Video: Part four of the EDP series focusing on the proud names that have an eventful history

HMS Norfolk - Sea trials 16 Jan 1990 HMS Norfolk - Sea trials 16 Jan 1990

Thursday, January 16, 2014
11:07 AM

In our continuing series looking at air and sea power in the county, MARK NICHOllS recalls warships that have carried the name HMS Norfolk and how a vessel named HMS Yarmouth pioneered flight from ships.

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King George VI on board HMS Norfolk  in 1942, following the sinking of BismarckKing George VI on board HMS Norfolk in 1942, following the sinking of Bismarck

For more than three centuries, warships have fought under the name HMS Norfolk in every corner of the globe.

Long before vessels of battleship grey bore the name, wooden warships proudly sailed as HMS Norfolk; from the first, which gained renown at Velez Malaga in 1704 to another HMS Norfolk which helped snare the Bismarck and the Scharnhorst in World War Two. More recently, the sixth and last HMS Norfolk patrolled the Northern Arabian Gulf where it played a critical role in the global war on terrorism.

A Type 23 destroyer, it was axed in the same round of defence cuts of 2004 which saw RAF Coltishall – which was affiliated to the ship – close. After visits to say farewell to the county of its name in November 2004, with the crew exercising the right to march through Norwich for the final time after the ship was given the freedom of the city in 1998, HMS Norfolk left service with the Royal Navy in March 2005. She was sold to the Chilean navy in November 2006 and renamed the Almirante Cochrane.

There have been three post-WWI ships named after Norfolk, but prior to that there was a gap of 120 years between 1806 and 1927 when the Royal Navy was without an HMS Norfolk.

The first HMS Norfolk, with a displacement of 1184 tons, was an 80-gun third rate ship and saw service between 1693 and 1749.

Named after Henry Howard, the 7th Duke of Norfolk (1655-1701), she was used for many duties in the Mediterranean and the West Indies seeing action in 1704 at Velez Malaga and for a final time in 1744 near France before being broken up at Plymouth five years later.

Within a decade her successor, also a third rate vessel, was afloat. Built at Deptford, displacing 1556 tons and with 74 guns, she was launched on December 8, 1757, and also saw service in the West Indies, eventually becoming the flagship of the Commander in Chief East Indies station, Rear Admiral Charles Stevens and later Vice Admiral Samuel Cornish. The ship was decommissioned on return to Portsmouth in 1764 and broken up in 1774.

Details of a third HMS Norfolk are sketchy. It seems a cutter hired by the Royal Navy bore the name Norfolk between 1804 and 1806 but there are no further details in existence. She certainly wasn’t at Trafalgar.

It was more than 120 years before another Royal Navy warship would carry on the tradition and be named HMS Norfolk, but this fourth vessel possibly saw the most action with a service career spanning World War II, a conflict she survived – albeit with a few close calls.

A well-armed County Class Cruiser of 9925 tons displacement, she was launched on December 12, 1928 and completed on April 30, 1930.

With the outbreak of WWII, she underwent enhancements and soon after suffered battle damage requiring repairs from a near miss by a torpedo from U47, the same submarine that sank HMS Royal Oak in Scapa Flow.

What many regard as HMS Norfolk’s finest hour came in May 1941 in the search for the German warships Bismarck and Prinz Eugen. Norfolk, with HMS Rodney and HMS King George V, engaged the Bismarck on May 23 and were involved in the pursuit of the German vessel with other British ships until it was eventually sunk four days later.

Later acting as escort for the Russian convoys, Norfolk was with the Home Fleet that lured the German battle cruiser Scharnhorst into a well-prepared trap. During the pursuit, which eventually saw the Scharnhorst sunk on December 26, 1943, in the Battle of North Cape, HMS Norfolk fired the shot that crippled the German vessel’s radar. However, battle damage sustained in a retaliatory strike meant essential repairs needed for HMS Norfolk left it unable to take part in the Normandy landings.

After the war she left Plymouth for a refit in Malta, followed by duties in the East Indies as Flagship of the Commander in Chief East Indies Station. In 1949, she was recalled to the UK and placed in reserve service, sailing to Newport on February 14, 1950, to be broken up after 22 years’ service with battle honours in the Atlantic (1941), Arctic (1941-43), North Africa (1942), North Cape (1943) and Norway (1945).

The fifth HMS Norfolk was launched by Lavinia, Duchess of Norfolk in November 1967 and commissioned in March 1970. The Prince of Wales served aboard the Guided Missile Destroyer for two years in his first seagoing appointment.

HMS Norfolk was the first Royal Navy vessel to be armed with the Exocet missile system and was the first to carry three independent missile systems – Exocet, Seaslug and Seacat. Her deployments took her to the Mediterranean, Indian Ocean and South Pacific and Australia.

But on February 17, 1982 and renamed as Captain Pratt, HMS Norfolk was officially handed over to the Chilean Navy.

The last HMS Norfolk, with a crew of 180, was built at Yarrow Shipbuilders on the Clyde and launched by Princess Margaret on July 11, 1987. She entered service as the first of the Navy’s Duke Class of Type 23 Frigates on November 24, 1989, as a heavily armed modern warship with extensive automation and computer systems. As an anti-submarine vessel she also had unique stealth qualities that enabled her to “fool” watching radar.

