Hello and welcome. Way back in 1966, nearly forty years ago,  I was the boss radioman in Submarine Auriga [named after the constellation Auriga [The {Roman} Charioteer] whose chief star is Capella, and we were stationed on Singapore spending our time in all areas of the Far East dived in the clear water  depths of the South China Sea, in the Eastern Indian Ocean and in the Philippine areas of the Pacific Ocean. 

Back home, in London and in the Admiralty, we had for the very first time a submariner running the navy in the form of the First Sea Lord Admiral Sir David Luce.  He was a popular admiral to the fleet at large and submariners, at least submarine commanding officers, were especially proud of his appointment and followed his every move mainly in broadsheet newspapers, one of which was the Straits Times. 

However, when at sea, that was not possible and the interest temporarily waned. 

Then it happened!

Ordinarily we received news of the outside world via our morse code broadcast, but once the story had hit the headlines, my skipper wanted that, plus, when possible [and it always was] a "This is London, here is the BBC World News....radio broadcast.  This was always preceded by the tune 'Lilliburlero' or at least a melody of a five-note motif of that tune, played here by the Corps Band of the Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers {R.E.M.E.} which is their Regimental March  CorpsQuickMarch.mp3

So what happened?  Well it was all to do with a promised aircraft carrier [just the one] which was put back and back and back until the thing was cancelled, and this despite the efforts of the full board of the Admiralty to get the hull into the fleet so that the mainly fixed wing airframes of the Fleet Air Arm could carry on flying, providing a sure and safe umbrella for the navy at sea.   The carrier programme was called the CVA-01, a big aircraft carrier [53,000 tons], designed for, as were the Eagle [in which I served] and the Ark Royal, fast heavy and sophisticated fighter bomber aircraft [the Buccaneer was one such airframe]. The project on the drawing board had the following time table - Order for ship confirmed 1965: Lay down ship - mid 1965: Launch - mid 1967: Ship in Service - mid 1970: Ship Operational - mid 1971. It was to be called HMS Queen Elizabeth and here are just two Admiralty artist's impressions of what the ship ordered would have looked like in the summer of 1965:-

To defend her, a powerful class of ship would be built which would be armed with every possible weapon to fight-off any attack made by air, surface or submarine and the only weapon she would not have [or preparation for in the future] was a helicopter. Why, they asked a helo and a hanger when she will be operating with an aircraft carrier throughout her life. This class of ship was the Type 82 and only one built when the the CVA-01 project was cancelled. This left this versatile weapon platform [well placed to be a command and control ship] in an embarrassing position when even the smallest frigate by that time had a Wasp helicopter and yet the Flagship was without. Elsewhere on my webpage's I will be mentioning that the second embarrassment of having only one all 'singing and dancing' warship HMS Bristol, led to their Lordships ordering several cheaper and smaller versions of the Type 82, and simply by halving the figure '8' in the title, they arrived at the Type 42 destroyer [earlier, there was a Type 42 frigate] and the admirals had to 'bite the bullet' so to speak!

  What we got instead, was a rapid conversion from fixed wing to rotary wing aviators and three new ships of a new type called the THROUGH DECK CRUISER, a small aircraft carrier [about 20,000 tons] with lots of helicopters and a few fixed wing assets.  They were built and named the Ark Royal, the Illustrious and the Invincible.

In 1966 we had a good sized navy necessitating a good size Board of admirals.  We had four Sea Lords plus COS and DCOS [Chiefs of Staff and Deputy] on the board, and they of course were powerful men with a great deal of naval clout. At that time the Labour Government were in office and the Minister of Defence was Dennis Healey. Mr Healey proved himself to be one of the better Ministers of Defence and the Labour Party's policy on Defence was as good as any Tory Government to that date:  the Tory cuts [when they were in power] prompted eminent Admirals of the Fleet like Lord Hill-Norton to come out publicly to alert the great British public to the weaknesses of the Fleet under their stewardship.   Note Lord Hill-Norton's stress on "the second attempt" . The second item is by Julian Critchley, a Conservative MP.  If you haven't the time to stop and read it all, please read the section in the bottom right hand corner which I have outlined in red.

