Features

Life on board a warship in our much-reduced Royal Navy

The helmsman’s a woman, the wardrooms are unisex... but the stokers are disappearing in droves

6 February 2016

9:00 AM

6 February 2016

9:00 AM

The Royal Navy is known as the Senior Service because of its illustrious history; Francis Drake and all that. But the days when it ruled the waves have long gone. In 1945 it had almost 900 warships and a million men. By the time of the Falklands War it was down to 70 warships and 70,000 men. Now it is less than half that, with more admirals than there are fighting ships.

The arrival this year of HMS Queen Elizabeth, the much-heralded new aircraft carrier that has cost £6 billion (for 50-odd years of life), will draw unwelcome attention to the Navy’s significant manpower shortages. As one senior officer put it, the carrier will bring ‘new challenges, relearning old tricks perhaps, and some new — not least how to man it’. They put a brave face on things, as you would expect. But what is morale really like in the Royal Navy?

To find out, I joined HMS Bulwark on manoeuvres in the Mediterranean for a few days. I was given unprecedented access — I went up in a £100 million submarine-hunting Merlin helicopter, and out at night with Royal Marine commandos in one of the ship’s four giant assault landing craft. Most edifying of all, I got the chance to talk candidly with everyone from the stokers in the engine room to a visiting commodore over dinner in the captain’s cabin. I also found myself taking part in a ‘man overboard’ drill.

They still refer to a ‘man overboard’ even though 10 per cent of the crew are now women — including, incidentally, the ‘helmsman’ in the rescue boat. There was some resistance to the introduction of women to frontline duties back in 1990. But now no one notices. The wardrooms are unisex, and women do the jobs men do.

Doing the rounds of the ship is a DVD of Sailor, the 1970s BBC TV documentary set on HMS Ark Royal. Officers are amazed at scenes showing porn mags lying around the wardrooms. That wouldn’t happen today. They are intrigued that all the officers speak in public-school accents, which is no longer the case. But what surprises them most is how not much else has changed, especially in terms of the ‘Jack speak’ (as in Jolly Jack Tar). The paymaster is still ‘the pusser’, your bunk is still your ‘grot’ and even some now very un-PC terms survive, such as ‘-gollies’ (naval intelligence officers). They still toast the Queen sitting down, and the toast to Nelson on Trafalgar Day is still ‘The Immortal Memory’, followed by silence.


But the captain told me other traditions are being lost to political correctness. The daily toast ‘To our wives and sweethearts; may they never meet’ has recently been replaced by ‘To our families’, which he thinks ‘lacks humour, somewhat’. He also rues the recent changing of traditional senior titles, such as ‘flag officers’ to ‘assistant chiefs of naval staff’, which he thinks has less gravitas and ‘tone’; something about which the Royal Navy has traditionally cared deeply.

In other areas, the language has changed with the times. When I sat in on briefings, I understood about 20 per cent of what was being said because the Navy speaks in acronyms. When the captain wanted to pass on congratulations to the company on the way they conducted themselves on shore, for example, he said: ‘BZs all round.’ It stands for Bravo Zulu and means ‘Well done’.

Another surprisingly modern departure from traditional Navy decorum and reserve (think Noël Coward in In Which We Serve) is the way the service is slightly obsessed with Twitter. It has two million followers, which is pretty impressive, but still.

Down in the engine room, I encountered some disaffection. None of the stokers on Bulwark are planning to leave, but elsewhere in the Navy they are disappearing in droves, partly because of the 2010 Strategic Defence Review. The RN agreed to far too many cuts, some 6,000 sailors, only to find they are now 3,000 to 4,000 men (and women) short. Turmoil in the Middle East and Russia’s aggression everywhere — Putin is no slouch at getting propaganda images of his warships firing cruise missiles at Syria on to the news — have since forced the government to take the threats to Britain’s national security more seriously.

Even so, after the defence review last November, the Royal Navy was underwhelmed by the allocation of a mere 450 extra sailors to make up the shortfall. They have been told they will have to find the rest by transferring sailors from other ships, which means longer deployments.

The RN will even have to recruit sailors from foreign navies to fill gaps in specialist engineering. And lately the Admiralty has been busy writing to former stokers now in Civvy Street, asking if they will consider returning. There haven’t been many takers, not least because they get paid so much more in civilian jobs, and life at sea is so hard. They sleep in cramped conditions, three bunks high, and rarely see daylight because there are no windows on the ship, apart from on the bridge. ‘If it’s steak for dinner it must be Saturday,’ one said to me. Another complained: ‘We’re in a lower pay-band than the stewards, and all they do is fluff up officers’ pillows.’ He added: ‘In the past the main incentive to do this job for 22 years was the pension, but now that has been cut to a quarter of what it was.’

Last summer, Bulwark was a familiar sight on TV as it rescued thousands of migrants from overcrowded boats off the coast of Libya. Though all the crew members I talked to found this humanitarian mission rewarding, the reality was less heartwarming than the news footage suggested. One officer told me that when they came on board, the first question some migrants asked was: ‘Where can I charge my iPhone?’ And the stench was terrible, with the dozen or so Portaloos in the hold unable to cope.

