11 October 2011

No wonder we can't even topple a tin-pot gangster like Gaddafi: Invincible, pride of the Falklands, is broken up in knacker's yard

As senior Naval officers back First Sea Lord Admiral Sir Mark Stanhope's criticisms of the ability of the Navy to fight in Libya, Commander John Muxworthy, who sailed to the Falklands with the Royal Navy Task Force, looks at the ignominious end of a symbol of the once-mighty British fleet.

Unseemly death of a courageous veteran: Like a tired but noble beast brought down by jackals, HMS Invincible's carcass is picked clean in a Turkish scrapyard

The image is a poignant symbol of Britain’s rapid decline as a maritime power. With her metallic carcass exposed, the once mighty aircraft carrier HMS Invincible languishes in a Turkish port, being broken up for scrap.

The ship was once the pride of the Royal Navy, a hero of the Falklands War and a veteran of other conflicts from Iraq to Yugoslavia.

Watery grave: The Invincible is just one of many ships sent to Aligia to be broken down

But now, as Britain’s naval heritage is obliterated by an irresponsible Coalition Government, she faces an utterly degrading end.

What makes the image all the more shaming is how it reflects the profound concerns of First Sea Lord Admiral Sir Mark Stanhope, who said this week that Britain’s defences will be at risk if the war in Libya drags on, because our naval fleet can operate there for only another 90 days before it has to make serious cuts in firepower elsewhere.

An ignominious end: Workers take a break amid debris from the broken-down HMS Invincible in the Port of Aliaga in Turkey

Once Invincible’s 22,000-ton hull has been stripped of all valuable material, she will be melted down by the Turkish firm of Leyal into thousands of one-metre long blocks of steel, which will be recycled and used for building reinforcement, bridge cables, and more mundane objects such as office furniture.

HMS Invincible, launched in 1977, may have been coming to the end of her life, though with a refit she could have stayed in service for years to come.
But her demise is part of a wider pattern of brutal defence cuts that have left Britain dangerously vulnerable.

A digger helps move some of the parts stripped from the ships

When I joined the Navy in 1960, we had 12 aircraft carriers, along with 30 cruisers and 150 frigates and destroyers.

Today, we have just 19 frigates, no major warships, and a single aircraft carrier, Illustrious, which can carry only  helicopters and has no deck for fixed  wing-aircraft.

Moreover, all 60 Harriers have been withdrawn from naval service, which means that Britain, once the greatest sea power in the world and a pioneer of naval aviation — and still an island nation needing a navy to keep its food and fuel coming in times of conflict — has little real capability in its Fleet Air Arm.

The Government boasts it has ordered two new aircraft carriers, but neither will come into service before 2020, and it is almost certain that one will immediately be mothballed to save money. So, for almost a decade, Britain will be without an effective carrier, just at a time when other powers such as China, Brazil and Russia are launching a new generation of such vessels.

Final resting place: The once-mighty warship meets its end in Turkey among decommissioned cruise ships and oil tankers

David Cameron is fond of claiming that a government’s first duty is national self-defence but the Coalition has hardly lived up to that rhetoric. In the Navy alone, 5,000 jobs are to go — meaning that personnel will fall below 30,000 for the first time in centuries.

Never in our history has there been a British government with less understanding of our defence needs.

Part of the problem is none of today’s senior politicians has served in the forces — unlike, for example, the Labour government in the Seventies with Jim Callaghan, Denis Healey and Roy Jenkins, who served in World War II.
The result is the chasm between the lofty pretensions of Britain’s foreign policy and the reality of the disastrous impact of defence cuts, as exemplified by the overstretch in Libya and Afghanistan.

Given the ongoing destruction of the Navy, it is simply not credible that we could mount a Falklands campaign today, as pointed out by Task Force commander Admiral Sandy Woodward in the Mail yesterday.
Our operation in 1982 involved about 100  vessels, two-thirds of them naval craft, the rest support vessels like the liner Canberra,  converted into a troopship, in which I served as a liaison officer. We have nothing like those resources today.

HMS Invincible sits in the Port of Aliaga, Turkey, earlier this year, waiting to be scrapped and recycled

Aboard Canberra I remember feeling a tremendous sense of comfort from the knowledge that Invincible was at the head of the Task Force.

Weighing 22,000 tons, with a runway 560ft long, a top speed of 28 knots and carrying nine Hawker Harriers and 12 Sea King helicopters — one of them flown by Prince Andrew — the Invincible was a formidable asset.

Without her, the Task Force would have struggled to provide an effective response to the Argentine invasion, not least because our troops would have been deprived of air cover.

End of the journey: HMS Invincible enters the naval dockyard in Plymouth for the last time in 2005

Built by the famous engineering giant of Vickers at its Barrow-on-Furness yards, she could cope with any conditions, no matter how wild the seas or how aggressive the Argentine attacks.

The great irony of Invincible’s triumph in the South Atlantic was that, shortly before the Argentine invasion, the government had been negotiating to sell her to Australia for about £175 million, regarding her as surplus to naval requirements.

But that idea was immediately put on hold once the plans for the Task Force were put together, and she went on to play her pivotal role in the recapture of the islands. 

HMS Invincible : During the days of her service with Royal Navy

After the war, she gave another 2 decades of magnificent service — helping to enforce the no-fly zone in southern Iraq during the late Nineties and serving in Nato’s operations in the Balkans in 1999.

Based in the Adriatic, she enabled Harriers to carry out air strikes against Serbia, as well as rescuing Kosovan refugees. It was not until 2005 that she was decommissioned.

With her demise, we have lost another part of Britain’s glorious naval tradition. Our greatest naval hero, Lord Nelson, would be weeping at what has happened to his beloved Royal Navy, with centuries of excellence being ripped apart in a Turkish scrapyard.

Source: Daily Mail. By Commander John Muxworthy. 15 June 2011

No comments: