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Navy Books - News & Events

Navy Books - News & Events

  • EXETER - A CRUISER OF THE MEDIUM SIZE

    The words of the title are the opening words of Reginald Cogswell's book that describes 43 months of his life aboard HMS EXETER. A period that included peacetime visits to the ports of South America, assisting earthquake victims in Chile, suppressing riots in Trinidad; then came the transition to war and his part in the Battle of the River Plate.

     

    Below are extracts from Ch 15 - when the action against the German Panzershiffe Graf Spee starts:

    The alarm for Action Stations tore me out of that little sleep. The harsh sound of it drove me up and out to run for’ard and on my way to meet a bugler sounding off as he ran the other way. The rasp of Action Stations on a bugle would hasten anything that could hear and move. It hastened me against a stream of men who were mostly running the other way. There was a clumping-to of armoured doors and the clank of dogs being set to hold them tight. Men were going down through hatch manholes only big enough for one to go through at a time. Farther for’ard, engine-room men were going dawn into their pits of heat and heavy noise. Farther for’ard still, in the long tunnel gangway over the boilers, more men were going, one at a time, into the airlocks that were the way down to the fires.

    The tunnel was filled with the roar of the boiler fans, even then coming up to their harshest screaming voice. Throughout that 300-odd feet of running, I had no awareness of human voices, all I had was the consciousness of a ship of war that was gathering her strength to fight. I felt her heel as if under full helm; that could only mean one thing: she was being put on a course different from that of Ajax and Achilles as was called for by the plan.

    ……………………………

    Knowing what must surely come, I bent my head and leaned over the rail to say twenty words of prayer for my wife and my children, and a few words more for those of us who were soon to die – whoever they were, whichever their ship.

    That was just before 6.20 in the morning. Before one more minute had gone, the guns of the ship Exeter had fired in battle. Broadsides fired in quick succession. Crashing rending shocks that would make anyone not used to the business think that the ship was being torn apart. To every shock, she staggered bodily to one side, then rolled back, but hesitatedly as was her way, then, after wavering a moment, she steadied upright and was ready for the next – which came soon.

    It was the highest rate of fire that I had ever known to come from 8-inch guns. The torpedoman thought so too; he remarked, ‘Mr Cook is serving them out today alright’. Which was true enough, but Cookie was not the only one concerned.

    ……………………………..

    Not so many minutes after our first shots had been fired we had come to within seven miles of him, and it was across those seven miles of sea that fire and death and near-destruction came upon the ship Exeter.

    For what they were, they came with no great violence, or so it seemed to me. A sledgehammer blow on stout timber would have sounded every bit as loud – something between a ‘whoomph’ and a crunch with a little bit of rattle added.

    The switchboard bulged out like a bow window, then sprang back just as it had been before. The front of the clock mounted on the top bar was thrown off – a thing of plate glass and brass rim; it struck me on the side of the head, but my cap saved me from more than a smart slap on the ear. A shower of paint chips burst out and fell. Flashes streaked along the upper section of the board; a few pilot fuses blew out with the characteristic spurting pop. A whole rack of indicator lamps exploded like a string of penny fireworks.

    .........................................

    What we did know, having plenty of evidence for it, was that our ship was near the end of her tether. And we, confined as we were, were near exhaustion too. That first shell, the one that had exploded near us, was the immediate cause of the worst of that. But it might have done worse than it did.

    It had exploded in the store next to us. A boiler room was the next compartment aft, only a bulkhead thickness away. Had it gone but a few feet farther – why shouldn’t it? it had come seven miles – it would have exploded among the boilers and blown those up. The blowing-up of those would have been worse than the exploding of any shell. That might have brought about the loss of the ship; at the very least, it would have caused heavy loss of life, for high-pressure superheated steam is as deadly as any flame.

    It had actually exploded in the angle formed at the meeting point of the switchboard room and boiler room bulkhead, so it might have (but did not) have blown our bulkhead in towards us and so killed all three of us. I found out afterwards, however, that it had dented the bulkhead in one place. Hence the shower of paint chips.

    That flat was the station of the main fire and damage control parties in the fore part of the ship. Now, most of the men stationed there were either dead or dying.

     

    ………………………..

