Turning to rust - it’s the forgotten fleet

HMS Cumberland, HMS Cornwall, HMS Chatham and HMS Campbeltown
HMS Cumberland, HMS Cornwall, HMS Chatham and HMS Campbeltown

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They would form a formidable Task Force, equivalent in size and power to the navies of the Netherlands, Portugal and Saudi Arabia.

But these old warships won’t be going anywhere fast.

This is the forgotten fleet – cast aside and unwanted.

For years, they served with distinction but now they are turning to rust in Portsmouth as they await their fate.

Five of the former warships are there as a result of the coalition government’s defence cuts in 2010.

Two are there because the Ministry of Defence deems them too old to go on and one is too badly damaged to move.

Their combined weight is around 60,000 tonnes of British steel – worth more than £7m in scrap metal alone.

The MoD is set to flog the lot either to the breakers’ yard, private enterprises or other governments’ navies which can offer them a new home.

Some of the ships are faring better than others on their moorings in the naval base or out in the north of Portsmouth Harbour.

But they’ve all been stripped bare of any useful parts which have been cannibalised for the active fleet.

Here are their stories...

HMS CUMBERLAND, HMS CORNWALL, HMS CHATHAM AND HMS CAMPBELTOWN

Four Type 22 frigates axed in the coalition’s 2010 defence cuts are moored together in a northern area of Portsmouth Harbour known as Rotten Row, where decommissioned warships are traditionally put out to pasture.

The 5,300-tonne ships, which were taken out of service around a decade early to save cash, have been stripped bare and have paint flaking off them.

They are awaiting sale and will most likely go for scrap.

Commissioned in the late 1980s, the frigates were originally designed as specialist anti-submarine platform but evolved into powerful surface ships armed with anti surface, anti submarine and anti aircraft weapons systems.

They were committed to all operations, but were particularly useful in the Mediterranean because of their sophisticated listening and surveillance equipment.

HMS CORNWALL, the oldest of the four, hit the headlines in March 2007 when 15 sailors and Royal Marines from the ship were detained by Iranian forces in disputed waters.

In February 2011, Cornwall rescued five Yemeni fishermen and captured 17 Somali pirates from a fishing dhow which they had seized the November before.

In a 22-year service life, HMS CUMBERLAND was involved in several major events.

In September 2000, she helped rescue survivors of the Greek ferry Express Samina which ran aground off the island of Paros.

In 2003, she seized 3.6 tonnes of cocaine worth £300m in the mid-Atlantic as part of an anti-drug operation. And in 2005 she secured a further £200m cocaine bust in the Caribbean, detaining four smugglers.

While on anti-piracy patrols off Somalia in 2008, Cumberland went to the aid of a Danish vessel that had come under attack from a pirate dhow. Cumberland’s sailors shot three of the pirates dead after they opened fire on two of her launch boats.

Last year, Cumberland was the first British warship to be ordered to Libya at the start of the civil war. She evacuated 454 people, including 129 British Nationals, from the port of Benghazi and transferred them to safety in Malta. The ship then helped enforce the naval blockade to stop Gaddafi’s warships leaving port.

HMS CHATHAM was at the centre of many major incidents duing the 1990s and 2000s.

She helped enforce the embargo against the former Yugoslavia in 1993 and famously captured the Maltese freighter Lido II, suspected of smuggling fuel to Montenegro, on May 1 , 1994.

Chatham acted as guardship to the Royal Yacht HMY Britannia during the withdrawal from Hong Kong in 1997.

Chatham became the first British warship to fire her guns in anger in the 2003 Iraq invasion when she engaged targets on the Al-Faw Peninsula. Approximately 60 rounds were fired at a variety of targets from her 4.5-inch gun.

The following year, she took part in the humanitarian relief efforts off the coast of Sri Lanka after the devastating Indian Ocean Tsunami in December 2004.

In May 2010, she was the NATO flagship for international naval operations against Somali piracy and destroyed two pirate boats.

HMS CAMPBELTOWN provided 22 years of service to the Royal Navy, employed on operations around the globe.

In a seven-month deployment in 2007-2008 in the Persian Gulf, she operated off Iraq’s waters and conducted anti-piracy patrols.

Shortly before she decommissioned, while operating off Plymouth the ship sped to the aid of a young family in a motorboat which had lost power and was being sent on to the rocky shore surrounding Mewstone Rock.

Later that day, Able Seaman Richard Hunter jumped into the sea to save a young woman who fell from the town quay in Falmouth.

HMS ARK ROYAL

There was national outrage when the government axed HMS Ark Royal in 2010.

The loss of the iconic aircraft carrier six years ahead of schedule, along with selling the navy’s Harrier jets, ushered in a decade-long gap in UK carrier strike operations.

The 22,000-tonne warship was put up for sale on the MoD’s online auction website and bidding was closed in July last year.

Proposals include selling the former flagship for scrap metal, transforming her into a casino and sinking her for a diving wreck off Devon.

The MoD says it still has not made its decision. Meanwhile, the stripped-down warship sits inside the basin at Portsmouth Naval Base.

HMS MANCHESTER

HMS Manchester appears dilapidated on Rotten Row with her yellow undercoat showing through.

The 5,000-tonne Type 42 destroyer was laid up after clocking up 858,882 nautical miles in a 29-year naval career.

Manchester was decommissioned in February last year as part of the plan to phase out Type 42s as six new Type 45 destroyers come into service.

Manchester has been put up for sale by the MoD’s Capital Equipment Sales team, which manages the sale and transfer of assets from the MoD to other armed forces worldwide. If there are no takers, it’s likely she will be sold for scrap.

Manchester participated in the Royal Navy’s Global ‘86 tour where a task group flew the flag in a round-the-world cruise.

HMS LIVERPOOL

HMS Liverpool is the most recent addition to the flotilla of decommissioned warships.

The Type 42 destroyer, known as the Crazy Red Chicken, left the navy in Portsmouth on March 30 after a 30-year service which covered 921,700 nautical miles around the world.

Sailors are still working on the warship, which is being de-stored and stripped of useful parts.

Like her sister ship HMS Manchester, Liverpool is being sold by the MoD’s Capital Equipment Sales team.

The warship was taken up by the Royal Navy in April 1982 at the start of the Falklands War.

After an accelerated trials period, she sailed for the South Atlantic in early June 1982 – a week before Argentina surrendered.

HMS ENDURANCE

The damaged icebreaker HMS Endurance has been laid up at Portsmouth Naval Base since 2009.

The 6,100-tonne Antarctic patrol ship almost sank when her engine room flooded off Chile in December 2008.

A Ministry of Defence report later concluded it was a ‘near loss’ incident.

Faced with a repair bill of £40m, the navy decided to lease another icebreaker last year at a cost of £26m.

It seems likely HMS Protector will be made a permanent addition to the fleet while Endurance will be decommissioned.

There are no sailors working aboard the damaged ship at present.