Parliament has soon to decide whether or not to build four replacement Trident submarines. The move has majority public support, but Jeremy Corbyn and Nicola Sturgeon oppose it, so the subject will be hotly debated. In the cabinet room at No. 10, meanwhile, there is now a model of the Queen Elizabeth, a daily reminder to the PM of what a useful asset he will soon have at his disposal, both as ‘hard power’ and ‘soft’. (Russian envoys can expect a few invitations to cocktails on board.)

So, with all this duality of purpose, is the Royal Navy’s identity crisis set to deepen? When I asked Captain Nick Cooke-Priest, shortly before we sailed into harbour at Malta, he dismissed the idea, ‘because one of our primary functions is to protect the seaways that underpin the nation’s economy, and that hasn’t changed.’ He did concede that ‘We do need to get some equilibrium back, after years of managed decline.’

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  • evad666

    Well its not a Type 45 because its not tied up alongside.

    • Peter Shaw

      No the Type 45 is being pulled by a tug so it won’t be tied up alongside…

    • Ptolomaeus

      As for the Type 45, the problem lies, allegedly, with part of the Northrop-Grumman designed intercooler-recuperator in the WR-21 gas turbines

      • Frank

        How are the radios doing?

      • mykraal

        Is this type of inter- cooler going to be fitted to the aircraft carriers and Type 26 frigates?

        • Ptolomaeus

          Hope not if not corrected/rectified

  • Peter Shaw

    Great isn’t it the first thing these “refugees” (and I use that term in the “broadest” possible way) ask for is a socket so they can charge their iphone. This is why Britain pi**** me off so much. If I could grab a left wing liberal now the picture would not be pretty!

    As regards low pay….all engineers get paid cr** wages but this again is Britain that doesn’t believe in science, technology and engineering. Still at least the unskilled migrant lackeys for the officers get paid a decent wage for plumping up their pillows….Now where is that left wing liberal again!!! Grrr…..

    • jennybloggs

      But why don’t we believe in science, technology and engineering? Our Victorian ancestors certainly did and upto the 1960s working class boys from the north of England provided many engineering students. So what has happened to us? We are in a horrible mess but it isn’t enough to blame politics, we choose the politicians. I share your feelings about left wing liberals but they are not solely responsible. Cameron is almost indistinguishable from Blair in his attitudes.

    • gunnerbear

      Err,,,the stewards won’t be immigrants (unless they meet the usual rules) as the stewards are members of the Royal Navy and (as I’m sure you know) tasked with other work.

  • Kasperlos

    The decline in the RN’s strength is an absolute scandal. It is but a ghost fleet. The transformation of the RN into a politically correct social engineering machine (commissar-like enforced PC doctrine is more rabid than its fighting skills) is an unmitigated disaster. And it was all unnecessary. Laugh one might. However, the crucible of this misguided adventure, on the part of failed politicians and wonks in Westminster and Whitehall, comes when the call to battle stations is given in earnest. There and then one shall see what three decades of horrendous and shambolic governance of HM Forces has wrought. And to think that millions of HM subjects valiantly served this country in what was once the finest naval fleets ever to sail this earth. Shame, utter and disgraceful betrayal of a nation being systematically dismantled bit by bit by the errand boys and girls in Westminster and Number 10! Where is the outrage?

    • Peter Shaw

      I’m afraid the police intervene if the proles/natives get restless….Unfortunately most people voted for the three main parties….I didn’t…The change things like a you would boiling a frog…you carefully raise the heat and they won’t notice….the majority are suckers….and still vote for more of the same….Then again the education system has been dumbed down significantly…

    • John Carins

      Well said. It’s not just the destruction of the Forces but also our ability to manufacture the means of making war should be a concern. The politicians have systematically allowed much of the British Defence industry to fall into foreign ownership – mainly French/German and Italian companies. all part of our integration into the EU superstate The missile and radar systems on the Type 45 are French.

    • gunnerbear
    • Freddythreepwood

      ‘Where is the outrage?’

      It will come if and when the shyt hits the fan. Too late, of course.

  • Jonathan Burns

    Likewise Cameron is planning to force the Army and royal Marines to accept women in combat roles. Which means fixing the results when not enough qualify.

    • Peter Shaw

      Also Cameron wants “positive” discrimination against white working class men….now that they don’t represent an important force in politics…in favour of BMEs men and women. Similarly Labour and the Liberals have abandoned the white working class male…However, if you are white, male and rich the party continues…;) Unfortunately unless white working class males group together they will continue to be totally disenfranchised…Look at the educational achievements of white working class boys and you will see….the figures are truly shocking…

      • AraucaniaPatagonia

        Quite. Untalented posh boys like him will nevertheless continue to monopolise the top jobs and, in the name of equality, bring in their wives, girlfriends and mistresses to fill token top jobs, too. In other words, it won’t affect him, just as higher taxes for us can’t touch his own tax-free inheritance.

    • Malcolm Stevas

      Quite. It will be those black undergrads at Oxford all over again: not enough of them, allegedly, so they’ll wangle some sort of workaround bodge-up.

      • whereami

        Oxford have an entire Equality and Diversity office, staffed with a manager and assorted Diversity officers. The salary bill for these ‘professionals’ is not small.
        In the Equality Act, the only non protected characteristics are those of the white, heterosexual male. Therefore, I would suggest that there is no “workaround bodge-up” but rather a co-ordinated, systematic destruction of all that is English.

    • Lawrence James.

      Balderdash ! Women manned guns and fired rifles during the siege of Lucknow and at other places during the suppression of Indian Mutiny.They can and will do so again, against similar adversaries.

      • Jonathan Burns

        So they can’t compete alongside mentioned most sports e.g the Olympics but they can in combat?

        • Lawrence James.

          Presumably if, like most athletes, they took took the requisite drugs which are now the essential of international sports they could take part in everything from weight-lifting to synchronised swimming. What matters is the back-to-the-wall situation.

          • Jonathan Burns

            To you reality just passed by, very few women can pass the standards and those that do then suffer greater injuries.
            The result standards are lowered to allow women to qualify.
            The Israeli Defence Force despite constant false claims, only uses women for border defence, frontline combat troops are still 100% male.

  • Frank

    A “£100M Merlin helicopter”, either you got that wrong or the procurement process is in even deeper sh*t than ever before (and that is without getting into the absurdity of paying £6Bn for an aircraft carrier without aircraft!)

    • Ned Costello

      ALL Aircraft Carriers, when they roll down the slipway, are ‘without aircraft”, they come later. In our case when the F35B is in full service with the RAF and RN and this time-lag has been allowed for, and it’s £6bn for the TWO carriers, not just one.

      • Frank

        I’ve got this barely used bridge for sale, it is just sitting waiting for you, only £2M in cash.

      • jeffersonian

        However, we then get into the sorry state of the two carriers: too small [air wing of 40 won’t cut it] ski-jump instead of CATOBAR, conventional instead of nuclear propulsion, under-powered [25 knots max speed…please], under-armed, and let’s not start on the problems facing the F35 white elephant intended to be its air wing – perfect example of an aircraft designed by committee to be able to do almost anything – and none of it well.

        We should sell QE2 and the PoW to Japan, and start anew

        • Murgatroyd

          The air wing is sufficient for the relatively modest operations that these ships will be required to carry out. They are not required to have the capability of a USN carrier – more of an enlarged LHA than a true strike carrier.

          • gunnerbear

            Regardless, Adm Z. is adamant the RN will have both QE class vessels as strike carriers and then he’s going to look behind the sofa for some more cash for the other types of kit the USN has…… 🙂 You know the RN will never say, “Hey…..hang-on, we’ve got enough floaty metal boxes and metal boxes that sink and float”. 🙂

        • NickG

          We should have picked up and refurbed a couple of Nimitz class fleet carriers from the Yanks in exchange for contributing to the modular construction of the Ford class carriers – a bit like we have with the Airbus A380 – and stuck the F/A18 super hornet and navalised a 50 A10s.

          Simples!

        • gunnerbear

          With reference to the configuration of the carriers, might this be interesting reading……. http://www.thinkdefence.co.uk/2012/06/why-i-joined-the-dark-side/

      • Malcolm Stevas

        Will the F35B work the way it’s supposed to? Will it prove suitable?

        • Murgatroyd

          For the type of operations the RN is likely to carry out, it will be sufficient. I’m no fan of the F35B but it will probably mature into a decent aircraft. Thanks to Labour we are stuck with STOVL so there are no other options on the table.

          • Malcolm Stevas

            If it does “mature” as you suggest, then OK. If it doesn’t, we’re shafted. I think wistfully of that wonderful aircraft the Sea Harrier, the “Super Harrier” that was mooted – and way back, the aborted P1154 project…

          • Murgatroyd

            The Sea Harrier was of fairly limited capability and was successful in the Falklands mainly as a result of an effective radar, being fitted with the latest US-supplied Sidewinders and flown by pilots who knew how to get a quart out of a pint pot. There was not much confidence in the ability of the Sea Harrier pre-Falklands, so the F35B may well turn out to be similar. It is too important to the USMC to be a failure and they will make it work.

          • Malcolm Stevas

            I disagree the Sea Harrier was of “fairly limited capability”. Before it was proven in the Falklands War, it’s true that many people did not take it seriously – including, I’ve heard, the Argentinians, who looked into it in the UK but dismissed it as toy-like… It was a remarkable aircraft that worked extremely well, highly maneuverable, versatile, and on those carriers in the South Atlantic it maintained remarkably high rates of serviceability. It was unfortunate that neither the bigger drop-tanks nor the quad-Sidewinder fit (nor the Sea Eagle capability) were yet on stream, but that isn’t the aircraft’s fault.
            Good missiles, good radar, skilled pilots? The same things always apply to fighter aircraft. But these factors could not have turned a poor aircraft into a good one. The Harrier was great.
            I don’t believe it follows at all that the F35B will work out simply because the Harrier did so! Let’s wait and see. Re the USMC, they of course adopted the Harrier themselves, knowing a good thing when they saw it.

          • Murgatroyd

            The Harrier was good, not great. It was designed for a specific Cold War role and only endured because, as you point out, the USMC adopted it. But the USMC did not utilise the Harrier in the same role as the RN, did they?

            Conventional carriers would have been more effective in the Falklands than what we had but the RN made the best of their modest fixed-wing assets. The Invincibles were designed as ASW helicopter carriers rather than light fleet carriers and 5 Sea Harriers were added to the air group to counter Soviet reconnaissance aircraft in the North Atlantic. They were never intended to provide air cover for a large task force operating 8,000 miles away against a land-based air force. Unsurprisingly, a high attrition rate was expected and the aircraft did well to overcome their inherent limitations and come out on top.