     

    We in our switchboard room were directly under that fire and destruction, only separated from it by the thickness of a deck. But the only visible sign of it to us was what our instruments could show. They told of broken or overloaded circuits, losses of loads and the like. But we had other signs – heat almost unbearable, smoke and choking fumes. The chief petty officers’ flat above was a furnace – the deck over us was the hearth of that furnace and the heat from it came down on us.

     

    Comment: The language is that of a grammar school boy educated in the early part of the 20th century by Victorian schoolmasters - precise, elegant and poignant. This is a book to savour - I loved it when the manuscript was presented to NavyBooks - I hope readers will love it also.

     

    To learn more and buy - follow the link CLICK HERE

  • A reader replies to Admiral Burton

    Last week NavyBooks highlighted Admiral Burton`s Report to the All Parties Parliamentary Group (APPG) (for full speech click here). Mr R J Wilcox, a long time customer of NavyBooks responded and we publish his thoughts below:

    Comment:    An excellent report on recent Royal Navy and Royal Fleet Auxiliary tasks. Reading it, one understands what our Navy is doing over the horizon. Despite having so few ships active at sea, it illustrates how involved the Navy is and, correspondingly, how over-stretched, it is. This must impact on the wear-and-tear on hulls, machinery, and crews (even when rotated).

    Disappointingly, very little of this finds its way into the media, until or unless something goes wrong. At which point “all hell’ breaks loose; Ministers and Senior Officers are called to account and forced to reveal details to the public, Parliament and the opposition: cf the recent Trident Test Firing reports.

    However, Admiral Burton’s report fails to score on many points. My ten questions are:

    1. Where will new ships be built? If overseas this could make UK and the Royal Navy hostage to high costs?
    1. Will Appledore, Lowestoft, Camper-Nicolson`s, and similar small shipyards be able to quickly deliver small hulls for the many patrol craft which UK will need for inshore anti-immigrant / anti- narcotics security patrols? Will Harland & Wolfe / Cammell-Laird / Hawthorn Leslie / Vosper / John Brown, etc. rise from the grave overnight?
    1. Where will crews come from – recruiting is a challenge?
    1. Warships have long-lead times from concept, to design, to build, to launch to operational effectiveness. Given the usual slippage as well, how can we build as quickly as the world situation demands?
    1. With the ageing Type 23s to be replaced by the complex but numerically fewer Type 26s and the less costly but, presumably, less capable Type 31s, any slippage will require the 23s to creak on for longer. Will sufficient hulls be ordered to replace the 13 Type 23s or will the Treasury impose cuts?
    1. The juicy targets HMS Queen Elizabeth and HMS Prince of Wales will require escorts. Are the six Type 45s sufficient, or will the duties be shared with the Type 26s / Type 31s / RFAs leaving no spare hull capacity for other Royal Navy commitments?
    1. If President Trump curtails the Type 35B ‘Lightning II’ project what will be the impact on the carrier programme?
    1. The Astute Class submarines build programme is not yet complete – will there be enough crew / hulls for the future?
    1. Will there be the necessary four Dreadnought Class submarines to replace the current Vanguard Class?
    1. If President Trump reduces the USA contribution to NATO – who will take up the slack?

    I believe Ben Wilson`s historical, thoughtful, and admirable `Empire of the Deep – the rise and fall of the Royal Navy` should be obligatory reading for the Navy Board. Have its lessons been learnt? I’m not sure,  over 85% of our imports / exports are moved by sea – we need a capable navy to defend them. The Royal Navy tradition of quality, training, will and spirit undoubtedly remains – but where is the material and infrastructure for it deploy? It is essential that the current woeful state of the Royal Navy is brought to the attention of the tax paying public, our MPs, Parliament and Ministers.

    R.J.Wilcox:   Not a veteran but an interested observer of the Royal Navy for over 50 years. An annual visitor to Portsmouth harbour since 1955, with more occasional visits to Plymouth, Rosyth, Faslane and Chatham, as was.  In 42 cruises, world-wide, since 2005, I have seen only one RN vessel and one RFA at sea. I gather that most of the ships are in the Middle East or the Gulf, with others rarely available for showing the flag at home.

