Meet Your Navy

Colin Bishop reports on the 2008 Portsmouth event.

Nelson's Flagship 
Most people are familiar with the traditional Navy Days whereby RN and visiting ships of foreign navies are open to the public. In recent years these events seem to have become less frequent but at Portsmouth they aim to enhance the traditional approach by combining it with a three day extravaganza held in conjunction with the Historic Dockyard. The result is a spectacular event with something for all the family. In addition to the ships in port, visitors can tour the Historic Dockyards own ships, Victory, Warrior and Mary Rose, plus there are lots of other attractions and stalls selling all manner of items. On top of all that, modellers are catered for by static displays by local clubs and on the water demonstrations as well. Your Editor and I were therefore very much at home on our two day visit although there was so much to see we could not cover it all.

The main attractions of the Historic Dockyard and the modelling displays were the subject of an in depth article in our January 2008 issue so this time I am concentrating on the full size vessels. As well as the expected RN destroyers and frigates, there were a number of ships of special interest which could be visited so lets start with those.

RFA Largs Bay Large Amphibious Landing Ship

 Commissioned in December 2006, this impressive ship and her three sisters are replacements for the Round Table class logistic vessels which served in the Falklands War during which Sir Galahad become a tragic casualty. At 16,000 tonnes displacement Largs Bay is twice the size of her predecessors and built to mercantile standards with combat orientated enhancements. Talking to her Chief Officer, he emphasised that Largs Bay is an immensely capable and versatile ship both in wartime and peace. Her wartime role would be to support a second wave of landings in support of an initial assault by the RN ships Ocean, Albion and Bulwark. To this end she can carry up to 700 troops, 32 Challenger main battle tanks and a vast array of other military equipment. Her flight deck is capable of accommodating two Merlin or two Chinook helicopters and she has a floodable loading dock which can accommodate a single Landing Craft Utility or two Landing Craft Vehicle Personnel. At Portsmouth she was equipped with Mexeflote rafts used for landing vehicles and a demountable hangar on the upper deck immediately aft of the superstructure. Propulsion is diesel electric by means of azimuthal thrusters and a bow thruster and she has a maximum speed of 18 knots. Since entering service, Largs Bay has been employed on varied duties including Central American anti drugs operations. Her versatility constitutes a valuable asset for humanitarian operations in case of natural disaster or famine relief.

 Much of the ship was on show to visitors and on boarding there was a notice saying Warning, this ship has LOT of stairs. Largs Bay is fitted with a gym but we found that the climb from the flight deck to the bridge would be enough to keep anyone fit! From the bridge, the visitor route traversed much of the accommodation spaces including the troop accommodation, galleys and sick bay/operating theatre before reaching the huge internal vehicle/storage deck with the floodable dock at its after end. Our impression of the ship was that she is capable of a very wide variety of roles and must represent excellent value for taxpayers money. Certainly her crew appeared to be very proud of her. More information can be found at the MOD website:

 HMS Enterprise Hydrographic/Oceanographic vessel

Enterprise is a lot smaller than Largs Bay at 3,740 tons but she packs a stunning amount of technology into her compact hull and her external appearance reflects this. For anyone looking for a complex long term modelling project this ship would be ideal.

 Enterprise is not actually owned by the Royal Navy but leased on a 25 year contract from BVT Surface Fleet, a company jointly owned by BAE Systems and VT Group. In all other respects she functions as an RN warship and has some sharp teeth in the form of 20mm Oerlikons, MK44 miniguns and General Purpose Machine Guns. She was the first vessel in the Royal Navy to be powered by azimuthal thrusters and these, together with a bow thruster and sophisticated satellite navigation equipment enable her to be positioned with pinpoint accuracy. Based at Devonport, HMS Enterprise is deployed all over the world and visits to the UK are relatively infrequent although, following her Portsmouth visit, next stop was to be some survey work at Belfast. The ship is crammed with a variety of specialist equipment to fit her for her multiple roles while the bridge instrumentation is worthy of her galactic namesake! We were also able to see the operations/chartroom which constitutes the nerve centre of the ship when engaged on surveying and research duties. Enterprise has a helipad forward of the bridge and also carries a well equipped daughter survey vessel named Pioneer for inshore and general purpose duties. Pioneer, constructed by VT Halmatic, would make an interesting modelling subject in her own right. Enterprise is one of two ships in the class, the other is HMS Echo which carries her own survey motor boat Pathfinder.

More information on HMS Enterprise can be found on the MOD website:

Japanese Self Defence Force Training Squadron

It isnt often that the Rising Sun ensign is seen in Portsmouth so the Japanese squadron was an absolute must see. The three ships on view were the training ship Kashima and the general purpose destroyer/frigates Asagiri and Umigiri. Although all three vessels are over thirteen years old they are in stunning condition. The brasswork on the watertight door locking mechanisms is highly polished, the guardwires are made of stainless steel chain and the dark grey paintwork is immaculate, no rust to be seen anywhere. You could eat your dinner off the deck! Their crews were equally well turned out, welcoming and saluting visitors with friendly smiles despite the summer heat.

