustrious – affectionately known as Lusty – a couple of times, at Navy Days was back in 1994 and last year at the Meet the Navy event. For once the Navy got the names of their ships spot on with the Invincible Class – Invincible, Illustrious and Ark Royal are all historic, inspiring names. The Invincible Class have all been based in Portsmouth throughout their service, and have been a common sight steaming in and out of the harbour. Even though they look a bit tired nowadays, they look pretty smart in their overall appearance.

They’re getting on a bit now, and the first ship in the class – Invincible – was decommissioned in 2005, probably to provide spares for the other two ships until their replacements – the much bigger Queen Elizabeth Class carriers – are ready halfway through the next decade.

HMS Illustrious steaming out of Portsmouth

HMS Illustrious steaming out of Portsmouth

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Portsmouth Guildhall

Portsmouth Guildhall

Portsmouth Guildhall

Portsmouth’s original Town Hall was located in the heart of the old town, in the High Street. However, with the growth of the Town in importance and size, a new Town Hall was urgently required towards the end of the Nineteenth Century.

Land was acquired from the War Department, partly from demolished fortifications. Its official opening was in 1890. Prior to the second world war busses and trams ran along the road in front, and the immediate area was made up of shops, and cafes, such as the Verrechias Ice Cream Parlour.

Portsmouth’s Guildhall bears a stark resemblance to that of Bolton. This is probably down to the fact that the same architect designed both buildings: Bolton’s Town Hall looks remarkably like a proptotype for that of Portsmouth, with the same colonnaded frontage and passant Lions.

Initially known as the Town Hall, in 1926 when Portsmouth was given the status of a city it was renamed as the Guildhall. Unlike modern times, when the Guildhall is the civic showpiece and most departments are based in the civic offices opposite, a mnuch smaller council meant that most workers were based in the Guildhall.

In January 1941, during a particularly heavy air raid, an incendiary bomb found its way into a ventilation shaft and before firefighters could deal with it, the whole building was ablaze. Still on fire the next day, by the time the flames were dampened the Guildhall was a smouldering shell. Happily, The reinforced safe in the basement was found to have kept many historic and priceless items intact.

Reconstruction could not begin for many years, and the building stood empty. When it was finally rebuilt, the Guildhall was placed at the centre of a new, pedestrianised Square, with the civic offices creating an arena effect to the north and east, and Guildhall Walk and the Central Library to the south. A perfect location for big oustide events, the only dampener is probably that a City Museum was not located nearby when the opportunity existed. When being rebuilt one councillor pressed the Architect to rebuild the dome on top of the tower. The architect, thankfully, refused – the original dome does appear to have been ‘top-heavy’.

The main auditorium seats 2,200 people, and has seen all manner of acts, from Motorhead to the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra. It is also the venue for the annual mayormaking ceremony, as well as the University of Portsmouth’s Graduation ceremonies. The Lord Mayor and Lady Mayoress both have grand parlours in the Guildhall for entertaining guests, as well as a Banqueting Room. There is a very nice restaurant on the Ground Floor, the Harlequin. In the Council Chambers the City Council meets to discuss and debate business. The walls of the Chamber are panelled with the names of previous Mayors and Lord Mayor’s of Portsmouth.

The first floor reception room – the Star Chamber – is a real hidden gem. With the theme “Heaven’s Light Our Guide”, the huge mural which covers the north wall depicts many historical scenes of Portsmouth’s past and is made of glass and mirrors. In the Crystal Constellations the 12 signs of the Zodiac can be seen.

Happily, earlier this year the Bells were restored after years of inactivity, and once again the famous Pompey Chimes can be heard all around the city centre.

As someone who has worked in an office in the Guildhall, it really is a unique building. It is definitely showing its age and in need of a serious overhaul. In addition, it would benefit from more positive management who might like to book bigger and more interesting acts, and make more use of the building and what it offers.

However, compare it to Southampton Guildhall, from inside and outside, and there really is no contest. From the grand steps, the lions, and Neptune atop the Columns, it encapsulates the spirit of Portsmouth.

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HMS Liverpool #2

I finally managed to get some pics of HMS Liverpool coming into Portsmouth Harbour earlier today. She had just been out on exercise in the channel after a long period in refit in the Dockyard. Unfortunately the sun was in front of me so its not such a great light, but here are some pics none the less.

HMS Liverpool

HMS Liverpool

HMS Liverpool

HMS Liverpool

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Filed under Navy, out and about