     

    20 January 2017.

     

  • House of Commons Select Committee on Defence - Restoring the Fleet: Naval Procurement and the National Shipbuilding Strategy

    This week's House of Commons Select Committee's report entitled: Restoring the Fleet: Naval Procurement and the National Shipbuilding Strategy has a key phrase:

    "At 19 ships, compared with 35 in 1997, the Royal Navy’s frigate and destroyer fleet is way below the critical mass required for the many tasks which could confront it. If the National Shipbuilding Strategy can deliver the Type 26 and Type 31 GPFF to time, the MoD can start to grow the Fleet and return it to an appropriate size. The 2015 SDSR set out the Government’s ambition for a modern, capable Royal Navy. Now is the time for the MoD to deliver on its promises".

    Few would argue with that statement.

    Several newspapers and commentators have picked up on this and the phrase 'and return it [The Royal Navy] to an appropriate size'.  However, the report and subsequent comment have not made enough of the next phrase 'If the National Shipbuilding Strategy can deliver'. The  challenges of delivering the future escort programme to a timetable that will ensure no further reduction in escort numbers is immense.

    BAE Systems is the only shipbuilder in UK capable of delivering the Type 26 and the future Type 31 General Purpose Frigate. With the Type 23 going out of service from 2023 the first Type 26 must enter service then to replace HMS ARGYLL. Given a typical, first of class, build time of five years, Type 26 Hull-1 must start its build by 2017.  The current MoD and industry 'drumbeat' timetables envisage building and launching a ship every 18 - 24 months, but the 23s pay off annually - creating an immediate problem. Similarly with the propose GPFF Type 31 - the first would need to be in service by 2030, meaning a build start date of 2025 - at the present 'drumbeat' by 2025 there will still be 6 Type 26s to be built - making a dual warship building programme necessary.

    Does UK and BAE Systems have this capability and if not what are the alternatives? Perhaps the Chancellor would divert some of his planned 'spending for growth' funds on developing the country's shipbuilding infrastructure and improving the rate of delivery for new warships?

    Have your say.

  • ROYAL NAVY TO LOSE ASuW MISSILE CAPABILITY

    It was widely reported this week that Royal Navy ships will be left without ASuW missiles and  forced to rely on naval guns. The Navy’s Harpoon missiles will retire from the fleet’s frigates and destroyers in 2018 without a replacement, while there will also be a two year gap without helicopter-launched anti-shipping missiles.

    Harpoon missiles are unlikely to be replaced for up to a decade, naval sources said, leaving warships armed only with their 4.5in Mk 8 guns for anti-ship warfare. Helicopter-launched Sea Skua missiles are also going out of service next year and the replacement Sea Venom missile to be carried by Wildcat helicopters will not arrive until late 2020.

    A Naval  source said the new helicopter-launched Sea Venom missile will have a shorter range than the Harpoon and helicopters are also vulnerable to bad weather and being shot down. Rear-Adml Chris Parry, said: "It's a significant capability gap and the Government is being irresponsible. It just shows that our warships are for the shop window and not for fighting." Lord West of Spithead, a former First Sea Lord, said: “This is just another example of where the lack of money is squeezing and making the nation less safe. We will have this gap of several years without missiles. Well, that’s fine if you don’t have to fight anybody in the meantime.”

    A naval expert at the International Institute for Strategic Studies, said Britain was cutting its anti-ship missiles just as America had decided they were becoming more critical to maritime fighting.

    “It must be a great concern that this capability is going to be removed without immediate or direct replacement because we are moving into an era of concern about a more contested maritime environment,” he said.

    A spokesman for the Navy said: “All Royal Navy ships carry a range of offensive and defensive weapons systems.  Backed by a rising defence budget and a £178 billion equipment plan, upgrade options to all our weapons are kept under constant review.”

    This latest news, along with the gapping of fixed wing aircraft capability until HMS QUEEN ELIZABETH and her F-35B squadron(s) become operational, with 13 Duke Class Type 23 frigates to be replaced with 8 Type 26s and an, as yet, unknown number of the unconfirmed Type 31 General Purpose Frigates planned for the indeterminate future is, of course, worrying.

    Can we afford the Navy UK needs, or must UK settle for the Navy it can afford?

