The first, the last and an ‘almost’ – HMS Warrior, the USS Des Moines and HMS Gambia at anchor in Grand Harbour Malta, circa 1951

Richard Maddox

WITH THE WARSHIPS HMS Warrior, USS Des Moines and HMS Ganges at anchor, a gangle of colourful dgħajjes water taxis are busy plying their trade in Malta's Grand Harbour. Note the dgħajsa on the left of the frame that appears to have a two Royal Navy sailors aboard - one of whom seems to have an injured arm. Image copyright © IWM. IWM catalogue reference A 32044. Original source https://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205162973

WITH THE WARSHIPS HMS Warrior, USS Des Moines and HMS Ganges at anchor, a gangle of colourful dgħajjes water taxis are busy plying their trade in Malta’s Grand Harbour. Note the dgħajsa on the left of the frame that appears to have a two Royal Navy sailors aboard – one of whom seems to have an injured arm. Image copyright © IWM. IWM catalogue reference A 32044. Original source https://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205162973

LOW SUNLIGHT reflects off the steel flanks of three warships in Malta’s Grand Harbour and bounces of the water as brightly decorated local dgħajjes – a type of small boat, the design of which may date back to the Phoenicians – bob around them.

This is an interesting picture not just because of the naval units it captures but also because it gives an insight into a different life when Malta was more financially dependent on the Royal Navy than on tourism. (1)

Completed too late to see war service the aircraft carrier HMS Warrior (R 31) would see serve on loan with the Royal Canadian Navy, before being commissioned into the Royal Navy. It would join United Nations forces in Korea before becoming as a trials ship and testing many innovations destined for use by the Royal Navy. In 1959 the ship was commissioned as Argentina’s very first aircraft carrier. (2)

Another image taken at around the same time from the the air of the same three ships shows part of Warrior’s flight deck (ahead of the forward lift) stacked with stores a number of the carrier’s aircraft parked midships.

GRAND HARAN ELEVATED VIEW showing (left to right) HMS Warrior, USS Des Moines and the Crown Colonies class cruiser HMS Gambia. Note also the floating dock with a large merchant vessel aboard. Image copyright © IWM. IWM catalogue reference A 32043. Original source https://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205162972.BOUR from the air showing (left to right) HMS Warrior, USS Des Moines and the Fiji-class cruiser HMS Gambia. Note also the floating dock with a large merchant vessel aboard. Image copyright © IWM. IWM catalogue reference A 32043. Original source https://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205162972.

AN ELEVATED VIEW showing (left to right) HMS Warrior, USS Des Moines and the Crown Colonies class cruiser HMS Gambia. Note also the floating dock with a large merchant vessel aboard. Image copyright © IWM. IWM catalogue reference A 32043. Original source https://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205162972.

Behind HMS Warrior is the US Navy cruiser USS Des Moines (CA 134). It operated in the North Atlanitic and Meditteranean and was one of the last all-gun cruisers in the United States’ Navy. (3)

It was deccommissioned in 1961 and placed in reserve until it was taken to be scrapped in 2006. (4)

The final ship in the line-up (on the far right of the image) is HMS Gambia (C 38).

Affectionately known as FREDFearless, Reliable, Efficient and Dependable by her crew – HMS Gambia was a Crown Colonies Class light cruiser, a class of ship similar to HMS Belfast but differing in size and armour. (5)

Looking for a suitable example of the British MK XXIII 6-inch gun and its turret to add to the museum’s collection, a team from Imperial War Museum visited Portsmouth Naval base on the south coast of England in April 1967.

HMS Gambia was awaiting disposal and was looked over. While inspecting the ship the team realised that there was the chance to preserve a whole light cruiser and not just a single turret.

However one of the deciding factor in favour of HMS Belfast being aquired and preserved – first by the Belfast Trust which operated between 1975 and 1978 (6) and then by the Imperial War Museum – was that that ship was structurally in better condition than Gambia. (7) (8) 

HMS Gambia went to be broken up in December 1968. (9) 

Sources

(1) https://www.maltauncovered.com/culture/maltese-boats-luzzu/ – retrieved 13 March 2019

(2) https://www.militaryfactory.com/ships/detail.asp?ship_id=HMS-Warrior-R31– retrieved 13 March 2019

(3) https://www.goldstarmuseum.iowa.gov/about/ussdm – retrieved 13 March 2019

(4) https://www.globalsecurity.org/military/systems/ship/ca-134-program.htm – retrieved 13 March 2019

(5) http://hmsgambia.org/ – retrieved 13 March 2019

(6) https://beta.charitycommission.gov.uk/charity-details/?regid=268074&subid=0 – retrieved 13 March 2019

(7) http://hmsgambia.org/last.htm – retrieved 13 March 2019

(8)  https://britainatwar.keypublishing.com/2018/11/30/hms-belfast-a-national-treasure/ – retrieved 13 March 2019

(9) http://hmsgambia.org/last.htm – retrieved 13 March 2019