Royal Navy (Cold War)

The Royal Navy emerged from ww2 with a mountain of new and modern ships, with many more under construction, ranging from submarine and destroyers to ASW frigates, cruisers and aircraft carriers, light and heavy. Second maritime power to the USA, however, the country was no longer in budgetary position to take advantage of it.

HMS Bulwark As Churchill coined the famous expression at the “Iron Curtain Speech” March 14, 1946, the new potential threat for what would become again the “free world” was on the east. Under Stalin staunch posture and western unwillingness to counter it, countries liberated by the Red Army now passed under Moskow’s tutelary control under the condition of free elections.

But in 1947 with the blocus of Bberlin the unnatural alliance broke with the West and the cold war began, each side rearming. This was also true for the Royal Navy, that despite huge budgetary constrains had to make choices in order to operate a fleet (still the largest European fleet by a wide margin) capable of blocking access to the Soviet Navy out in the Atlantic, and to patrol and defend the Commonwealth if needed. India was then a hot topic too and a strong fleet was posted in the Far East. In theory, like for the US Navy, the ships’s park was such that no new construction were needed in theory at least until 1960. So the first years were spent in modernizing ships under construction, with delayed launch. Such delays also saw the last British battleship ever to be inaugurated, HMS Vanguard.

However past the 1960s, the majority of the fleet inherited from the last war was gone, and the Navy new needs revolved around reduced task-forces and Aatlantic patrols, notably with a new generation of ASW Frigates capable of dealing with the mass of conventional Soviet submarines that soon invaded the Atlantic, not to mention the considerable budget strain represented by building and maintaining a fleet of nuclear-powered strategic submarines and attack submarines, naval component of national deterrence.
Apart the Franco-British expedition in Suez in 1954, and naval support in Korea, no major action was undergone by the Royal Navy until 1982, the Falklands War.

HMS Victorious after refit in the 1960s.

Since 1990 the old lady in service of the Queen and Country saw the end of the Cold War, new budgetary retraints but also a brand new generation of ships emerging (Astute class SNA, Albion class LSH, Type 45/Daring class DDs, River-class patrol sloops), including the remarkable HMS Queen Elisabeth, first true aircraft carrier since the 1950s and largest British ship ever put to sea, soon to be followed by HMS Prince of Wales. A more homogeneous and versatile fleet ready to tackle an uncertain world for the next thirty years and more.

The Royal Navy after the War

For the past forty-three years of Cold War, Great Britain has not been at war with its neighbors, but the years 1947-95 were traumatic for the Navy as having more change as any in its previous history. The budgetary situation after the end of the Second World War badly hit by an economy in sorry state and recession, but the colossal subsidies of the Lease-Lend has been suddenly withdrawn, making an urgent need to release personal from the armed forces, and meaning that large numbers of ships would be disarmed in a short notice.

The huge scale pruning of the Reserve Fleet removed all but be surviving battleships, all cruisers earlier than ww2 and all prewar destroyers. Almost every one of these were scrapped, but a handful found their way into other navies. Merchant ships were to be manned, but there was no priority for these as battleship design continued until as late as the 1950s, largely because of rumors about Russian capital ships being completed. There was a tacit admission however that battleships were in any case of limited value. With less validity reasoning was applied to cruiser designs, for at this time military thinking was dominated by fears of a nuclear war and military writers and theorists believed that warships had no role since a future war would be decided by long-range vectors with nuclear weapons.

Leander class Frigate, HMS Apollo (1976)

Tribal class Frigate, HMS Eskimo (1975)

It was recognised by more perceptive planners that the aircraft had still a major role to play, and so permission was given to work on two large and four intermediate hulls from the programme. The very big Malta class had been cancelled1 before any work had been done on them, but the hulls chosen, of the Africa class, were a better-balanced design, probably better balanced and were, therefore, more cost-effective, with a fully enclosed hangar space, a necessity for nuclear war.

The modernization of the six wartime armoured carriers was looked into, but it was found that the restricted hangar height ruled out the newest jets, and condemned the two Implacables and Indomitable. Of the other three, Illustrious and Formidable had suffered heavy war damage, leaving only HMS Victorious. It is interesting to note that before the survey, made in 1949, which settled her fate, modernization plans had been drawn up for HMS Formidable: she would have had a fully angled flight deck, some two years before the RAE Bedford Conference at which the angled deck is claimed to have been invented. In fact, it was the intention to modernize all six carriers; Victorious was uniquely the prototype.