  • Joint Expeditionary Force (Maritime)

    In January 1974 a group of warships, sailing under the flag of Flag Officer Second Flotilla, departed on a nine month deployment to Australia and the Far East. Task Group 317.1, as it was known, comprised the flagship FIFE, escorted by the frigates ARGONAUT, ARAIDNE, DANAE, SCYLLA and LONDONDERRY, supported by the RFAs TIDESPRING and TARBATNESS.

    On 17 September 1974 the helicopter cruiser BLAKE sailed from Portsmouth accompanied by the frigates LOWESTOFT and FALMOUTH and the RFAs STROMNESS and OLNA. Later that day the group rendezvoused with the submarine WARSPITE, three more frigates, ACHILLES, DIOMEDE and LEANDER, and the RFA GREEN ROVER. Once assembled, Task Group 317.2, under the flag of Flag Officer First Flotilla, set course for Gibraltar at the start of a nine month deployment to the Far East.

    At the time, this new policy of group deployments was seen as having many benefits over the traditional solo deployment or patrol. The ships could operate over an extended period as a single unit with huge benefits in training and proficiency. By ranging over the oceans, the group could participate in international exercises and training, benefitting from experience and tactics used by other nations. There were sufficient ships within the group that they could exercise as a single unit or split into smaller units tasked against each other. The impact of such a large group of ships on port calls was immense and gave the RN an international stage. The sheer number of ships also allowed for many visits by individual ships to smaller international ports rarely visited and thereby raising the RN’s profile internationally.

    The Group Deployment policy was to see cruiser or destroyer led task groups deploy annually to the Pacific, Middle East or Atlantic, through to the early 1980s when they were cancelled to save fuel. Of course 1982 saw the largest ever deployment to the South Atlantic to retake the Falklands - although this was an operational deployment, the training gleaned over the previous decade in operating large task groups at distance and away from base support was of great benefit.

    Throughout the 1980s and 1990s the deployments continued, usually led by an Invincible class carrier, through the Orient series of deployments, Global in 1986, Outback in 1988 and Endeavour in 1990. With the end of the Cold War and operational commitments elsewhere, the group concept deployment was scaled back as smaller operational deployments were required to supply an ongoing presence in both the Adriatic and the Gulf. In recent years annual deployments have returned with an emphasis on amphibious warfare and the ability to move forces and assets rapidly by sea. From Argonaut in 1999, through Aurora. Orion and Cougar, amphibious task groups have deployed to demonstrate their capability to deploy at short notice in response to global needs.

    The latest iteration of the amphibious TG has been deployment of OCEAN, BULWARK, RFA MOUNTS BAY and MV EDDYSTONE as the inaugural Joint Expeditionary Force (Maritime) a new structure to replace the previous Response Force Task Group. While primarily poised to conduct amphibious operations, JEF(M) is capable of undertaking a diverse range of activities such as evacuation operations, disaster relief or humanitarian aid.

    However, the deployments of today cannot be as effective as those of the 1970s and 1980s. While earlier Task Groups were fully self sufficient and operated as a unit for up to nine-months, the current JEF(M) will rarely operate as a four ship group. MOUNTS BAY is to rejoin Operation Sophia in the eastern Mediterranean and OCEAN is to deploy east of Suez to take over the role of CTF 150 from the US Navy. Of greater concern is that the group has no dedicated tankers or support ships, no heavy guns and is totally lacking in submarine support or surface escorts. The MoD note that the group will be joined by destroyers and frigates as and when required - that is more likely to mean as and when they sail into an area where one of the RN’s few destroyers or frigates is operating. Given the latest news that the situation in Yemen is escalating to maritime targets, sailing a lightly armed and defended amphibious group through those very waters must raise concerns. The greater worry is that if the RN are unable to corral sufficient ships to protect high value amphibious assets how will they cope with two large aircraft carriers in a few short years time?

     

    Steve Bush, Editor Warship World

     

  • APRIL 1940: THE BATTLE OF DRØBAK SOUND

     

    By Allen George

    Lying 35 fathoms deep, at the northern end of the Drøbak Sound 15 nautical miles south of Oslo, is the wreck of the German heavy cruiser BLÜCHER, still detectable on the echo sounders of passing ships. She was sunk by shells and torpedoes from the Oskarborg island fortress which guards the entrance to the Norwegian capital, a testament to Norway’s ability and willingness to fight the German invasion of April 1940, and the courage and initiative of a 64 year old Norwegian officer, who acted without orders.

