Tag Archives: portsmouth dockyard

Busy time in Portsmouth Dockyard – for scrap, anyway…

Yesterday’s Portsmouth News highlighted how busy the Naval Dockyard in Portsmouth is going to be in the coming months. Not in terms of actual, serving ships, but in terms of rusting hulks that are to sail no more. The disposals section of the MOD must be a lot busier than any other department right now.

HMS Invincible has been rusting in 3 Basin for almost 6 years now, and is due to be towed to Turkey for scrapping soon. Her place will be taken by the soon-to-be decomissioned HMS Ark Royal. Alongside her are several RFA’s. The other Aircraft Carrier, HMS Illustrious, will be gone by 2014. In ‘the trot’ of Fareham Creek right now are the decomissioned Type 42 Destroyers Exeter, Nottingham and Southampton. They are bering hurriedly offered for sale in order to create space for more ships that will be leaving service soon. One more Type 42 – Manchester – is due to leave service in the next year, with the other four remaining ships in the class going by 2014. The four remaining Type 22 Frigates – Cornwall, Campbeltown, Cumberland and Chatham – are all due to decomission and be moved to Portsmouth awaiting disposal. And then we also have the stricken HMS Endurance, very unlikely to ever sail again. And one of the Albion Class ships will be placed at ‘extended readiness’, which may well find the ship in question tied up in Portsmouth, as Pompey seems to be the Navy’s dumping ground of late.

Actually, the ships due for disposal and/or scrapping effectively equate to a whole Naval Task Force – two aircraft carriers, one front line landing ship and one auxiliary landing ship, eight air defence destroyers, four frigates, and several auxiliaries. Thats MORE ships than the UK has contributed to many major conflicts since 1945.

Portsmouth Dockyard will be looking more like a giant version of Pounds Yard soon. A very sad state of affairs.

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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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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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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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