One of the last British Cruisers, HMS Tiger


The Admiralty was well aware that fire control and radars of the current ships were obsolescent, and this, coupled with their strenuous war service, poor anti-corrosion protection and general lack of amenities, made major overhauls imperative. There was also the question of replacing out-of-date weaponry, and to correct the situation a series of major refits was put in hand in the early 1950s. Battleships were considered for conversion to missile ships, but, as in the United States, the cost was seen to be prohibitive and out of all proportion to any improvement in fighting value, so work on the battleships was confined to routine maintenance. Finally, the modernisation programme was cut back to one carrier and as many cruisers and destroyers as possible.

HMS Blake after conversion, Key West 1978

The Southampton and “Colony” classes and HMS Belfast were all given partial modernizations between 1950 and 1960, but mounting costs and aging of the ships caused the programme to be cut back at Swiftsure. It has been suggested that the HMS Swiftsure turned out to have been inadequately surveyed after sustaining severe damage in collision with the destroyer Diamond during the big NATO exercise “Mainbrace” in 1953, and that by the time the extent of the damage became evident in 1960 the ship’s modernization had been almost completed; nothing could be done to remedy the situation and she was towed away to the scrapyard.

HMS Charity off Korea, 1952

Apart from the “Battle” class and later destroyers, virtually all the wartime “Emergency” destroyers were unsuitable for modem warfare because of inadequate air defence and fire control. Current needs for fleet escorts were met by the big destroyers, but there were no fast escorts to cope with the new Soviet “Whiskey” class submarines. The “Emergency” destroyers were ideal for conversion and so the Type 15 frigate design by N G Holt, was drawn up as a stopgap until the new frigate designs were ready. Despite the end of the Korean War, East-West tension remained high throughout the 1950s, and to make up numbers other simpler and cheaper conversions were also put in hand.

It is not often realized that corrosion was a major problem with war-built ships. Before the war, mill scale was removed by pickling in dilute acid; thin plating, particularly in destroyers, was galvanized. To save time, war-built ships did not receive either treatment and by the end of the war were usually in a worse condition than older vessels.


HMS London, a County class missile destroyer, leading other ships of the type in 1971, src: IWM.

The major surface threat in the 1950s was seen as the Soviet Sverdlov class cruisers operating against Western trade. So seriously was this possibility taken that two new designs were drawn up to deal with it, a cruiser and a super-destroyer. The cruiser was intended to provide air-cover with guided missiles and relied on rapid-firing 6-in guns as its main armament, while a new rapid-firing single 5-in gun was designed for the destroyers.

The cruiser would have displaced 18,000t (standard) and would have carried Seaslug missiles aft and fully automatic 6-in guns forward. The destroyer, on the other hand, relied on three 5in guns for air defence, and when the project was finally dropped as it was because it had no missile defence. The gun derived from the British Army’s land-mobile 5-in, reached an advanced design stage, but was stopped when the Ordnance Board recommended an end to ‘gunnery solutions to AA defence’ in 1958.

All that remained of this interesting design was the advanced steam machinery which was developed for the fast escort, stopped, and then cut down and married with the gas turbines for the County class missile destroyers, the larger fleet escort for which the Board opted, after much thought. The first two were ordered in 1955, followed by two further units in 1957. The more urgent need of frigates had meant that the first six Type 12 ships, intended as prototypes, had been ordered in 1951, followed by another twelve of slightly modified design in 1954.

These frigates were intended to be cheap, but this proved to be a vain hope. They were, however, a great success and are still widely regarded as one of the finest escort designs of the period in any navy. In 1952-55 a dozen cheaper, ‘utility’ Type 14 ships were laid down to supplement the Type 12s, and a simpler destroyer conversion, the Type 16, was put in hand.

Two other new classes of frigates were ordered in 1951, a standard diesel-engined hull in two variants, one for anti-aircraft defence and the other for aircraft-direction. It had been intended to make up numbers in both categories with more conversions of destroyers, but these plans were shelved when a change of heart by the Staff indicated that it would be possible to go back to building general-purpose warships. This change of policy was influenced by new trends in technology, with more compact machinery and electronics on the way.

Despite cutbacks and delays, however, the Korean War building programme had created an impressive escort force. By the end of 1958, twenty-four new frigates had been completed and thirty-four destroyers had been converted; in addition, twenty-one C class destroyers had received varying degrees of modernisation to improve their escort capability, and many of the slower “Loch” class had been rearmed.