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Dennis Healey had made the decision: the CVA-01 programme was dead; it was too costly as a package [aircraft frames and the ship itself]. The first ship would have been called HMS Queen Elizabeth which was voted on in 1963, which means that when we eventually get the new 21st century HMS Queen Elizabeth [believed to be 2014/15] a whole 52 years would have passed. By the way, our 21st century new carriers, now well known to be the Queen Elizabeth and the Prince of Wales, are in fact CFV-01 and CVF-02. When first designed the Admiralty artist had this image in the minds of naval personnel

We know now that the CVF-01/02 project will look very different to the original concept first discussed in 1997.  It will have two islands one for navigational and one for flying control [FlyCo] and will look something like this:-

To everybody's utter amazement, the WHOLE of the Admiralty Board took the huff and tendered their resignations, the 1st, 2nd, 3rd and 4th Sea Lords plus the Chief of Staff and the Deputy Chief of Staff. The Navy Minister, Christopher Mayhew MP., also resigned. My skipper got so excited that I was put on 'red alert' to be a radioman first and foremost, temporarily being relieved of my general submarine duties as a watch keeper in the control room working the after hydroplanes and at times running the plot for navigation purposes.

They [the full Board] were advised that they would be giving up their retirement lump sum payment [gratuity] and their hard earned naval pensions unless the resignations could be re-structured.  This they [wisely] readily did, but once the "money was in the bank" so to speak, they re-tendered their resignations and for the first time in our history, we had a navy without a helmsman [or helmsmen].

One can imagine the chaos in the MOD [affecting the Army and the Air Force as well as the Navy in tri-Service roles] and, though they didn't know it, affecting the whole population of the country without a cohesive plan of defence.  It was one of the biggest events in the calendar of UK Defence between the ending of WW2 and today [2005].

Dennis Healey did not, nor would he ever, back down. The Government's case had been made and the naval leaders must make alternative plans to achieve their aspirations whilst toeing the line on Government Departmental spending.

The navy had 'played its card' and there was no going back on their now internationally known mass resignations.

Then, the First Sea Lord decided to offer his head only, releasing the others from their fate.  Admiral Luce asked the then Commander-in-Chief Portsmouth Admiral Sir Varyl Begg if he would become the First Sea Lord on the understanding that the rest of the Board would stay to support him. This Admiral Begg agreed to do and the rudder was once again grasped by a competent hand. Under his leadership this Board accepted the three THROUGH DECK CRUISERS.

Admiral Sir David Luce, the first submariner to become First Sea Lord gave up his almost automatic promotion to Admiral of the Fleet, and suffered many other embarrassments and difficulties. Was he a fool or a brave man?  He was neither, just a highly professional, totally sincere naval officer, who read the future defence requirement correctly where politician cannot, and paid the price for his conviction.

I wonder if you have been following the story about the 'promised' HMS QUEEN ELIZABETH and the HMS PRINCE OF WALES?  If you have you will know that the progress is laboured,  moving right all the time, being reduced in displacement by many thousands of tons, and requiring a costly dredging of the Portsmouth Harbour approach from mid channel [between Horse Sands Fort and No Man's Land Fort] right up to Spit Sand Fort  and on through the harbour entrance proper.  Additionally, the argument rages about who will build them with the French [of all nations] looking as though they might have a major build-input.   The project is not at all secure yet!

The current [September 2005] C-in-C Fleet, Admiral Sir Jonathon Band KCB, is to become the 1SL from early in 2006 taking over from Admiral Sir Alan West.  At the end of Admiral Band's incumbency [2008'ish] the current 2SL Vice Admiral Sir James Burnell-Nugent, a submariner [note] should have every credential to eventually become the 1SL when Admiral Sir Jonathon Band retires just at about the time when the two new carrier issue goes critial - incidentally, when a young lieutenant serving in submarine Olympus he sent me the following letter at the time of Lord Mountbatten's funeral

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- and I wonder whether he will become yet another hapless submariner admiral who will see his aspirations frustrated {by fickle politicians} during his incumbency of the top office chair.  Today there are only two Sea Lords and the job of the Chief of Staff is done by the 1SL, so Board resignations wouldn't be as dramatic internationally as they were 40 years ago. Under normal peacetime rules UK admirals cannot become  Admirals of the Fleet*, but if these carriers are 'dead-in-the-water', Sir James might follow the example of Admiral Sir David Luce.

