Conflict at sea during furious 1970’s Cod Wars

After seeing a picture of HMS Falmouth (F113) in Portsmouth Dockyard showing damage sustained during patrol duties in the third Cod War(1976), Mike McBride, who served on HMS Tartar from March 1976 to February 1978, tells us more.

By Bob.Hind1
Monday, 3rd June 2019, 4:59 pm
Updated Friday, 7th June 2019, 4:52 pm
The damaged HMS Falmouth in a picture taken from HMS Tartar in 1976. You can see her damaged bow.  Picture: Mike McBride collection.
The damaged HMS Falmouth in a picture taken from HMS Tartar in 1976. You can see her damaged bow. Picture: Mike McBride collection.

‘The picture, above, was taken from the Tribal Class Frigate HMS Tartar (F133), while we were heading north for Cod War patrol duties and HMS Falmouth was steaming south for repairs.

‘Damage control activities and damage assessment by her ship's company and other authorities would have confirmed her seaworthiness and allowed her to return to Portsmouth.

‘The collision took place on the evening of May 6, 1976. The Icelandic Gunboat Týr was trying to cut the nets of the trawler Carlisle.

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‘The CO of HMS Falmouth ordered it to be rammed. At a speed of more than 22 knots HMS Falmouth rammed Týr almost capsizing her. Týr did not sink and managed to cut the nets of Carlisle.

‘HMS Falmouth rammed her again. Týr was heavily damaged and found herself propelled by only a single screw and pursued by the tug-boat Statesman.

‘The captain of the Týr ordered his men to man the ship’s guns. A stand-off developed between the two ships which only ended when the heavily damaged Týr was forced to limp back to port due to the damage sustained from the second ramming.

‘During the confrontation with Týr, HMS Falmouth's crew would have been closed up at action stations.

‘State 1 is the highest readiness for personnel and Condition Z is the highest level of watertight integrity, with all doors and hatches marked X, Y and Z closed – except those marked “may be left open in action”.’

The Cod Wars were a series of disputes between Great Britain and Iceland running from the 1950s to the 1970s over the rights to fish in Icelandic waters. Although it was never a war in the conventional sense – the massive and well-equipped Royal Navy would have easily defeated the tiny Icelandic Navy.

The peak of the Cod Wars saw 37 Royal Navy warships mobilised to protect British trawlers fishing in the disputed territory.

While the wars were eventually settled through diplomatic means, there was conflict at sea.

The Cod Wars showed how seriously nations took their fishing rights, and the lengths they would go to in order to access rich fishing grounds.

The Third Cod War began in late 1975, and Iceland unilaterally increased the area of sea that the country controlled and could fish in exclusively to a 200 miles Exclusive Economic Zone.

Britain, along with other European nations, were furious, arguing although there was broad agreement that a 200-mile limit would be brought in throughout the world, it was still years away and Iceland had no right to impose such a limit so soon.

Scanned copies of photos of HMS Tartar during the third Cod War are available to any former shipmates. Mike’s email is [email protected]

With the fantastic D-Day 75 commemorations this week, everything was, quite deservedly so, about the men who stormed the Normandy beaches.

There were many, many others involved with the landings but four men who were at the centre of the correct landings were the men of midget submarines. X20 was commanded by Lt. KR Huspeth and X23 by Lt. GB Honour. Not only did they have a two-day 90-mile voyage from Portsmouth, but, owing to the one day delay in the landings, had to remain submerged for three days off the Normandy coast.

These five-man submarines were part of Combined Operations Pilotage Parties.

Their hazardous mission on D-Day was to come to the surface before H-Hour to act as navigation markers defining the extreme limits of the British-Canadian assault zone. These were Sword, Juno and Gold beaches.

A flashing green beam able to be seen five miles distant meant that the subs were on target. A red beam shone if they were not. Approaching ships could pinpoint the exact positions of the landing beaches.

To stop the submarines being run down a yellow flag was flown.

They would also make a good target for the Germans.

As it was, all was well and the men returned safely home to continue their duties with little fuss.

In his 1946 book The Portsmouth Letters, Admiral Sir William James tells a lovely anecdote about an American pressman on the beaches of Normandy some days after the landings: ‘I cannot cover this story with the men I’ve got. I want a hundred more. It’s the greatest story since the crucifixion.’

An English reporter replied, ‘But that, surely, was covered by just four men.’