    Outbreak of hostilities:

    The early months of 1940 were a time of anxiety for Norway, and a growing awareness the country  would have to prepare for war, despite being neutral, if it was to protect its freedom. The country was under pressure from Great Britain, which wanted to stop the coastal iron ore trade from Narvik in the north to Germany, but was hampered as the traffic sailed within Norwegian territorial waters. Throughout, the story was murky, because while Norway could be seen to be in breach of its neutrality through allowing the German access to its coastal waters, it had given Finland artillery and shells to help in the Winter War against Russia. Furthermore, it had also allowed Great Britain use of its territory to also transfer arms to Finland.  Despite the building tensions, Norway was unprepared for the German invasion when it came on the night of 8/9 April 1940, and there was little resistance, making the capture of Narvik, Trondheim, Bergen, Stavanger and Kristiansand relatively easy and swift.

    A major objective of the German operation was to take the capital Oslo and capture the Government and Royal Family. But it was in Oslofjord where the Germans met the fiercest resistance, very much thanks to one man, the 64-year-old Oberst (Colonel) Birger Eriksen, commander of Oskarborg Fortress. Built on an island, the Fortress guarded the seaward entrance to the capital. However apart from the officers and NCOs, almost all soldiers manning the fortress were fresh recruits, having only been conscripted seven days before. Colonel Eriksen had not received any clear orders and no notice as to whether the approaching warships were German or Allied, but on his own initiative he decided to open fire on the approaching group of ships lead by BLÜCHER. At 0421, 9 April, Col Eriksen ordered the fortress’s main battery to fire at the leading ship of the unknown vessels. After giving the command he made the heroic statement: “Either I will be decorated or I will be court martialled. Fire!”

    The fortress was armed with three, 11 inch guns manufactured by Krupp more than 40 years previously, plus an underwater torpedo battery built at the turn of the century, and set inside a cave. This battery was unknown to the Germans. Its torpedoes were made in 1900 at the Whitehead torpedo factory in Fiume, then part of Austria-Hungary. There was also a number of 5.9 inch and smaller guns on the mainland. In the event there were only enough artillerymen to man one of the 11-inch guns. But they managed to get two into action by splitting the trained men between two guns and supplementing them with spare hands, including cooks. The two guns fired were named ‘Aaron’ and ‘Moses’. Both scored hits on BLÜCHER at close range, about 2,000 yards, although because of the lengthy reload time they weren’t able to get off any more rounds before the cruiser passed out of the arc of fire. It wasn’t possible to get the third gun, ‘Josva’, into action. The first shell hit BLÜCHER just ahead of her main mast and set most of her midships ablaze. It penetrated a magazine containing depth charges, and bombs for the cruiser's Arado Ar 196 seaplanes. The blast blew out bulkheads, obliterated electrical circuits to the main armament rendering it useless, and ignited oil, setting off a fierce fire. The second round struck one of her forward gun turrets, causing considerable damage and further fires. In addition to the 5.9-inch batteries at Oskarborg, there were similar batteries on the eastern shore of Oslofjord, which all joined in .....................

    to read the full story of Blucher's sinking buy a copy of Warship World 15/2 or to receive  the magazine regularly subscribe here.

  • Further to: HMS QUEEN ELIZABETH - UNALLOYED GOOD NEWS?

    By Chris Cope: Political Correspondent - Warship World

    May I respond to the debate: How will the RN deploy a Carrier Strike Group (CSG) from its very limited resources?

    Ideally, a CSG should comprise a carrier with an SSN, two destroyers, two frigates, a fleet tanker and a fleet solid support (FSS) ship. (Apologies for the USN image accompanying this article - but no RN image available)

    On the principle of quarts/pint pots, a CSG with two destroyers and two frigates is frankly unachievable with only 19 in service and major questions arising out of the availability of the Type 45s. Indeed, we recently learnt that Dauntless will remain alongside at Portsmouth for another year, before she goes into refit. Lancaster, also alongside at Portsmouth, will not commence her refit until next summer.

