'Absolutely brilliant' Battle of the Atlantic events conclude in Liverpool

Three days of Battle of the Atlantic commemorations have ended in Liverpool with organisers and public equally delighted by the maritime spectacle.

A ‘parade of sail’ by merchant vessels and flypast from a Swordfish torpedo bomber to the sound of the Band of His Majesty’s Royal Marines Scotland performing a Beat Retreat brought the curtain down on three days of events remembering the longest, hardest battle the Royal Navy has ever fought and, crucially, won.

The final day of 80th anniversary commemorations focused on remembrance, beginning with the dedication of a memorial to the often-overlooked sacrifice of more than 400 Poles who never returned home.

Polish consul general Michał Mazurek joined veterans groups in unveiling a memorial to his countrymen who served in the Atlantic in warships – such as the destroyer Błyskawica or legendary submarine Orzeł – merchant vessels and also with the RAF’s Coastal Command. 

That was followed by a traditional drumhead service on Liverpool’s waterfront - from where warships and merchant vessels once sailed to run the U-boat gauntlet in the North Atlantic.

A forest of flags and standards from veterans groups – numbers bolstered by the annual gathering of the Royal Naval Association in the city – rose above spectators who saw, first, the Battle of Britain’s Memorial Flight make its third appearance of the weekend, then the Swordfish performing its first of two displays of the final day.

Attention then shifted to Exchange Flags – the imposing office block complex which houses the Western Approaches Command, headquarters of the Atlantic battle - where around 1,000 sailors (British, French, American from the three major warships attending events on the Mersey) veterans’ groups and cadets began their march through the heart of the city before passing a small number of veterans, who took the salute.

The three-day event has been blessed with perfect weather and large crowds – especially yesterday and today – with thousands of people descending on the ‘military village’ near the iconic Liver Building.

Gary Doyle, Chairman of the Battle of the Atlantic Memorial Trust – and a former senior naval officer – is delighted at how the weekend has panned out.

“I think it’s been fantastic and gone spectacularly. The event has gone from strength to strength and Liverpool has really embraced it. And look at the performance of the military personnel over the weekend – out of this world.”

Berthed nearby at the city’s Cruise Liner Terminal all weekend alongside the French destroyer FS Bretagne, HMS Defender has been one of the biggest draws for the public.

As well as showing off their kit, quarters and general living conditions on board, the ship’s company have used the opportunity to highlight the work the RN does to preserve today’s maritime lifelines – out of sight, and often out of mind of the general public.

The Type 45 welcomed well over 1,000 visitors, among them Bernard Mycock and Caroline Howard from Buxton in Derbyshire who praised the RN for the “absolutely brilliant” opportunity to see a state-of-the-art warship and meet her 200 men and women.

“The whole event has been great - a brilliant opportunity to come onboard. We’ve found it really interesting,” said Caroline.

“It also makes you feel really proud - it’s very important to remember what was done for us.”

Though principally focused on air defence, in a 21st-Century Battle of the Atlantic HMS Defender would potentially fulfil the role of WW2 escort carriers.

Flight Commander Lieutenant George Lunn explains: “We are returning to maritime strike – something the Swordfish used to perform against German shipping in the Battle of the Atlantic.

“We’ve replaced a squadron of Swordfish with one Wildcat to carry out that role, operating from a destroyer like Defender, and the Sea Venom missile has effectively replaced the Swordfish’s torpedo.”

Warfare specialist Able Seaman William Brand feels a strong connection with the Battle of the Atlantic, from serving in ships at the forefront of technology - “both at the limit what was or is capable for the time” - to a family connection.

“This is really important to me as we can leave our mark in history just as my grandfather did, not only carrying out the tradition of the Royal Navy, but also the family tradition which binds us to the Service and binds us to the country, and why we remain the Senior Service to this day.”

For Defender’s Commanding Officer Commander Peter Evans the weekend was a mix of homecoming – he hails from Wallasey, just a mile from the ship’s berth on the Mersey, with around 20 of his crew also drawn from Liverpool and the North West – thanksgiving to veterans and a chance to highlight the work of today’s RN to the people it serves.

“Defender is a modern-day combat escort, so escorting out in the Battle of the Atlantic would absolutely have been our task,” he said.

“People probably don’t realise that 95 per cent of the UK’s trade goes by sea, and 98 per cent of the world’s data passes through undersea cables - and it’s ships like Defender and her fantastic sailors who provide that security.”

The event has gone from strength to strength and Liverpool has really embraced it. And look at the performance of the military personnel over the weekend - out of this world.

Gary Doyle, Battle of the Atlantic Memorial Trust chairman