News story

Warships in London for Battle of Atlantic commemorations

This news article was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government

Three Royal Navy warships are in London to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the Battle of the Atlantic.

HMS Edinburgh, the last of the fleet’s Type 42 destroyers, is on her first stop on a round-Britain farewell tour which ends nearly 30 years of service. She is joined in the capital this week by the giant helicopter carrier HMS Illustrious, and Sandown class minehunter HMS Blyth for 6 days of events commemorating the longest military campaign of the Second World War, the Battle of the Atlantic.

Watched by hundreds of people on both banks of the Thames on Tuesday, 7 May, HMS Edinburgh glided under Tower Bridge - where she faced a barrage of camera flashes from eager tourists - to berth alongside museum ship HMS Belfast, sister of her forebear, which was sunk in the Arctic 71 years ago.

HMS Edinburgh passes under Tower Bridge
HMS Edinburgh passes under Tower Bridge on Tuesday 7 May [Picture: Sergeant Jez Doak, Crown copyright]

Yesterday, 8 May, HMS Illustrious took all of her 22,500-tonne bulk down the river and through the Thames Barrier en route to her Greenwich moorings.

Captain Martin Connell, the commanding officer of HMS Illustrious, said:

We are delighted to be in London for the Battle of the Atlantic commemorations. HMS Illustrious has a very close affiliation with the city, which we will be aiming to strengthen further through a very busy programme of events.

It is, however, a very poignant occasion and we look forward to welcoming onboard some of those who served through the longest and one of the most costly campaigns of the Second World War.

HMS Illustrious transits the River Thames to berth at Greenwich

This month, the 70th Anniversary of the Battle of the Atlantic (BOA 70) will culminate with a series of events in Liverpool. The city was home to the Western Approaches Command in the Second World War – it was from here that the struggle against the German U-boat was successfully directed.

The BOA70 commemorations are as follows:

  • London during 8-13 May, Derry-Londonderry between 10-12 May, building up to the main event in Liverpool from 24-28 May.

  • In Derry-Londonderry, a Royal Navy ship visit is planned to support the dedication of a new memorial statue by the Royal Naval Association and a special wreath-laying ceremony.

  • Finally in Liverpool, up to 25 Royal Navy and international ship visits are planned in support of the city’s core commemoration day, Sunday 26 May, which includes a day-time Cathedral Service, a march through the city by current Naval and Merchant naval personnel as well as veterans, and a fly past of the Fleet Air Arm’s pride and joy, the Fairey Swordfish.

HMS Illustrious's Commanding Officer, Captain Martin Connell, takes charge
HMS Illustrious's Commanding Officer, Captain Martin Connell, takes charge as the ship transits through the Thames Barrier [Picture: Leading Airman (Photographer) Ray Jones, Crown copyright]

In London, as well as the presence of the Royal Navy warships, an Evensong Service at St Paul’s Cathedral, a Merchant Navy Memorial Service and a charity fundraising dinner will all help to raise awareness of the importance of the maritime community to the UK economy, with London as the political and financial centre.

BOA70 coming events

The packed programme of events which the Royal Navy is supporting includes:

Thursday May 9

5.30pm Charity fundraising dinner on HMS Illustrious in aid of Seafarers UK and the Royal Navy / Royal Marines Charity

Friday May 10

12.15pm Ship’s company at Tower of London for Ceremony of the Dues

Saturday May 11

10am-2pm HMS Illustrious Open to Visitors at Greenwich

1pm Merchant Navy Memorial Service at Trinity Gardens

6pm Fly Navy Heritage Trust Reception and Dinner on HMS Illustrious

Sunday May 12

10.30am-2pm HMS Illustrious Open to Visitors at Greenwich

HMS Illustrious transits the Thames Barrier
HMS Illustrious transits the River Thames Barrier [Picture: Petty Officer (Photographer) Ray Jones, Crown copyright]

During the warships’ visits, there is also a host of recruitment events and ship tours organised for local community groups and schools and colleges, plus members of HMS Illustrious’ ship’s company will interact with many of their affiliate organisations in London.

All 3 ships are providing crew members to act as step liners and attend the St Paul’s commemorative event. On completion they will march to the Mansion House accompanied by the Plymouth Band of Her Majesty’s Royal Marines.

HMS Edinburgh’s farewell tour

HMS Edinburgh transits the River Thames to berth at Greenwich

HMS Edinburgh will spend the next 3 weeks sailing around Britain - first to London, then the Scottish capital and finally Liverpool as part of a farewell tour, a goodbye not just to Edinburgh herself but also a class of ship which has served the Navy and nation with distinction, and paid the ultimate price in doing so on occasions: the Type 42 destroyer.

The Type 42s have been the safeguards of the Fleet against air attack since the 1970s and have seen action in every major conflict and police action which the Royal Navy has been involved in over the past four decades, from the Falklands and two Gulf wars to UN peacekeeping duties in the Adriatic in the 1990s and, most recently against pro-Gaddafi forces in the 2011 Libyan civil war.

HMS Edinburgh passes under Tower Bridge
HMS Edinburgh passes under Tower Bridge as she comes alongside in London [Picture: Leading Airman (Photographer) Dan Rosenbaum, Crown copyright]

But, with all 6 Type 45 destroyers, 21st-Century successors to the Type 42s, now in the hands of the Royal Navy, and 4 of them operational, the hour has come for the last of the veteran 14 Sheffield-class to sail into the sunset.

Edinburgh will continue Battle of the Atlantic commemorations by attending a Merchant Navy ceremony in Tower Hill on Saturday, and by joining up to two dozen warships in Liverpool later this month at the climax of events over the Spring Bank Holiday weekend; see the Royal Navy official Battle of the Atlantic website.