    So, realistically, the best that the Navy can do is to deploy one destroyer and one frigate with the new CSG.

    Even that will mean that there will be fewer escorts available for other commitments. Accordingly, senior naval staff need to make it plain to the government that there are two priorities, namely a viable CSG and, secondly, the present commitments must be met and that there is no question of any of these commitments being downgraded or abandoned, in order to provide a destroyer and frigate to the CSG.

    SDSR 2015 was introduced a year ago with announcements from politicians and admirals that we would be getting a bigger navy. We heard that from David Cameron, as Prime Minister, Sir Michael Fallon (Defence Secretary), Admiral Sir George Zambellas (First Sea Lord) and Admiral Sir Philip Jones (First Sea Lord Designate).

    It was only later, as a result of questions and probing, that it emerged that this “bigger Navy” would not materialise until the 2030s. Frankly, for a government to talk about a bigger Navy materialising in 15 years’ time was wholly misleading and I find it deplorable that these four individuals made statements which clearly misled the House of Commons and the general public. The reason I say that is because no government can bind its successor. It can only bind itself. The present government will cease to exist in May 2020. There will then be two further governments in 2020-2025 and 2025-2030, before we even get to the 2030s. Anything can happen in the next decade. Would Prime Minister Corbyn expand the Navy?

    This “bigger Navy” will, apparently, only be bigger in terms of increased numbers of Type 31 frigates/corvettes, of which five will be acquired to supplement the Type 26 frigates, to replace the Type 23s on a one-for-one basis. Any number in excess of five will not appear until the 2030s.

    Admiral Jones should now make it clear to the Prime Minister that this is unacceptable and that there is an urgent operational requirement for the Type 31 to enter service in the early 2020s, at the same time as the Type 26 and that substantial numbers need to be built (clearly in excess of five) to enable the Navy to meet its commitments, some of which otherwise it may have to abandon, on the basis of providing escorts to the CSG.

    If Admiral Jones manages to convince the government that the CSG needs two destroyers and two frigates, then he is going to need another 12 Type 31s in order to meet his other commitments.

    The MoD has recently disclosed that the Type 23s will leave service on a yearly basis between 2023 and 2035. That seems to suggest just one frigate/corvette order and commissioning every year from the early 2020s, until the mid-2030s. Are they serious?

    The SSN fleet is now down to six boats and that will continue for some considerable time until number 7 is commissioned sometime in the mid-2020s. It has been government policy for at least the last ten years that the SSN fleet should be confined to just seven boats. I find it extraordinary that the senior naval staff has allowed successive governments to maintain that figure, bearing in mind that that number has always been too low in order to meet existing commitments. The position becomes that much worse with the introduction of the CSG, which must have at least one SSN, when deploying.

    That alone should have convinced our politicians that the SSN fleet, as planned, would be inadequate and that numbers should be increased by perhaps two or three, in order to ensure that the CSG is viable. Unfortunately, that opportunity was missed and we are now stuck with just seven, with virtually no chance of an increase in numbers, now that the Trident Successor programme is to proceed and which by the mid-2020s, will monopolise all construction work at BAE Systems (Barrow) until the 2030s.

    The construction of the Astute class has been painfully slow. The construction period of Astute, Ambush and Artful was 106, 110 and 125 months respectively. Compare that with Torbay, Trenchant, Talent and Triumph (average of 64-68 months). The USN Virginia class is being construction at astonishing speed, albeit through two shipyards. BAE Systems could have accelerated the Astute programme (subject to Treasury approval) and it would have been possible to squeeze another two boats into the schedule by 2025. But it’s now too late.

    It seems to me therefore that the Navy will simply have to make do with what it’s got and if it means that an SSN has to be deployed with the CSG, removing a capability from another area, so be it.

    The position with regard to fleet tankers is secure. We already have two in service. The new fleet tankers to be delivered from South Korea will all be in service by the end of 2018. These six will ensure that there will always be a tanker available for the CSG. I see no problem in that area.

    The real problem with regard to the Royal Fleet Auxiliary is in connection with the Fleet Solid Support ships (FSS).