The other area in which the Royal Navy invested heavily was mine warfare. Having suffered considerable casualties from the mining of harbours and estuaries, the British were understandably more sensitive about this than the Americans (who in any case had much deeper coastal waters) and when it was learned during the Korean War that Russian magnetic mines were proving immune to degaussing measures it was realised that a large number of new minesweepers were needed to replace the steel-hulled Algerines.

Between 1950 and 1960 some one hundred and twenty coastal minesweepers were built, concurrently with one hundred inshore types. The CMS design proved an outstanding success, robust and sufficiently seaworthy to be
detect and classify mines on the seabed so that r destroyed by a demolition charge. When this equipm perfected a number of coastal minesweepers were minehunters and over the years the new techniques replaced traditional sweeping as the major method to hunt mines in coastal waters.

British SUBMARINES of the cold war

By 1945 the Royal Navy had built up a formidable submarine fleet and there was no intention of frittering away such asset -Apart from the possibility of offensive use in wartime- the part of submarines was ruled to be essential in training ASW forces, and great attention was paid to German late technology with prolongated tests done with some Type XXI U-boats and Meteor propulsion system. It was decided to build two experimental hydrogen peroxide turbine propulsion systems and to modermize welded boats of the “T” class along the lines of the “M” class submarines with enlarged batteries and streamlined hulls.

The two peroxide boats proved expensive, but the experience gained was incorporated in a new design of diesel, the Porpoise class. This hull form was very successful and in the improved Oberon class, one of the major conventional designs of the period. What’s more, propulsion was enhanced by the successful adaptation of nuclear power which gave virtually unlimited thermal power without a large energy source. When USS Nautilus proved such a triumph in the US Navy, the RN immediately decided to switch to nuclear power, although the intention to “go nuclear” was there even if peroxide boats were built, and work on a prototype in Scotland, did not started until 1957, and fell so far that the Admiralty decided to buy a US reactor from the T-class and to put the Dounreay type classes.

Since then a fourth and a fifth class has bee making the RN one of only five navies operating nuclear-powered subs.
For some years it was believed that no mere “submersibles” would be built, but the cost of nuclear boats and manning them forced the resurgence of a conventional design, the 2400t SSK announced in 1979. These carried a similar armament but entered service in the early 1990s.

In 1963 the momentous decision was make responsibility for the British nuclear deterrent from the RN, in the form of Polaris underwater-launched vectors: Submarines were ordered in 1963-64, but the Government cancelled the fifth boat in February in appeasement to its left wing. The entire project, and training of the crews, building four submarines and providing dedicated facilities, was carried through with great rapidity, one of the few major British defence projects to keep budgetary limits but become operational on time.

In July 1980 it was announced that four new new SSBNs, armed with Trident II missiles would be built. These would had a 6000 miles range, well outside the range of Soviet SBAs and would have eight independently launched missiles each carrying three warheads. Major components of the missile system came from the United States, but many sub-systems were made by British subcontractors, as the missiles themselves.


Although the “electronic” components aged rapidly since 1940, during the 1950s the tendency was beginning to slow down to some extent in size of individual items of electronic equipments, assuming that the previous policy of building these could be discarded. The unsophisticated Tribal kit was now possible to build a general-purpose ftee destroyer. In 1960 the decision was made to build frigates to a totally recast design. The new hull now made possible to include a new generation of surveillance radars, combining a high-level awareness with a good measure of air warning.

1960-70s budget cuts: Dark years for the fleet air arm

1966 and the end of the fleet air arm

The cancellatio of the new aircraft carriers in 1966 was a traumatic experience for the Royal Navy, involving the resignation of the First sea lord, and loss of a chief striking force. The carrier Victorious hit was fire damage was the first to be reformed, followed later by HMS Eagle, and the naval air strike was from then handed over to the RAF.
Thi crisis only showed inter-services rivalry flaring up, the RAF apparently succeeding in convincing the Secretary of State for Defence that carriers werevulnerable to strikes from land-based inter-continental ballistic missiles.

The Navy kept helicopters, but was to hand over its Buccaneer and Phantom aircraft to the RAF, with a contingent of RAF mixed aircrew with the surviving carrier’s air group. RAF squadrons took over the mission of protecting the fleet at sea, but this soon as predicted by many, proved unworkable. The RAF indeed was already overstretched in providing for the air defence of the United Kingdom airspace and in the even case planes dedicated to the fleet were serviceable, a few minutes delay in takeoff meant that they would arrive on the scene too late.