Kashima was built as a training ship and is of 4,060 tons standard displacement, armed with a 76mm gun and torpedo tubes. She is fitted with extensive classroom and training facilities. The two destroyers are of 3,500 tons and well armed with Harpoon antiship missiles, Sea Sparrow surface to air missiles and ASROC anti submarine missiles plus a 76mm gun, close in weapons systems and six torpedo tubes. Both are equipped with full hangars and one was carrying a Sikorsky SH-60J ASW helicopter. What you might term multifunctional! Interestingly the hangar and flight deck arrangements are set further forward than is usually the case and one of the ASROC launchers is mounted right aft where you would normally expect to find the flight deck.

The Portsmouth visit was part of a round the world cruise for 175 graduates from Japans Naval School. Visitors were limited to the upper decks but there was still plenty to see with a constant stream of people waiting their turn to board.

Brazilian Navy sail training ship Cisne Branco.

Cisne Branco or White Swan is a new ship built in the Netherlands to a traditional clipper design and commissioned in 2006. Although she has a training role, her primary purpose is to develop and promote Brazilian naval traditions and participate in nautical events, particularly those involving Tall Ships. The vessel is beautifully finished with large areas of varnish work which must entail constant upkeep. Unlike traditional clipper ships however, she has an unmistakably yacht like atmosphere about her which gives an idealised impression of the final stages of the age of sail. Certainly she is a photographers dream.

 Royal Navy and other ships.

 As was to be expected, the Royal Navy was well represented with ships of several types, the largest being the carrier HMS Illustrious fresh from her TV series. The ship proved to be a big draw with long queues to go aboard for most of the day. The hangar and flight deck were open to visitors with the ships two aircraft lifts being lowered halfway to act as staircase landings. The flight deck had a Merlin helicopter at the stern and a mock up of the new Joint Strike Fighter up forward, both of which were attracting a lot of attention. The flight deck also proved to be an excellent vantage point from which to watch the water and airborne displays during the day.

Four RN frigates were present, the Type 23s Argyll and Richmond, the Type 22 Campbeltown and the batch 3 Type 42 Gloucester. I took the opportunity to go aboard Campbeltown and Argyll which were moored alongside each other and they made an interesting contrast. Campbeltown, the earlier ship, was the final evolution of the Type 22 design and she and her sisters are the largest frigates built for the RN. Argyll, one of the succeeding Duke class, is noticeably smaller, more modern and more heavily armed. These type 23s are a mainstay of the fleet and the decision by the Government to sell three of them to the Chilean Navy has not been well received when units of the much older Type 42 and Type 22s are still in service. The ex HMS Marlborough, now Almirante Condell was in fact moored next to HMS Richmond at the event. Only a few weeks earlier I had seen her sister Almirante Lynch, ex HMS Grafton, only ten years old, steaming out of Portsmouth under new ownership. The Chileans have got some excellent bargains at the expense of the UK taxpayer.

 Other ships at the event included the Danish frigate Hvidbjornen sporting an unusual enclosed crows nest lookout on her mast immediately under a large radar dome. This ship is intended for fishery protection duties and is ice strengthened for service in Arctic waters. Tucked away round the corner were some smaller vessels which we didnt have time to see although I did pay a brief visit to the ship handling tugs Bustler and Powerful which are now under privatised management.

 Air/Sea Displays.

 On the Friday afternoon we were treated to a spectacular display by the Red Arrows which I observed from the flight deck of Illustrious. As they were coming out of the lowering sun across the harbour, photography was a bit difficult but the hundreds of people watching thoroughly enjoyed the show. There were also good audiences for the repeated air/sea rescue displays in conjunction with the RNLI and those by the Royal Marines and RN helicopters simulating a drugs interdiction mission. Other on the water highlights included a Nelsonian cutter and a steam pinnace.


I did manage to slip into No 4 Boathouse to see the extensive model displays by the Surface Warship Association, Portsmouth MPBC and the Portsmouth Model Boat Display Team and chat to a few people but time precluded watching the displays on the Mast Pond. (see January 2008 issue). I did hear afterwards that the model boat events had proved to be very popular and attracted a lot of visitors. There was also a rather interesting builders model of the Navys new carrier design and your editor persuaded its custodians to remove the case so he could take photos.

And what we missed!

Although I was there for two full days it was impossible to see everything, especially the onshore displays which were numerous and colourful. Still, it did mean that there was something for all the family and everyone I saw seemed to be greatly enjoying themselves, overall attendance was reported at 35,000. The only problem really was a lack of seating. Walking around a large dockyard in hot sunshine can be pretty exhausting and although there was plenty of food and drink on offer there were only a few places where you could sit down. Nevertheless, the whole experience was very enjoyable with the good weather and I hope that the photos give some idea of the flavour of the weekend. At the time of writing I have heard that it is intended to stage a similar event to coincide with the 2012 Olympics.

Our thanks to Zoe Gill and Chloe Cole of the Historic Dockyard for facilitating our visit. Details of future events at the Dockyard and its attractions can be found at the website: