On the evening of 23rd May HMS Edinburgh sailed up the River Mersey to join the Spring Bank Holiday 70th Anniversary of the Battle of the Atlantic celebrations taking place on the Liverpool and Wirral waterfronts. The events took place from Friday 24th to Tuesday 28th May. All the other ships taking part in the event were berthed on the Liverpool side of the river. HMS Edinburgh was, however, returning home to the shipyard where she was built some 30 years earlier.
Cammel Laird is one of the most famous names in British shipbuilding during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. The firm was formed following the merger of the shipbuilder Laird, Son & Co. of Birkenhead and Johnson Cammell & Co. of Sheffield who made metal products particularly for the railway industry at the turn of the twentieth century. The yard had a long and illustrious history but in 1993 Cammel Laird’s then owners announced the closure of the yard. Other companies took on the yard and after a number of ups and downs in 2007 Northwestern Shiprepairers & Shipbuilders, acquired the rights to the Cammell Laird name and they have rebuilt the business. In recent years Cammel Laird has taken on a role in ship repairs and building the infrastructure for wind farms used in offshore electricity generation. They have also won contracts to build new ships once again.
The yard has a contract with the Ministry of Defence to maintain a number of the Royal Fleet Auxiliary (RFA) vessels. The RFA flotilla supplies fuel, munitions, food and other ship’s stores to the Royal Navy fleet while on operations at sea. Whilst HMS Edinburgh was in the yard RFA Fort Rosalie was in an adjacent dock undergoing repair work.
Over the last 185 years the shipyard has launched more than 1350 ships. During World War II alone the shipyard produced nearly 200 vessels both commercial and military in support of the UK war effort. This equated to a ship being completed every 21 days with its workforce of 12,000 – a staggering statistic. Royal Navy ships build during this time included HMS Rodney, HMS Prince of Wales and HMS Ark Royal.
Cammel Laird kept on this proud tradition and HMS Edinburgh was built at the yard during 1980 to 1983. She was launched on 14 April 1983 by Mrs Anne Heseltine wife of the then ‘Minister for Merseyside’ in Mrs Thatcher’s government. A number of the workforce who built the ship in the 1980s still work at Cammel Laird and they were proud to welcome her back for the last time after many years of distinguished service with the Royal Navy.
As part of the 70th Anniversary of the Battle of the Atlantic commemorative events she was moored at the shipyard’s Wet Basin which was open for the public to tour the ship. Having gone along to the Pierhead on Saturday morning to see the main attractions, I left the Liverpool waterfront travelled back to Birkenhead on the Wirral and joined the queue at Cammel Laird to go on board and have a tour of HMS Edinburgh. After an hour and half wait I got on board.
HMS Edinburgh is known as the ‘Fortress of the Sea’ and she is the last remaining Type 42 destroyer which were regarded as the workhorses of the Royal Navy. The ship’s pennant number ‘D97’ is painted in large letters on its hull. It has a displacement of 5,200 tonnes, measures 141m in length and 15.2 m beam, has a top speed of 30 knots and a range of 4,000 nautical miles. She has a complement of 287 personnel, and has 26 officers.
Following being commissioned in December 1985 her first deployment was to the Gulf in 1987, escorting numerous merchant ships safely through the region. The following year HRH The Duke of York joined as one of the ship’s officers, serving on board during a six-month round-the-world deployment. In 1996 HMS Edinburgh rescued the crew of a crippled sailing boat while on patrol in the Gulf. She despatched her Lynx helicopter to rescue all nine Pakistani crewmen from the vessel after it took on water in stormy conditions and eventually sank.
HMS Edinburgh took part in the second Gulf War in 2003, supporting Royal Marines ashore and acting as escort to the helicopter carrier HMS Ocean. The following year Edinburgh was deployed to the Mediterranean and was involved in Operation ‘Active Endeavour’, monitoring sea lanes as part of the war on terror.
And in 2008 during operations in the Gulf she seized a drugs cargo – stashed on board a sailing boat – worth several million pounds. HMS Edinburgh entered refit in 2010 and spent most of the following year in the South Atlantic before returning there during her final overseas deployment which ended in March 2013.
HMS Edinburgh was the 14th and final Type 42 to enter service. Earlier in May she departed her homeport of Portsmouth to undertake her Farewell Tour of the UK visiting London, her affiliated city of Edinburgh, and the town where she was built, Birkenhead.
HMS Edinburgh is the Royal Navy’s largest Type 42 Destroyer but she will be decommissioned later in June with the new Type 45 ‘Daring’ class destroyers taking over her duties.
In allowing visitors into the basin Cammell Laird were breaking a 20 year ban on members of the public entering the Birkenhead shipyard so that they could bid farewell to HMS Edinburgh before she sails back to Portsmouth to be decommissioned.
A petition has been launched to bring the decommissioned warship back to its namesake city, Edinburgh the capital of Scotland, as a “floating museum” next to the Royal Yacht Britannia which is also berthed there. A navy veteran who served on the ship has mounted the campaign which has had support from MSP Margo MacDonald who raised the idea in the Scottish Parliament.
The ship, which has clocked up almost 800,000 miles in its 30-year career has now returned to Portsmouth Naval Base following its farewell tour. HMS Edinburgh’s White Ensign will be lowered for the final time during a decommissioning ceremony at the naval base on June 6.