But even after both services realised this could not continue, the politicians clung to their ruling there could never be any more aircraft carriers and at least not operated the kind of ships operating fixed-wings aircraft comparable to those in the US Navy as costs would have been crippling.

1967 compromises and the sea harrier

The answer would have to be found elsewhere. In 1967 serious thought was given to a “command cruiser” operating six large helicopters, similar to the French Jeanne d’Arc. Further studies showed greater efficiency would be obtained with nine rotary-wing aircraft stored in an internal hangar, with a starboard island and clear flight deck. A ‘through-deck cruiser’ as coined by the politicians, and soon the existence of the Harrier VSTOL naval version further complicated decision-making. It was decided ultimately to make sure that the design of the ship would accommodate the Sea Harrier if required. However this became a purely political struggle and the Sea Harrier was not considered before May 1975, more than two years after the ship had been laid down. In 1980 the first two squadrons were formed, giving the RN control over its own air power once more, and the debate now revolved around the aircraft type to replace one day the Sea Harrier.

Default in the cuirass: About the GIUK

In the mid-1970s the growing strength of the Soviet Navy in nuclear submarines was focusing attention on the so-called GIUK, the Greeland-Iceland-UK Gap. This “choke point”, through which subs of the Northern Fleet must pass through to attack targets in the North Atlantic had already been “bugged” with networks of passive sensors laid on the seabed to track their passage. Known as SOSUS (Sound Surveillance System), system needed massive, weatherly anti-submarine ships to patrol the area and strike targets defined by the SOSUS arrays. The US Navy defined the large Spruance class destroyers, but the RN opted for 4000 tons frigates armed with two helicopters, surface missiles and a new point-defence missile capable of defending against other missiles, and elaborated C5I.

Late 1970s modernization costs overruns

The new missile had originally been conceived as an anti-aircraft weapons, but during development they were tailored to answer underwater-launched missiles and sea-skimmers. For years it was the only anti-missile missile system in service, but time was running out for the RN with the cost of new warships rising beyond control, linked to the need of protecting them against anti-ship missiles. Studies showed that a double-ended Sea Dart destroyer was to be over 8000 tons, with the cost of hundreds of millions of pounds. To make matters worse, the Royal Dockyards half-life refits costs became exorbitant with £70m to upgrade a Leander class frigate and £64m for a “County” class DLG in 1981.

1980s budget cuts

In 1981 the axe fell when the new Secretary of State John Nott, announced that the surface fleet would be reduced, with one of the three support carriers laid up or sold, no more than fifty ships overall and no more half-life modernizations approved. The Type 22 programme was replaced by a new economical utility escort known as Type 23. However to compensate, the nuclear hunter-killer programme was accelerated, and Type 2400 DE subs confirmed. HMS Bulwark was paid off, followed by Hermes (scheduled so) and HMS Invincible was “on offer” to the Australian Navy. In addition two DLGs and two Leander class frigates had been sold. Older frigates and some Leanders were also to be sold. And at that time the events on the douth atlantic erupted.

The End of the Cold War (1980-90)


When Argentine forces occupied the Falkland Islands and South Georgia on 2 April 1982, the British Government immediately dispatched a task force to recapture the islands. Although the assembling and equipping of such a force around the carriers Hermes (flagship) and Invincible was a masterpiece of speed and efficiency (the carriers and several warships sailed and 5000 tons of military stores were loaded, all within seventy-two hours of the order to embark), the fighting around the Falklands showed that the Royal Navy was no longer adequately equipped for such operations. The fact that the Falklands are 8000 miles from Britain and that the nearest base was Ascension caused particular strain, but air attacks by Argentine shore-based aircraft showed that a small air group of fewer than thirty Sea Harriers was no substitute for a large carrier with high-performance aircraft.

ARA Belgrano sank

The first blow came on 4 May, when the DDG Sheffield was hit by an air-launched Exocet missile from a Super Etendard strike aircraft. The missile failed to detonate, but it set the fuel tanks on fire and the ship had to be abandoned some hours later. She was taken in tow because the navy hoped to have the damage examined by experts at South Georgia, but when the weather deteriorated on 10 May the bumed-out hulk was scuttled. The strike against the Task Force was undoubtedly provoked by the loss of the old cruiser General Belgrano, which was torpedoed by the nuclear submarine Conqueror on 2 May. According to later claims by the British Government, Belgrano and her Exocet-armed destroyers were the southernmost element of a three-pronged attack on the Task Force, and the submarine’s CO was given permission to attack any hostile targets. Surprisingly the elderly Mk 8 torpedo was used, at a range of about 3000yds, rather than the long-range Mk 24.