            There is no point in mourning the end of the Harrier as it has had its day. The UK took the STOVL route so there is only one option. There will be plenty of teething troubles with the F35B but they will be ironed out in time and the aircraft will be far superior to the Harrier. As I said before, I am no fan of the F35B but do we really need a pair of 70,000 ton helicopter carriers?

          • Malcolm Stevas

            The points in your first two paras are perfectly true, part of the record. Sure, a couple of conventional carriers launching F4s & Buccaneers would have made a rremendous difference and likely have finished the job sooner. But you damn the Harrier with faint praise: they did more than “overcome their inherent limitations”, they fought the enemy very well indeed, shot down a goodly number of them for no air-to-air losses, and the GR3 Harriers did sterling work too.
            I hope sincerely that your predictions for the F35B prove accurate.

          • NickG

            If Arc Royal had been in service the Argies likely wouldnt have attempted to take the falklands.

      • mykraal

        When designing gun the ammunition is first designed. The gun or delivery system is then designed. I do hope that the F35 will be able to fly from the carrier or will there need to be major modifications? I assume that the constructors had some idea of the aircraft launch and recovery requirements.

    • Murgatroyd

      The article is wrong as the £6 billion was for two carriers, which is cheap by today’s standards.

  • lots of people who dont know their military posting. Shame on you Brits.

  • Jacobi

    Let’s wake up about the Royal Navy.

    Its only role from now is as a coastguard service helping to keep the potential hordes of
    Muslim religious immigrants out of Europe, detaining them and transporting them to internment camps for return.

    Large ships such as Type 45 are too big. And so is Bulwark. Sitting targets .

    We need smaller fast patrol boats with sophisticated anti-rocket weapons, ( since Islamic terrorist groups have such weapons), and anti-aircraft weapons since Saudi Arabia and Turkey have Aircraft.

    Russia is not the enemy.

    The EU will collapse. Merkel has ensured that. But a European coastguard service is essential and will emerge

    As will internment and repatriation.

    • Murgatroyd

      Fast patrol boats are useless against a capable opponent and for global deployment and therefore a waste of money. European NATO navies are awash with them and no more are needed. Maybe if our allies invested in decent kit instead of rubbish like this then NATO Europe would not be such a weakling. The role you are describing is for the coastguard, not the Navy.

      • Jacobi

        That is my point. The navy no longer has a role other than keeping back the religious immigrants

        • Murgatroyd

          In your opinion. The reality is rather different.

          • Jacobi

            You have the advantage of me. I was in the army. The only boats I know are fast fast planing dinghies.

            Perhaps you could tell us what exactly is needed. It is certainly is not Type 45 and Bulwark.

          • mykraal

            Yes let us hear about the need. I agree that type 45 and new aircraft carriers are not the way forward but what is the right mixgiven the current navy defence budget. I think that we are stuck with what we are getting

          • Jacobi

            We must change our thinking. The Cold War is over and gone. Russia is not the enemy.
            We have a new and very different and very determined enemy who knows exactly what he wants. We are still dithering. But we will eventually realise the crisis and the RN will be deployed along with other European navies in a very different role form anything we have experienced during the Cold War or since.

          • mykraal

            The starting point is “what is the UK to be – an independent sovereign state making its way in the world or part of and ever closer EU”? If the former then our interests and defence configuration (probably as part of NATO and in cooperation with the EU!) could be a lot different fro an EU navy interdependent configuration. The procurement of the aircraft carriers, the Type 45 and now the Type 26 frigate has virtually nailed the RN colours to the mast. Are we really going to project power and deploy a task force to the China sea. The Med with a Russian base in Syria and the migrant sea route is likely to be an operational area. A lot of unknowns all round.

          • Lawrence James.

            We don’t need a Far Eastern squadron: leave that to the Japs and the Yankees.

          • Jacobi

            The UK should be part of a European Common Market.
            The EU is finished. Merkel has seen to that. Just a matter of time.
            But Europe, and we are a European Island, must defend its borders from uncontrolled religious immigration such as we have and this coming summer will experience in unprecedented numbers.
            We need an effective powerful armed Coast guard, to collect intern and return these religious immigrants . UK must play a role whatever that is in this European Coastguard.
            Yes the Russians have a base in Syria as do the Americans. But big ships are a sitting target – to Turkey and Saudi Arabian aircraft remember, when things really hot up and we find out who our enemies really are!

      • Malcolm Stevas

        Actually, we could do with a greatly expanded & improved coastguard.

        • Murgatroyd

          Agreed, ditto the Navy.

    • 3aple

      “…helping to keep the potential hordes of Muslim religious immigrants out of Europe.”

      Waddya mean ‘keep them out’? Jack is running a taxi service, picking them up when their boats run into trouble, and delivering them safely to their destination of choice in Europe.

      • Jacobi

        Please look to what I said about internment and repatriation. It will come and then Jack will be busy again!

      • whereami

        Could it also be that the reduction in the fleet has a direct correlation to the importation of large numbers of unskilled immigrants? The greater the welfare bill, the education bill, the NHS bill, the infrastructure bill, the judicial bill etc then the less funding available for a taxi service. In this Alice in Wonderland country, Britain could even be up before the ECHR for failing to provide a fit and proper taxi service.

  • Business Cat

    Good to see the Royal Navy working hard enriching people smugglers.

  • Malcolm Stevas

    “Managed decline”… It’s all very sad, depressing, makes one wistful and ashamed all at the same time. There’s a sense of loss. One thing is absolutely certain: sooner or later we will find ourselves having to fight another war of moderate or severe importance. Then, as as has so often happened in the past, we will realise that we haven’t the tools to do the job. Even in the minor squabbles of recent decades, it is very clear from reading the participants’ accounts that the UK’s armed forces are forced to struggle on without many of the items of kit they should have – or with severely inadequate ones. For now, it’s humiliating that we will shortly have a new carrier – without aircraft, and the Navy will have to re-learn all those carrier-handling skills we used to have but which have been allowed to slip away.
    Frankly I’m amazed that our Forces continue to attract any of the sort of high-calibre people they need. Our country doesn’t deserve to have them.

    • Weed

      Should a major conflict occur it will be too late. Unlike in WWII where you could manufacture equipment in a short time scale and ramp up production fairly quickly with modern technology and training this just isn’t possible.

      If we fail to do the job with what we already have we will fail totally. It’s an end game scenario.

      • Malcolm Stevas

        I fear you are right. I see the Rand Institute is now suggesting the Russians could roll-up the Baltic states within 60 days. It’s difficult to see how UK armed forces could contribute much in this scenario.

        • mykraal

          60 days! More like 6 days. This assumes that NATO does not intervene. If it does anything could happen.

          • John Brocklehurst

            It was 60 hours.

          • Malcolm Stevas

            Sorry, my typo!

        • Lawrence James.

          Why should we ? Europe east of the Elbe is not worth the bones of a single British soldier.

          • Malcolm Stevas

            Maybe, but that’s another argument. I for one don’t want a Russian army as close to us as it was before the Wall came down, ever again.

          • Lawrence James.

            Do you imagine that Russia intends to conquer Poland, the Baltic states and perhaps even Germany ? I wonder whether it ever seriously entertained such plans. Consequences ? A destructive nuclear war ? For what ?

          • MacTurk

            ”Europe east of the Elbe is not worth the bones of a single British soldier”?

            The last time that argument was deployed, we ended up with the Iron Curtain.

            You are aware that the UK is one of the (Ha ha ha ha ha!) ‘guarantor powers’ of the territorial integrity of The Ukraine?

          • Lawrence James.

            We ended up with the Iron Curtain because, in 1945,Soviet forces occupied the Eastern bloc. I assume you would have been happy in 1945 for the US, Britain and France to declare war on Russia, our former ally. A Third World War which few in those three countries would have tolerated.

            As for our ‘guarantee’ the Ukraine, this was a foolhardy gesture, the more so since the Ukrainians have acted in a provocative manner. Whatever assurances were made, the Ukraine remains in the Russian sphere of influence was, just as Western Europe is part of the American sphere of influence. For all its faults, this division of influence is a rational way to conduct relations between great powers.

  • Andrew Finn

    Meanwhile, Cameron commits more money to the foreign aid budget…

  • rjbh

    Im delighted… who needs a Navy… certainly not a country that lets its poor starve to death.

    • starfish

      A country that will starve to death a lot quicker without a Navy to protect its global trade

  • StringyJack

    I am horrified. The Royal Navy is now smaller than the navy of my own country, which once looked to yours for protection and to keep the high seas open for commerce. I think it is a mistake to think that the Cold War is over and that Russia is no longer a threat. Just ask the Ukrainians what they think of Russia as a neighbour. If I were Vladimir Putin I would be carefully weighing my options. ‘The west looks so weak. Britain has almost no navy and Germany has almost no army. America has Obama (ha!). Russia is regathering its strength. When should I make my move to reclaim the lost glories of the USSR?’

    • Lawrence James.

      What glories ? An eastern European empire that dissolved in 1990-1991 and Asiatic one which fragmented into primitive khanates during the next few years.

      • zappata

        They always were primitive khanates-The Russians prefer them that way.

        • Lawrence James.

          Quite so. And of course submissive

  • Mixa.

    Russian weapons are far advanced and superior to US and Western analogs and well and widely known as such worldwide. Therefore, more and more countries worldwide prefer Russia’s made weapons over US made. Plain and simple. Even more importantly, they are cheaper, easier to handle and maintain. https://youtu.be/0QI0EXm6twQ

    • rjbh

      Spot on Mixa… and one hopes it will keep us out of trying to ‘Mix’ it with the Russians… Our biggest problem is belonging to NATO.. which is ruled by the US.. NATO is the biggest threat to World Peace, apart from Israel of course.

      • disruptivethoughts

        I thought the favourite enemy was supposed to be the EU: are we moving onto NATO now?

      • Lawrence James.

        And Islam.

    • starfish

      Yes

      they work pretty well on passing airliners too

    • John Brocklehurst

      Presumably that’s why Russia has cut its own PAK FA order to almost nothing and has to buy LHDs from France.

    • Business Cat

      From African dictators, to shirtless, european dictators who doesn’t love to wares of Sukhoi & Migoyan.

      Come for the irrelevant aerobatics, stay for the engines with half the lifespan of their western equivalents!