    The MoD is taking a far too leisurely approach with regard to the design and construction of these ships and indeed all the indications are that the first of class will not enter service until 2025, long after QE herself has been commissioned. Unless this programme is accelerated (which clearly it should be), the CSG will have to rely upon ancient FSS ships which will have to continue in service, well beyond their planned decommissioning dates.

    The senior naval staff must make it clear to the government that the FSS programme has to be accelerated. It may well be that there will be no choice other than to use the South Koreans for the construction of these ships and, if so, the order should follow on from the fleet tankers. We need to be getting the first FSS into service at about the same time as POW is commissioned.

    The government seems to be locked into an inflexible mind-set with regard to defence reviews. Twice now, we have had defence reviews within months of the new government taking office and on both occasions, the reviews were carried out hurriedly and without sufficient thought. Let us hope that this does not become a trend to be repeated in 2020, 2025 and 2030.

    Earlier this year, a Conservative backbencher asked Cameron, when he was Prime Minister, whether in view of the deteriorating world situation, the defence review could be carried out other than once every five years. Cameron dismissed this out of hand. This was a ridiculous decision.

    The world situation does not change once every five years. It changes on a daily basis and governments must be receptive to this and look closely at their defence priorities, in order to decide whether these should be changed. Indeed, matters need to be kept under review all the time. It makes sense for changes to be introduced, when required and not once every five years. Let us hope that Mrs May takes a rather more serious approach to the problem. Nevertheless, it is essential that CDS convinces her that Cameron’s approach was wrong and that changes be implemented when urgent.

    This would enable Admiral Jones to introduce changes to SDSR 2015 during his term of office.

    What particularly appals me about this mess is that for the last 18 years, we have been planning the introduction into service of two carriers, both of considerable size and with substantial air wings and yet at the same time, no one seems to have given any thought at all as to how a CSG would be assembled on the basis of the limited resources available in respect of SSNs, destroyers and frigates. You do not acquire a mansion, unless you have the resources to pay for the staff to maintain and run the property. But, that is precisely what we are doing with the new carriers.

  • Greatly Exaggerated

    This article was originally posted on the ‘Save The Royal Navy’ Website for more details of their work see:

     http://www.savetheroyalnavy.org

    There are many serious concerns about the state of the Royal Navy today. Lost in a wave of negative and half-accurate media stories is the truth that even now, the RN is still delivering for the UK. The RN is under-funded and under-sized, especially when judged by the standards of its illustrious past and today’s growing threats. Judged by the standards of most of European and many world navies, it is still a potent force and is consistently meeting the specific operational tasks it is given by government.

    The excellent US defence writer David Axe has written about The Slow Death of the Royal Navy. Many of his points about the decline in the RN are valid but it is hard to agree with his overall conclusion that the RN is “dying” when, by the mid 2020s, it will actually be far more potent than it is today.

    Even today, although there are significant challenges to overcome and much is resting on future promises, the RN is very much alive and kicking.

    In September 2016 the Royal Navy had over 7,800 sailors and marines directly preparing for operations or already on operations. 33 ships, submarines and units were deployed away from home base.

    This includes Minor War Vessels and RFAs in the North and South Atlantic, the Mediterranean, the Gulf and home waters as well as the unbroken Continuous at Sea Deterrent.

    HMS Ocean and HMS Bulwark deployed last month, with the RN leading the Joint Expeditionary Force (JEF) which will include Army and RAF units and forces from Denmark, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, the Netherlands and Norway. The JEF is not considered just an exercise (like the previous COUGAR deployments) and will encompass the Mediterranean, Adriatic and Gulf, possibly participating in anti-ISIL operations or responding to events as required. You can rightly point to the lack of an aircraft carrier, not enough escorts, RFAs doing the jobs of frigates and a manpower crisis but the RN remains one of the few navies capable of leading a multi-national amphibious task group.

    No one is pretending everything is rosy in the garden but let us look on the plus side for a moment. If, for example you are serving on a Type 45 destroyer, having the media and every armchair admiral explaining your ship doesn’t work is unhelpful and mostly inaccurate. On every arrival of a Type 45 in port, which would be routinely attended by tugs anyway, some wag asks “has she broken down again?” In reality the average availability of the Type 45s since 2013 has been 94.6% and has never dropped below 90.47% during that time. In simple terms, the propulsion problems have led to a loss of around 5% of time on operations for the class. Not ideal, but certainly not the disaster it is publicly perceived to be. HMS Defender completed a 9-month deployment to the heat of the Gulf in July without any propulsion failure, the kind of positive fact the media likes to ignore.