With a displacement of 4,000 tonnes, 133 metres long, a beam of 16 metres and a draft of seven metres, she was deep enough to contain the special sensory equipment for the anti-submarine warfare it was designed for in the latter stages of the Cold War.

Radar systems included long-range, high definition and target identification and the ship also had a powerful array of weaponry: vertically-launched Sea Wolf defence missiles; surface-to-surface sea skimming Harpoon missiles, a 4.5 inch gun; close range gunnery systems; and anti-submarine weaponry including depth charges and the stingray torpedo.

The Lynx helicopter extended this with an ability to attack submarines with torpedoes and depth charges, and the capability to carry a 50 calibre machine gun and Sea Skua anti-ship missiles.

With the motto Serviens Servo (Serving, I Preserve), she served in Sierra Leone, the Mediterranean and the Persian Gulf from October 2003, patrolling the region’s sea lanes in a bid to counter the global terrorist threat and foil attempts to smuggle oil out of Iraq.

The six-month deployment in the Gulf on patrol alongside American and Australian warships in one of the world’s more dangerous sea lanes was its last major active role. The threat was from small craft – dhows with hidden missile and grenade launchers or speedboats packed with explosive - to be rammed at high speed into the ship’s grey hull by suicide bombers.

At the time the captain, Commander Tony Radakin, would direct operations from the bridge from a sleek Lotus Elise racing seat with a headrest bearing the crest “CO HMS Norfolk”. It was presented by the car makers after a visit to the region by the ship.

After its final active role, HMS Norfolk bade farewell to the county and the organisations she was closely affiliated to including the City of Norwich, King’s Lynn, Great Yarmouth, the 1st Battalion Royal Anglian Regiment, RAF Coltishall and several training ships in the area before sailing back into her home port of Plymouth under the White Ensign for the last time on November 25, 2004.

There have also been six ships of the Royal Navy which have borne the name HMS Yarmouth, after the port of Great Yarmouth. The first HMS Yarmouth was a 50-gun ship launched in 1653 while the second was a 70-gun third rate launched in 1695.

A 64-gun vessel bearing the name and launched in 1745 saw action in the American War of Independence. She was refitted as a 60-gun ship in 1781, used as a receiving ship from 1783 and was broken up in 1811.

The fourth HMS Yarmouth was a lighter launched in 1798, while the fifth ship to be named after the port was a Town class light cruiser, launched in 1911, which helped pioneer powered flight from warships. Between 1910 and 1914, several navies experimented with flying planes off ships. The Royal Naval Air Service (RNAS) approach was to have ships carrying small platforms from which aircraft could take off. Techniques developed and had become more advanced when on June 28, 1917, a Sopwith Pup aircraft successfully took off from a flying-off platform mounted on the roof of a gun turret aboard HMS Yarmouth.

On August 21, Second Lieutenant B.A. Smart similarly took off from HMS Yarmouth, which had been escorting a mine-laying force in the Heligoland Bight. Climbing to 7,000 feet he attacked the Zeppelin L23 from above, and shot it down, killing all the crew. Ditching in the North Sea, he was recovered by HMS Prince. The ship served until 1929.

The sixth and final HMS Yarmouth was a Rothesay-class frigate launched in 1959 and served in the Falklands War of 1982 before being decommissioned in 1986. The Type 12 frigate, however, came to a sad and ill-befitting end; towed out into the North Atlantic in 1987 and used as target practice by HMS Manchester, which eventually sunk her.

Yarmouth also had a military role during both world wars. In WWI, the Royal Naval Air Service operated seaplanes from a base on the South Denes to counter the threat of Zeppelin airships while in WWII offensive operations were conducted from the port.

HMS Miranda was a base for minesweeping trawlers and HMS Midge a base for motor torpedo boats and gun boats.

There have also been ships named HMS Norwich, HMS Lynn and HMS Cromer, which was a Royal Navy Sandown Class minehunter until she was de-commissioned in 2001.

More recently, with no ship bearing the name HMS Norfolk or HMS Yarmouth, the county and port’s links to the Royal Navy are sustained through HMS Dauntless, the second ship of the Type 45, or Daring-class, of air-defence destroyers built for the Royal Navy.

The Type 45 destroyers are primarily designed for anti-aircraft and anti-missile warfare with the capability to defend against aircraft and drones as well as supersonic sea skimming anti-ship missiles. With a mission “to shield the Fleet from air attack”, the 7,350-tonne Type 45 destroyer uses the sophisticated Sea Viper air-defence system.

Formally joining the fleet in November 2010, she is affiliated to Great Yarmouth and the county of Norfolk. The destroyer visited the port in February 2013, with the crew formally marching through the town and there are plans for the vessel to be back in Yarmouth in “early-to-mid 2014” according to her commanding officer Commander Adrian Fryer.

See for more on the six HMS Norfolks and the vessel which carried the name HMS Yarmouth.

Tomorrow: The rise of the RAF in Norfolk as air power grows in importance.