Once the amphibious assault had got under way at San Carlos on 21 May, fierce air battles became an almost daily occurrence, and bombing or rocket attacks accounted for the DDG Coventry and the frigates Ardent and Antelope. The Navy found that the lack of airborne early warning aircraft made the Sea Harriers’ task much harder, and the older radars, 965 and 992Q, had great difficulty in tracking fast,1 low-flying air targets. The need for stronger close-range defence led to the use of troops and their GPMGs to provide AA fire, and ships still in the UK were hurriedly rearmed with twin 30mm and single 20mm guns, as well as additional chaff-launchers to give protection against guided missiles. The Vulcan Phalanx 20mm ‘Gading’ was acquired from the United States and two were put on the flight deck of the new carrier Illustrious.

A large number of merchant ships were chartered or requisitioned, including the luxury liners Canberra and Queen Elizabeth 2, with helicopter platforms, naval-standard communications and, in some cases, 20mm guns, added. The most elaborate conversions were the ro-ro container ships Atlantic Conveyor and Atlantic Causeway. The former took RAF Harriers to the South Atlantic and then acted as a ‘spare deck’ for aircraft and helicopters in San Carlos Water, while the latter was given a hangar and four anti-submarine Sea King helicopters. Atlantic Conveyor’s loss to an Exocet attack was a major setback to the timetable of Operation ‘Corporate’ for she carried a portable air-strip and refuelling equipment intended to permit the
RFA landing ships alongside Fearless in San Carlos Water, May 1982.

HMS Sheffield

Ground-support aircraft to operate away from the carriers. Although the land forces got safely ashore, the Navy’s presence remained vital throughout, to move supplies and to provide cover against Argentine air strikes. A rash attempt by 5 Brigade to move without Sea Harrier cover led to the crippling of the LSLs Sir Galahad and Sir Tristram at Fitzroy, arguably the worst moment of an otherwise brilliant campaign in which numerically inferior forces had repeatedly out-thought and out-fought the opposition.

Two days before the surrender on 24 June, the DLG Glamorgan was hit by a land-launched Exocet missile, which wrecked her hangar and killed fifteen men, but by a near-miracle she escaped serious damage. The missile was detected on radar and correctly identified, giving her a vital seventy seconds to turn away and try to get out of range. As the Exocet was nearly out of fuel it did not strike with full force, and it seems that the warhead may have detonated only partially.

Royal Navy aircraft carrier HMS Invincible during the International Fleet Review which was part of Trafalgar 200.

The Royal Navy post-1982

Although the Falklands campaign halted the rundown temporarily, the 1981 cuts were merely postponed. The collapse of the Warsaw Pact in the late 1980s provided the Treasury with a strong case for reducing defense expenditure even faster. The ‘Options for Change’ policy review in 1990-91 reaffirmed the need for amphibious ships but the commitment made in the mid-1980s to maintain ‘about fifty’ escorts soon shrank to ‘about forty’, and older frigates were retired or sold off rapidly. A major casualty was the planned new nuclear attack submarine design, but the Trident programme remained sacrosanct.

HMS Sheffield

The Navy confronted the crisis by offering a major cut in personnel to secure the Type 23 frigate programme and the planned replacements for the Type 42 destroyers. In 1989 the UK was the first to withdraw from the NFR-90 collaborative frigate programme, effectively wrecking it. In late 1991 a new goal was announced, an Anglo-French-Italian air defence frigate, to fill the gap.

Two defence reviews in the early 1990s, ‘Options for Change’ and ‘Front Line First’ imposed severe financial cuts on the RN. Although a reduction in numbers was inevitable, the Navy evolved a credible alternative to the cold war/northwest European strategy which had been in place for 20 years. Profiting by experience in the Falklands and in the Gulf in 1990-91, the Navy offered a limited out-of-area capability to deal with sudden crisis, and to support United Nations’ peace-keeping operations. The result was renewed emphasis on amphibious warfare, and a reduction of the anti-submarine role in NATO’s Eastern Atlantic theatre.

British mine warfare policy

The Soviet Navy’s interest and expertise in mine warfare showed no sign of decreasing in the 1970s, and the replacements designed for the RN’s ageing coastal minesweepers proved to be, ton for ton, among the most complex and expensive warships ever built. To reduce their magnetic signature virtually to nil, it was necessary to design nonmagnetic diesels and build the hull of glass-reinforced plastic (GRP). GRP is expensive and difficult to fabricate on such a large scale, and the Brecon class are currently the world’s largest ships built of this material. They are known as Mine Counter Measures Vessels (MCMVs) because they can accommodate both hunting and sweeping functions in one hull.

HMS Quorn Hunt-class

Since 1982 MCM forces have been in action four times, including the clearance of Port Stanley, hunting for Libyan mines in the Gulf of Suez, dealing with Iranian mines in 1987, and finally, supporting the Coalition forces in the 1991 Gulf conflict. Five ‘Hunt’ class performed outstanding service in dealing with Iraqi mines laid off Kuwait City.
As with larger warships, the government commitment to maintain a force of fifty modern MCM craft has not been honored. The thirteen ‘Hunts’ had been supplemented by twelve ‘River’ class MSFs and five Sandown class SRMHs, but by 1995 the force of ‘Tons’ had disappeared and there was no further role for the ‘Rivers’.


HMAS MelbourneHMAS Melbourne at San Diego in 1977

The disappearance of the Empire weakened the links which bound the navies of Canada and Australia to that of Great Britain, and there was a steady drift away from a reliance on British equipment. The RCN was the first, purchasing USN weapons and electronics to make it easier to get spares in an emergency, and going as far as to design its own escort destroyers. The RAN, on the other hand, continued to build RN designs in its own shipyards for some years.

Ikara anti-submarine missile system and other e jointly developed. While South Africa Commonwealth the SAN relied totally on Brin. 1961 political pressure to prevent them fr equipment forced the South Africans to turn to the ‘New Commonwealth’ navies, principally fitted the traditional mold for a longer period indigenous resources, but Pakistan turned in to help and India to the Soviet Union. India’s policy of building up local resources to a point at could be expanded and even equipped with Sen


The Royal Navy continued its policy of demanding high standards in its weapons and equipment, but the underlying which had become particularly evident after this 1948 largely frustrated this. Lack of money to buy equipment led to endless delays, some imposed by the navy’s bureaucratic machinery and others by the Treasury. In the end the result was always the same: Equipment placed into service far too late, making these obsolescent when operational. Other problems were caused by the temptation to allow too many committees to make alterations to specifications.

Sea dartSea Dart missile system onboard HMS Invincible

Thus, the Seaslug missile was made extraordinarily bulky on the advice of the Royal Aircraft Establishment (Farnborough), not believing reports that the American Terrier missile had its boosters mounted in tandem. For political reasons its is almost impossible to purchase foreign equipment, but when it is bought the immediate temptation has been to “Anglicise” it; This happened with the American Mk 56 fire control system, winch painful development re-emerged as the MRS3.

The beam-riding Seaslug gave way eventually to the much more effective semi-active homer Sea Dart, which followed the American ideas closely, and this weapon is currently being upgraded. The experience with lighter missiles has been happier, for the short range Seacat was designed to replace the venerable 40mm Bofors gun, and by being tailored specifically to one role it emerged as a relatively cost-effective close-range defence system for ships down to frigates.

Sea Slug MissilesArmstrong-Withworth system Sea Slug AA missile system (1961)

Replacement was to have been Sea Wolf, but the lengthy and costly, lengthy development enabled the designers to give it a capability against sea-skimming missiles. The system was further developed into a vertical launch (VL) system for the Type 23 frigates and AORs. A lighter type 911 tracker was produced, and the missile’s range has been increased from 10,000m to 14,000m.

The problem for the RN is that it has shrunk in size without losing its front-line commitments, and as a result its production runs are short. This pushes up cost and explains why so many good ideas have to had to depend on export orders before they can go ahdea. It was hoped to persuade the Netherlands to buy Sea Dart in exhange for a Signaal 3-D radar, and the Type 22 frigate was also begun as a joint venture with the Dutch.

Mk8 torpedo

Since 1947 British torpedoes have earner poor reputation, most of it undeserved. Although the Mk8 submarines torpedo was by far the most efficient and cost-effective model used in WW2, it was hoped to replace it with faster and more accurate models using British wartime developments as well as German design ideas in 1945.

The most promising was High-Test Peroxide (HTP), and this was used to drive high-speed fancy or 21in Mk 12. This weapon had to be withdrawn after a propellant causes and explosion which sank the submarine Sidon in 1955, but it was further developed by the Swedish Navy into the Tp61, a very safe and effective torpedo.