* Under an agreement hammered out some years ago, the size of the armed forces of any one country dictates the seniority of the top ranks.  The UK armed forces are such that they warrant rank to 4 Stars. In the navy, a Commodore is 1 star, Rear Admiral 2, Vice Admiral 3 and an Admiral 4 - and the CDS [Chief of the Defence Staff] be he a soldier, sailor or airman, is also a 4 star man. An Admiral of the Fleet, an army Field Marshal and an airforce Marshal of the Royal Air Force, are 5 star officers. It all makes sense and at a glance, one can tell what resources are available to any listed senior officer in terms of fighting men. The system gets rid of men like Idi Amin, the former Uganda despotic ruler who fashioned himself as a full 5 star officer [with a VC as well] when all he had to officer was a bunch of drug infested witch doctors. Here is a short list of countries showing their naval boss: New Zealand R.Admiral [2 star] David Ledson - Australia V.Admiral [3 star] Russ Shalders - Canada V. Admiral [3 star] Ron Buck - Netherlands V. Admiral [3 star] R.A.A. Klaver - Italy Admiral [4 star] Sergio Biraghi - USA Admiral [4 star] Vern Clark although of course only the USA can justify a 5 star man in charge of all the US Armed Forces. There is however an added proviso that should war come and the numbers on the ground increase many fold, the UK could see the 5 star system again. That leaves the question of the future King. Will HM King Charles III be a full ceremonial Admiral of the Fleet or will his naval rank mirror that of the most senior serving admiral at the time of his accession?

This article generated quite a lot of interest.  The underlying theme of that interest was why didn't our admirals resign when other "bad things" were about to be forced upon the Royal Navy. Here is part of an email which really sums-up what others have written and said on this matter. The author has for many many years, written articles on Naval Subjects, so his reaction is calculated and not irrational. 

 

The Author is Dennis Alderson, a retired Lieutenant Royal Navy whose email address is mailto:dukeofderby@ntlworld.com

"The recent announcement that Gay servicemen will be allowed to live in married quarters, whereas normal heterosexual partners are not.  Because of the Civil Partnership Act, these homosexuals of either gender will be entitled to many of the legal and tax privileges of normal married people.  They will be entitled to mutual tenancy rights, equal legal status, including the right to be recognised as next of kin, and exemption from inheritance tax.  They will also have the right to compensation if their partner is the victim of an accident or crime.  The world has gone made with Political Correctness and appeasement to the minority.

When the laws about homosexuality were changed in 1967, the Armed Forces were exempt.  Then in 2000, they caved in to political pressure etc. and changed the rules. Why didn't the CDS and all the top service people resign en masse?  Would you be happy to let your son or daughter aged 16 or 17 to join the Navy, knowing that if serving on say, a frigate, in a Mess of 8 or so people in a confined bunk space, one of the Mess members was a homosexual?  What of our (normal) rights? Should I not know whether any of my Messmates is queer, and if so, who?  Can I refuse a draft chit to a ship known to have queers onboard?  Not only that, but what about favouritism?  The boss of a department who is queer, fancies one of his/her subordinates - who is unwilling to indulge - what sort of 'write up' would he/she get?  Will future promotion be dependent on ones sexual orientation?  I'm glad that I left the Navy that did not allow homosexuals to join - what if the Lefty Liberals make it compulsory to be a 'shirt lifter' before you can join!  The mind boggles!
The question of females at sea, is also a contentious subject.  I think that human nature being what it is, there will always be problems.
My last minor moan is the decision of some dingbats in the MOD to accept the shift in uniform for females. How on earth can you make females look smart, dignified and to retain their feminine style, when dressed as sailors?  Surely, the old WRNS uniform was much admired by everybody, with their white shirts, black tie, jacket and skirt. "

Take care and good sailing.