    The Portsmouth News has triggered another ‘Type 45 media scrum’ by indulging in some “journalism by FOI request”, managing to paint an unfairly bleak and rather out-dated picture of Type 45 availability. Looking at bald statistics about Type 45’s time alongside in the UK does not tell the full story. As in many defence matters, complexity is the enemy of the juicy news story. Drawing conclusions by looking at sea-to-shore ratios across a flotilla of ships, over a period of just one year, and using ‘days in port’ as the metric is flawed. For example, Type 45s as Portsmouth-based ships going through Operational Sea Training in Plymouth are counted as merely in a UK port. In reality the ship’s company is away from home, undergoing an exceptional training regime and being worked hard. If you measured this figure across all the ships and across their five year inter-refit cycle, you’d get a far higher availability figure than quoted in this narrow FOI.

    After completion of well-deserved summer leave periods the Type 45 are now busy. At the time of writing, HMS Daring is in Malta on route to a 9-month period in the Gulf which will involve escorting US aircraft carriers. HMS Diamond is at sea off the coast of Libya, HMS Duncan is preparing for a NATO deployment and HMS Dragon will shortly be at sea on operations within UK waters. HMS Defender is about to commence a major refit. Manpower problems have relegated HMS Dauntless to a harbour training ship but it has at least been announced that she will begin a major refit towards the end of 2017 before returning to operational status.

    The Royal Navy is still in need of “saving” from a generation of politicians who have been generous on rhetoric but short when it comes to delivering sufficient resources to do the job. Pressure must be maintained for increased spending on the Navy and end to cuts, waste and absurd industrial policy. But consider the navy of today, often out of sight over the horizon yet still doing a highly professional job on a daily basis. Next time you hear the RN casually and inaccurately described as a “spent force”, spare a thought for the morale and contribution of those serving or considering serving. 2017 will see the arrival of HMS Queen Elizabeth in Portsmouth, not a panacea for every deep-rooted problem but undoubtedly a statement of intent and a sign there is still much Royal Navy history to be written.

  • HMS QUEEN ELIZABETH - UNALLOYED GOOD NEWS?

    DEBATE:     It is great news that the Royal Navy is poised to again deploy fixed wing aircraft from a modern and capable aircraft carrier. However, how will the arrival of the new carriers affect current and future naval operations?  A Carrier Strike Group (CSG) is the modern successor to the Carrier Battle Group (CVBG) of the post WWII era. Generally one would expect a carrier to have its own assigned air defence destroyers, ASW frigates (note the plurals) and possibly an SSN in ‘deep field’ along with logistic support. The Royal Navy will, next year, take acceptance of HMS QUEEN ELIZABETH. How will the RN deploy a CSG from its very limited resources and what impact will such a deployment have on the rest of the Royal Navy and its tasks? Today it is severely stretched to meet current tasking - RFAs and OPVs have already taken on roles previously carried out by frigates and destroyers. 19 destroyers and frigates we know, translates to roughly 6 – 8 operationally available at any one time - particularly if deployed at a distance from UK. With only 6 SSNs by 2017, three of which are ageing T Class boats, the submarine service would be hard pressed to provide full time support to a CSG in addition to its role in protecting the CASD. The RFA has the two ageing Rover Class, two Wave class tankers and three stores / replenishment vessels with which to deliver logistic support.

    With pressures looming in the Mediterranean and Black Sea, in the Indian Ocean and Chinese littoral the ability to deploy a Royal Navy CSG would be a powerful international political tool - but could it be done?

    I am sure that deep within the MoD and CinCFleet HQ there are people that have been working on the challenge of squaring this circle. Nevertheless, adding a powerful, sophisticated and high value ship to the Fleet that will, itself, absorb units of the Fleet for support and protection could be seen as less a 'force multiplier' than a 'force reducer'. How will the arrival of HMS QUEEN ELIZABETH impact on availability of ships and the ability of the RN to meet all its current commitments?

    What do you think??

    JOIN THE DEBATE AND COMMENT BELOW

     

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