Navy’s oldest front-line warship celebrates 39th birthday

Britain’s oldest front-line warship clocks up her 39th birthday today – on operations in the Gulf.

And while she’s old outwardly, her construction of Glass Reinforced Plastic means that the machinery and technology packed within her 60-metre-long hull can – and has been – constantly renewed and refreshed so that her 50 crew can keep on top of the latest mine threats.

The Hunt-class ship was ordered on the last day of March 1977 (when Abba filled the dancefloor with Knowing Me, Knowing You) and laid down that October at Vosper Thornycroft’s yard in Woolston, Southampton (as Queen unleashed We Are The Champions on the world).

The £65m spent on the ship at the time – over £360m today – made Ledbury the most expensive vessel in the Fleet – metre-by-metre.
It took Vosper more than two years to build her; sponsor Elizabeth Berthon, whose husband Vice Admiral Stephen Berthon was Deputy Chief of Defence Staff, launched the ship in December 1979.

She was guest of honour 18 months later when Ledbury was commissioned in Rosyth (the ship has subsequently moved her home to Portsmouth with the closure of the Scottish base).

When the ship entered service she could sweep mines, the traditional method of eliminating the threat, using mechanical, magnetic and acoustic to render mines harmless.

And she could hunt them down individually, using explosive charges placed by divers or submersibles to detonate the devices safely.
As mines become more advanced, minesweeping has passed into history in the RN, but the hunting continues, albeit with different kit than in 1981.

Led by Sonar 2193 which locates mines, and the small SeaFox submersible which pinpoints, identifies (via CCTV link) and neutralises them... or a mine clearance diver does the same manually… or recovers the mine if it’s a new type.

Her excellent condition and enduring readiness is testament to crews past and present and the supporting engineering organisation in maintaining her material state.

Commanding Officer, Lieutenant Commander Matt Ellicott

Her latest Commanding Officer, Lieutenant Commander Matt Ellicott said his ship was “39 years young and still very much at the tip of the sword of freedom, delivering on operations, regardless of conditions or climate.

“Her excellent condition and enduring readiness is testament to crews past and present and the supporting engineering organisation in maintaining her material state.”

The ship served in both Gulf wars – when the danger of mines has never been greater in recent decades – and has been stationed in Bahrain as part of a UK minehunting flotilla since 2017.

Since then, the ship – motto mors mina (‘Death to mines’) – has worked closely with her fellow UK minehunters, the US Fifth Fleet, other regional navies (notably Oman, the UAE, Qatar and Kuwait) and allies to support the ongoing safety and security of sea lanes in the Middle East, and generally promote Britain and the Senior Service.

She’s due to hand over duties shortly to her sister ship HMS Chiddingfold, which sailed from Portsmouth yesterday, and begin the 6,000-mile journey back to the UK.