Several torpedoes were designed and then axed for some reasons, notably the Pentane and theMk30 Mod 1. The desperate need of a lightweight homing torpedo for helicopters, aircraft and frigates led to the purchase of American Mk 43, 44 and 46 models, but the Mk 43 became obsolete many years ago and the other two have been replaced by the Stingray.

Despite many problems, the Mk 24 Tigerfish came into service in 1970, being followed in the 1990’S by the new heavy Spearfish. The cancellation of the Undersea Guided Weapon programme force the navy to buy the USNs Sub-Harpoon to give its nuclear submarines a capability in long-range anti-ship means. Trials started in October 1981.

This purchase was followed by the selection of the latest surface version, the RGM-84C, as the successor to the Exocet. The Netherlands 30mm CIWS Goalkeeper, a Gatling system was bought in exchange for the sale of Marine Sprey gas turbines to the RNIN. The experience of 1982 also led to increased expenditures on electronic warfare, and in 1991 the RN’s performances in the Gulf conflict proved that the money was well spent.

Detailed Review: Ships of the Royal Navy 1947-1990

Note: These are placeholders with minimal description, waiting to create dedicated posts for each of the classes.


HMS Roberts 1965

Although the breed was no longer in favour, Aircraft Carriers being the new capital ships in favor, these were still many battleships in service in 1947:
-HMS Nelson: The valiant 1925 battleship was no longer in service in 1945 already, but she she was officially broken up in 1948.
-King Georges V class: Much more modern, these four battleships were still an asset but were not kept in service, being mothballed instead for some more years, stripped of their AA artillery, useful elsewhere. These were quad- and eight barrelled 40mm Bofors “pom-Pom” units. King Georges V was paid off in 1946 but served as a private ships and went into reserve. The HMS Anson served as training ship in Portland before being decommissioned in 1949 and paid off. HMS Howe was an harbour training ship at Portsmouth 1950-51, then flagship pf training RA until 1947, then paid off and BU in 1949. Duke of York was the flagship of the Home fleet, then reserved fleet until 1951. Until their demolition there were talks of conversion to missile ships, considered but dropped.
-Monitors: HMS Roberts and Abercrombie (1941-42) were the last British monitors, served as training and reserved ships after 1947, and went into list removal in 1953-55 until broken up in 1954 (Abercrombie) and 1965 (Roberts).

HMS Vanguard

HMS Vanguard
Blueprint of the HMS Vanguard

The Last british Battleship. The end of a breed that emerged with HMS warrior in 1860. The Vanguard was originally planned in 1939 to complete the battleship serie by using the spare 381 mm (15-in) gun armed turrets of the former battlecruisers HMS Courageous and Glorious. This was to be a 30 knots battleships for the Far East, to deal with Japanese Ships. She was laid down however at John Brown not until November 1941, launched in November 1944, and with prospects of victory on Japan, construction slowed down and more priorities emerged. Ultimately the Vanguard was completed after many modifications on August 1946.

She would never fire a shot in the war she was built for. The turrets imposed many compromises and the vanguard was not an overall successful design. She nevertheless was kept as prestige ship for the fifties, received some AA armament modifications in service (refit at Devonport 1947-48) and went in the Mediterranean, then training ship at Portland, refitted at Devonport in 1954, then paid off in reserve, flagship of the reserve fleet and NATO HQ ship until sold for scrap in 1960.

Aircraft Carriers

Illustrious class

HMS Illustrious after reconstruction to operate jets, circa 1954

HMS Illustrious, Victorious, Formidable and Indomitable (renamed R87, 38, 67 and 92) were pretty much spent after their very active life in WW2. Apart HMS Victorious, which was rebuilt, they served as reserve ships until 1949, and were broken up in 1953-56. HMS Illustrious however was taken in hands for refit, from which she emerged in mid-1946, with a more powerful catapult, 30% more aviation fuel, remodelled ends for the flight deck, and she served eight years as a trial and training carrier. She operated the first British sea jets, and had a new all-40 mm Bofors AA artillery. Similar modernization prospects for the HMS Formidable were soon dropped. For the second refit of HMS Victorious see later. She was broken up in 1969.
Indomitable was back in the UK by November 1945, repatriating personal. She would do two more trooping runs until 1946 and in 1947-50 was refitted as HMS Ilustrious, joining the Home Fleet for a three-eyears commission, armed finally with 24 single Bofors, five octuple Bofors and her aircraft complement included the last and best piston-planes of their generation, the Firefly, Sea Fury, Sea Hornet, Firebrand, and early ASR helicopters. HMS Indomitable was in reserved by 1953 and was scrapped in 1955.

