OCTOBER 2020 saw the decommissioning of a unique Royal Navy warship design after almost 50 years’ service.
HMS Bristol was the sole example built of the Type 82 class large destroyer escorts.
These were to have been a class of four ships designed in the 1960s to protect four new aircraft carriers, the first of which ship was to be named ‘Queen Elizabeth’.
But times were changing and with the country’s overseas commitments being reduced as British colonies gained independence the need for the new carriers and their escorts was deemed unnecessary.
Britain believed that smaller and cheaper ships could be used to defend its interests and to fulfil its part in the NATO alliance and so carrier programme was cancelled in 1966 together with the majority of its destroyer escorts.
However it was decided destroyers should be built and used to test and demonstrate new technology.
Construction started in 1967 and HMS Bristol entered service in 1973.
Its three-funnel arrangement – for its dual steam and gas turbine propulsion systems – marked it out and it was the first Royal Navy ship to be armed with the Australian Ikara air-dropped torpedo system, the Sea Dart missile system and the unmanned Mk 8 gun. These and other weapon systems would later be built into subsequent designs of frigates and guided missile destroyers.
Besides carrying a variety of missiles and an advanced gun, the ship also had a weapon system developed from one used in the Second World War – the ‘Limbo’ anti-submarine mortar. Housed in a well on the aft deck, this was also be fitted to a number of Royal Navy frigates in the 1960s.
Later when the ‘Limbo’ was withdrawn from service the vacant well on HMS Bristol was used as a makeshift swimming pool.
In 1982 it was believed that Bristol was coming to the end of its useful life and would be retired. (1)
But in April of that year the ship’s role changed from that of a trials ship to that of a flagship as it joined those sent to defend the Falkland Islands. Here its air defence extensive communications capabilities capability were particularly valued.
During the brief campaign the ship fired its Sea Dart missiles against Argentine aircraft but did not bring down any of the attackers.
Royal Navy losses meant that HMS Bristol remained in frontline service until being recommissioned as a sea-going training ship in 1987.
In 1991 the ship was officially decommissioned but continued as a static training ship at Whales Island in Portsmouth Harbour. Here besides training engineers and medical staff the ship would also host Sea Cadets and similar groups for almost 30 years. It is estimated that up to 17,000 individuals visit the ship in some capacity each year (2)
Although its active frontline service role was brief, the ship –
considered by some a ‘white elephant’ – played a role in introducing many thousands of people to a career in the Royal Navy as well as proving the design of much of the systems used on later ships.
(1) https://www.thedrive.com/the-war-zone/37318/britains-cold-war-era-monster-destroyer-has-finally-been-retired – retrieved 5 November 2020
(2) https://www.royalnavy.mod.uk/our-organisation/bases-and-stations/training-establishments/hms-excellent/hms-bristol – retrieved 5 November 2020
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