  • starfish

    I see Putin’s minions are hard at work on this thread

    A somewhat superficial article

    BTW stokers do not get paid less than stewards, who do a lot more than ‘plump pillows’

    Engineers are ‘leaving in droves’ because of a combination of factors:

    national shortage of engineers (created by educational policies) driving up salaries (but not those in the RN which have remained essentially static for years)

    the relative attractiveness of life outside the RN (less time away, more time with families, more sensible working hours)

    better job satisfaction (obsessions with illusory cost saving has resulted in more contractor support and less for ship’s companies to do as they are effectively barred from anything more than superficial fault finding)

    specific transferable skills, most notably in the renewables industry where specific high power skillsets and qualifications are required

    One would have thought even a Spectator journo could have gleaned that ‘in a few days’

    • starfish

      A few days in HMS Bulwark yet he has not written about ‘life on board’

      The food (key to morale)

      Family Separation, which weighs heavily on most servicemen

      Training activities which occur daily and are not confined to man overboard exercises

      Entertainment activities

      Contrasting the living conditions of junior, senior ratings and officers

      The differing daily routines of the different branches onboard

      The differences between ‘day workers’ and watchkeepers

      Managed not to speak to a single royal marine which is quite a feat

      • gunnerbear

        I always thought only the Officers had the Wardroom, the CPOs, Junior rates etc all having their own messes. I recall also being told the Captain also eats alone. Still, happy to be proved wrong.

        • David Wood

          the commanding officer of a ship do lead a lonely life and occasionally invites officers from the wardroom to eat with him,even when flag ship the skipper still eats alone,i am ex l/std before splits were allowed at sea

      • KJ

        Wow – you could be talking about my Navy – word for word what we went through over the last 35 years that I was involved with 😛

  • NickG

    The new Queen Elizabeth class carriers are massively stymied, because they are not interoperable with the 10 US Nimitz class and the soon to be introduced Ford Class replacements as well as the French Charles De Gaul carrier, simply because the UK version cannot catapult and trap tail-hook jets. The British carriers have – utterly amazingly – not been designed with cats and traps so as far as fighter aircraft, will be limited to hosting the controversial vertical take-off F35 B variant. Going for a vertical take-off fighter in turn limits the range, payload and with confers much higher maintenance requirements.

    Also, unlike the French and American Fleet carriers, which are nuclear powered, the UK carriers will be conventionally powered, limiting the amount of aviation fuel on-board, because the space will be needed for marine-diesel. This choice – likely made for PC reasons – also makes the carriers dependent on regular replenishment from tankers, which in turn are vulnerable and need protection from other parts of our much depleted fleet.

    Like much of the British military there is much of the self licking lollipop phenomenon in the new UK Queen Elizabeth class carriers.

    • starfish

      Hmm

      Cats and traps requires an infrastructure that is too expensive to sustain over two carriers

      Nuclear power is an issue in terms of where in the world you can take the ships

      Once you have decided not to use nuclear power you then have a steam generation problem for catapults – resulting in huge support costs for steam generation plant

      Loads of aviation fuel and we can replenish it at sea so no issue – tankers can easily be protected

      And of course the carriers will be totally interoperable with the USMC F35s – which will outnumber ours by 3 to 1

      Still you can crack on wailing if you want

      • Onedtent

        ” tankers can easily be protected ”

        Really?

        • starfish

          Yes

          I did it for decades

      • NickG

        Cats and traps requires an infrastructure that is too expensive to sustain over two carriers

        Not really, by way of examples the Royal Navy operated its last British cats and traps Audacious class carrier – HMS Arc Royal, decommissioned in 1979 – as its only fleet carrier, for a number of years. As currently do the Indians – with INS Vikramaditya (an ex Russian carrier) and the French – with the nuclear propelled fleet carrier – Charles de Gaul.

        Nuclear power is an issue in terms of where in the world you can take the ships

        The 10 US and one French nuclear powered fleet carriers as well as the Royal Navy fleet of nuclear hunter killer submarines don’t seem to have a problem. And of course the key feature of carriers is that they can project military power from off-shore…because they have aircraft. If the navy need to wine and dine dignitaries on board in the ship’s wardroom in the ports of nations that will not let nuclear powered vessels berth, they can use other ships, such as the current Royal Navy flagship – the Albion class assault ship, HMS Bulwark.

        Once you have decided not to use nuclear power you then have a steam generation problem for catapults – resulting in huge support costs for steam generation plant

        No, you’re out of date. Steam catapults are being superseded by far more compact electro-magnetic catapults, per the new US Ford class carriers.

        Loads of aviation fuel and we can replenish it at sea so no issue – tankers can easily be protected

        No the overheads of space, logistics and force protection in conventionally powered versus nuclear fleet carriers are massively germane. Why else would the Yanks and Frogs go for nuclear powered fleet carriers?

        the carriers will be totally interoperable with the USMC F35s – which will outnumber ours by 3 to 1

        Yup, that is a fair point, the 8 US Navy Wasp class assault ships – which are a bit like the Royal Navy’s out of service Invincible class carriers, will be able to inter operate with the new British Queen Elizabeth Class fleet carriers. The US Marines on its own, is considerably bigger than the entire UK military. Since WW2 the USMC have made a thing of having their own Marine flown, close air support, for understandable reasons they want Marines in the air supporting Marines on the ground.

        These 8 US assault ships supplement the 10 nuclear ‘cats and traps’ fleet carriers and are designed to operate in the littoral zone – close to land. They are not a blue water deep ocean force. Our carriers will be similarly stymied, because we have imposed silly design constraints on ourselves.

        Political power play and inter service rivalry prevents that in the UK military, though the Yeovilton based Commando Helicopter force is underpinned by the same philosophy borne of experience.

        • gunnerbear
          • NickG

            The usual obscurantist civil service report.

        • gunnerbear

          The US Navy can afford to operate the enormous shore-based infrastructure and sea-manning required for significant n-power operations. The RN have taken the alternative view that costs outweigh benefits in terms of surface n-power. Additionally, the RN are struggling to retain n-qualified watch-keepers for the submarine fleet which is why the AFPRB strongly suggested retaining ‘golden hello’s’ and the like for such skilled personnel.

          • starfish

            I think that is key

            The USN can afford to do it and their defence policy requires them to deploy carrier battle groups

            The French Navy has made its choices for political reasons

            The RN must ensure that through life costs are kept under control for ships that will probably have a 40-50 year service life

        • starfish

          The RN maintained a fleet carrier at ruinous cost – that was why it was paid off – remember?

          The nuclear issue is an issue for the UK government. The places our SSNs can berth are very limited

          the USN has a network of overseas bases in compliant countries that they can use – we don’t, especially in the areas we may operate

          E-m catapults are still a pretty huge technical risk – the USN can afford to take it becuase they have other carriers they can use while it is sorted out. We cannot afford to put our eggs in one basket

          On the space issue there is loads on QE – remember its air group will be smaller than the USN’s

          • NickG

            The huge risk is that the Brits have bet their whole carrier capability on the the unproven vertical take-off F35 C variant, with no other option.

            The whole carrier procurement process has been a fiasco.

            From the UK point of view the F/A18 Super Hornet would have been a far better bet.

            But then the RAF generally helped screw things up.

    • Airey Belvoir

      The Harriers, while effective, had a serious flaw in that they could not ‘bring back’ bombs and weaponry to land vertically – hence millions of pounds of ordnance dumped at sea. I hope that the F35 will be better in this regard.

      • Landphil

        No problem – drop them on the French.

    • MATT2

      Trump is likely to be the next US President. If he is he will cancel the F35B and perhaps the whole F35 project. The UK will then have no option but to buy F18 SH, with significant rebuild of the carriers to put in an angled deck and cats and traps, either EM or use boilers to generate steam (not ideal).

      • NickG

        There are likely to be all sorts of expensive contractual penalties for cancelling the multinational F35, due to be adopted by most western nations, because Lockheed Martin likely has quite clever lawyers. Also the USMC would then be left with the ageing Harrier on their 8 Assault ships and would not be happy bunnies.

        The 2 QE2 class carriers was designed with an angled deck, but not cats and traps!

        • MATT2

          Not quite true. Trump will cancel it under executive order. QE carriers were originally angled decks for F35C. These would have needed cats and traps. Option existed to revert to STOVL with longitudinal deck. MOD got scared by cost of EMALS. Reverted to F35B. Some idiot in MOD thought STOVL like harrier with vectored thrust and put in ski-ramp. F35B is different. See Cdr Wards blog for more:

          http://www.sharkeysworld.com

          • NickG

            That’s quite a link!

            The modern RAF may be beyond redemption. It really should be disbanded its function distributed between the Navy and Army, they reliably havn’t got a clue.

    • Karl Grosvenor

      You made some good and logical points also it looks like the F-35 will be a lemon.

  • Onedtent

    You see what happens when you stop issuing rum?

    B*&^dy libtards!

    • Airey Belvoir

      The rum ration stopped after a tragedy on the West Indies Station, when identical twins serving together were give ‘gulpers’ on their birthday. With the same fatal intolerance to proof rum, both died, and so their Lordships knocked it on the head.

    • Airey Belvoir

      The rum ration stopped after a tragedy on the West Indies Station, when identical twins serving together were give ‘gulpers’ on their birthday. With the same fatal intolerance to proof rum, both died, and so their Lordships knocked it on the head.

      • Landphil

        Bloody twins.

      • The Laughing Cavalier

        That may well have been a contributory factor but the principal reason for the abolition of the rum ration was that it was of a size that meant that had sailors been driving a car they would have been found unfit to drive. Modern warships, full of electronics need sober sailors. One consequence was the replacement of the rum ration with three cans of beer per man per day. In the frigates and destroyers of the day the weight of the beer on setting sail exceeded that of the armaments.

    • Lawrence James.

      Indeed. Worse still is the disappearance of sprightly, aggressive names. Temeraire, Bellerophon, Thunderer, Vindictive, Rattler, Swarthy, Active . . . HMS Devastation ( a Victorian ironclad) be better than Prince of Wales ( which one the Black Prince or the Prince Regent ? )

      • I have a reproduction of a contemporary news sheet detailing Nelson’s victory at Trafalgar and, as you say, the RN ship names are enough to put chills up your spine. Same thing with the ship’s at Jutland.

        I remember reading somewhere that we had an HMS Infernal at one point, which accompanied Devastation to the Holy Land. Not sure if that’s true but I can’t imagine what the thinking was if it is

        • Lawrence James.

          I suppose the Czar/and or the Sultan would be shaking when they heard that HMS Devastation was heaving too off the Dardenelles; if there was, and I hope there was, an HMS Infernal ( ? Inferno ) its appearance would have been a source of great lamentation in the souks of the Levant.