A supermarine Seafire landing on Illustrious in 1947
A supermarine Seafire landing on Illustrious in 1947

Implacable class

HMS Implacable (R86) in 1949.

Both carriers arrived late into WW2 and knew little service in fact postwar. HMS Implacable returned in 1946 from the BPF and served for tes-landings of new planes in the Home fleet. In late 1947 up to 1949 her air graoup as allocated was changed miltiple times and was difficult to setup. She ended with 13 Sea Hornet and 12 Firebrands, a meagre 25 planes, and later 4 sea Vampires, the first jets, were added. 12 Barracudas arrived next summer for ASW operations.

She operated as such until 1950 but was soon placed into reserved then served as training carrier until 1954, and was discarded, sold and scrapped the next year. From late 1944 to 1955 this represented barely ten years of service, quite a short time for a large, costly fleet carrier.
The HMS Indefatigable did not fare batter. She also served with the BPF in the far east and made several repatriation runs. From 1950 she served as a training carrier. Her hangars were trasnformed into classrooms and messdecks, and she was eventually placed into reserve in 1954, sold and scrapped in 1956. The dilemna was both ships were not large or sturdy enough for jets and reconstruction cost would have been too steep.

HMS Unicorn

The ww2 escort carrier was placed in reserve right away upon return from the far east. However when the Korean war broke out, her commission as prolongated until 1953, she served with ther WW2 air complement and without much change in AA nor electronics. She however was probably one of the very few carriers in the RN to bombard land targets in Korea with her main dual purpose 5-in artillery. Her commission expired in 1953, and she became a ferry carrier upon her return. she was mothballed and sold for scrapped in 1959.

Colossus class light fleet aircraft carriers

Foreign sells:
HNLMS Karel Doorman
General appearance of HNLMS Karel Doorman after reconstruction in the early 1960s (Conways).

-HMS Colossus was transferred to France and became Arromanches, soldiering in Indochina and Suez, she was discarded and later scrapped in 1878.
-HMS Venerable was sold to the Dutch, and became Karel Doorman. She replaced the smaller Nairana and served for the best part of the sixties and she was resold to Argentina in 1969. Under the new name of Veinticinco de Mayo she took part in the Falklands war in 1982.
-HMS Warrior became Canadian for just two years in leasing 1946-48, returned in UK, was modernized, and resold in 1959 to Argentina as Independencia.
-HMS Vengeance was lent to the RAN as HMAS Melbourne, returned and in 1956 became the Brazilian first carrier, Minas Gerais.

British Carriers in operations

HMS Warrior off Gibraltar in the late 1950s, as modernized.

Without much modifications, HMS Glory, Ocean, Theseus and Triumph served wth distinction over Korea. At their return however the jet age condemned them and after been used as training ships or for menial tasks, Ocean, Glory and Theseus were scrapped in 1961-62.
HMS Warrior was converted to test a steel ramp for jets back in the UK in 1949, testing also a flexible landing deck to cushion jets. This odd solution was made of rubber band over air bags, estended to the rear over 150 feets. In 1952-53 she was comprehensively modernized, of course the “magic carpet” flight deck was dismounted and she went out for dockyard with a lattice foremast and enlarge bridge (which served as prototype for the Karel Doorman’s own reconstruction). In 1955 her deck received a partial angled deck and stronger arrester to operate 15000 Ib planes landing at 60 knots. A catapult was fitted forward, powerful enough to launch a 14,000 ib jet. She acted as HQ ship for nuclear tests in the pacific, Christmas Island and upon her return in 1957 was proposed to Argentina and sold in 1958, and she had a reduced AA.
-HMS Triumph returned home a veteran of WW2 and Korea, and served home as a training ships for officer cadets. The 1956-57 estimates order her to be converted as a repair ship. He hangars were filled with workshops, to assist various ships abroad far from any dockyard. While the idea was sound, the program was under-budgeted and suffered major delays, lasting over seven years. In the end she served only a few years as a repair ship and was place in reserved in 1981, sold and broken up in 1982.

Perseus class light fleet aircraft carriers

To come…

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Conway’s all the world’s fighting ships 1947-95

Work in progress…