          • Actually, having taken the trouble to Google it, there were at least three

            https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/HMS_Infernal_(1757)

            There were another two launched in 1815 (sister to HMS Hecla) and a first class sloop in 1834. Like I say, I can’t imagine the thinking behind it, or what a sailor in those times would have thought about being assigned to a ship with that name.

          • Lawrence James.

            Indeed: one could also fell sorry for sailors aboard HMS Cuckoo and Fidget, both gunboats of the 1870s. They must have endured some stick whenever they entered a bar, but not I think from members of the crew of HMS Bustard.

  • Polly Radical

    30 ships in the RN and 30 bombers in the RAF.

    • NickG

      And 40 Admirals.

      The UK military is waaaay top heavy.

      • farkennel

        One Admiral is needed for each ship of the line and one Admiral of the fleet overall.What is happening is ridiculous.

  • farkennel

    If there is staffing problems,there is always the opportunity to press gang.Worked a treat back in my day.

  • ADW

    Compare the ratio of ground staff to planes/ships in the uk with the us marine corps or the Israeli defence force

    • we need a Trump. In fact the great Alan Clark desperately wanted the MoD to perform the kind of root and branch reform that’s needed, but we got Tom King instead. Thatcher was radical where shoul might have been better being cautious and definitely cautious where she should have been radical

  • To build carriers of the size of Queen Elizabeth, without steam catapults to at least ensure interoperability with US and French naval aircraft, illustrates the utter insanity of our commissioning and procurement policies. Not only that, but we are now committed to a massive carrier that can only operate one untested and very expensive aircraft when so many others would have been available off the shelf for a conventional carrier. Our entire political system seems to be sclerotic and unable to produce anything of value

    • Wildflowers

      The answer to this is look at which major UK jet engine manufacturer has a major role in the engine for the F-35B. The Government was persuaded of the argument that we should have a cats and trap carrier to allow interoperability with our allies and changed the design to this capability. However, once they realised that the F-35Bmight be canned, with a subsequent impact on UK jobs, they bottled it. We now have a less capable carrier, limited cross-decking ability, and an aircraft with less range and payload.

      • boiledcabbage

        Have no fear. It will be used for humanitarian relief, the transport of refugees, and leased to James Bond movies and reality TV. In many ways these ‘carriers’ are optical illusions.

      • MATT2

        It was mismanagement by senior uniform staff in Bristol on 3 year appointments which led to us pulling out of cats and traps, something the RN pioneered in the 1930s. With unreliable and very fuel limited engines, there is no steam for a conventional catapult. We’ll also have no fixed wing AEW, no refuellability of the planes and such limited capability compared to what the French have now, the Russians won’t worry about not getting an invite.

    • MATT2

      Agreed. We have forgotten the lessons of the cold war and the Falklands where we very nearly lost to a third world country because of a lack of fixed wing capable carriers with fixed wing AEW.

  • Freddythreepwood

    ‘ There was some resistance to the introduction of women to frontline duties back in 1990. But now no one notices.’

    If you believe that, you will believe anything.

    • Quanta_Cura

      Yes, I imagine it was disastrous but of course nobody is allowed to dare say that. The Marines and the Infantry have all this to look forward to, with the predictable: 1) Say standards won’t drop and morale/fraternisation/effectiveness problems won’t happen; 2) Problems do happen, but are hushed up, effectiveness suffers but la la la nobody listens; 3) Insufficiently high numbers of women get in, so standards are dropped after all, to remove the obvious “sexism” of having physical and endurance standards that take account of warfare rather than gender ideology; etc

    • Seadog

      The Admiral charged with introducing women into the RN used to share a cabin with me in CMS (I was Ist Lt). He got where he did by always doing what he was told by his superiors and never raising difficult questions. They liked that, but his subordinates and the crew didn’t. It has been a disaster, but of course no one dare say that. Today’s senior officers do not stand up to politicians, they know that if they do then that is finis to their career. Brown nosers like Tory MPs.

  • MrUnclevanya

    It is good to see those two Supercarriers eventually go into commissioning in time. However the reductions in all 3 services have left the Royal Navy stripped of enough staff, qualified and experienced sailors to man these two aircraft carriers. How many of our current Royal Navy sailors have experience of carrier borne tactics and flatop air operations. We do not even have an aircraft to fly off these carriers, the Tory muppets in their ‘alleged wisdom’ got rid of the Harriers. If we have to use VTOL suc as Harriers again, it looks like the MoD might have to buy them off the Yanks.

    We in the UK really do love to make a dogs dinner of our defence. It was a Tory Defence Minister under Thatcher who in their ‘wisdom’ decided to cut UK defence back in the 1980’s; thus encorouging the Argies to invake the Falkland Island back then. It appears that our Political Elites, including our Liarbor Marxist Muppets under Corbyn are as loony tunes as the Tory-Conmen are!!

    (Just like the Tory-scum inviting the Communist Chinese to invest, design and build and operate Nuclear Powers Station in the UK – what a load of BS is this. Our political masters just have NO ideas about anything, except sell off the whole UK PLc to the highest bidder for cash.

    • MATT2

      You haven’t a clue what you’re talking about.

  • Bertie

    The comment, first question some migrants asked was: ‘Where can I charge my iPhone?’ puts paid the lie that most of these migrants are genuine refugees. Fact after fact when taken collectively has pointedly proven that they are economic migrants and we owe them nothing.

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