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A boat trip around Devonport in 1965


In the mid 1960’s when on holiday in Plymouth, usually 3 or 4 times a year, I often took sightseeing boat trips from Plymouth Hoe to Devonport dockyard to view the warships and auxiliaries on show. Regrettably, I never thought to record the names of the vessels at the time, but many decades later with the aid of official photos and records, I was able to recreate what was on offer to visitors during a particular trip in 1965. I re-produce it here and hope that it might be of interest:

On the clear morning of Monday the 10th May 1965, the ‘Dockyard and the Warships’ boat tour would have set off across Plymouth Sound towards the entrance to the river Tamar for the onward run up to the Naval Base. Immediately, the Royal Fleet Auxiliary tanker TIDEFLOW and Royal Navy landing ship LOFOTEN would be seen in the distance on their respective buoys near the Plymouth Breakwater.

Soon after entering the Tamar, the dockyard’s most southerly berth, the slip jetty, would be reached where the Federal German Navy depot ship MAIN lay awaiting her brood of 9 or 10 torpedo boats, due at Devonport the following morning.

Further upriver, a glance to the left towards the Cornish bank would take in the RFA tankers SURF PIONEER and BISHOPDALE tethered together on their unglamorous sounding ‘west mud’ river moorings.

Turning north, the ocean-going tug BUSTLER would come into view at 4 jetty with her sister tug SAMSONIA alongside her.

Passing the Torpoint Ferries, good views would then have been had of the frigates WIZARD and SALISBURY at 1 wharf, whilst beyond them in the adjacent 2 basin, the submarines AURIGA and OPPORTUNE lay on the west wall and north arm respectively. The three adjoining dry docks, 5, 6 and 7, on the eastern side of the basin, were home to the submarines ASTUTE in 5 and GRAMPUS in 6 with 7 being readied for occupation that afternoon.

Further north, 3 basin would be seen with the destroyer BARFLEUR and frigate LOCH RUTHVEN on its west wall whilst the destroyers DUNKIRK and CHAPLET lay together on its east wall ahead of the grab dredger ST MARTIN. The frigate ULYSSES occupied the basin’s northern wall.

Another look towards Cornwall would be rewarded with the sight of 4 more RFA tankers of various sizes side-by-side at their Gravesend river moorings, namely EDDYNESS, WAVE DUKE, OLNA and BIRCHOL.

Continuing upriver to the tidal 4 basin, good views would be had of the destroyers DARING and DIANA on the south wall as well as the frigates ULSTER, URSA and TORQUAY on the east wall.

Taking further advantage of 4 basin’s open entrance, the uppermost parts of the mooring vessel BARBECUE and the frigate CLEOPATRA would be glimpsed deep down and almost hidden in the distant 8 dock. Better views would have been had of the elegant cruiser TIGER as she sat in the adjacent and nearer 9 dock.

Outside of the basin on the short 4 wharf, a cluster of smaller craft were gathered with the tank cleaning vessel GRAEMSAY on the wharf-side with the minesweeper BRINTON alongside her. The inshore minesweepers BIRDHAM and ODIHAM lay attached to their larger sister.

Immediately ahead a drastic change at 5 wharf where the Royal Navy’s largest warship the 40,000+ ton aircraft carrier ARK ROYAL towered above everything else in the vicinity, her massive bulk always an impressive sight to boat-tripping visitors.

Passing the carrier, a trio of frigates would then be observed on 6 wharf namely TENBY, SCARBOROUGH and EASTBOURNE. There would be much activity here as all three were preparing to change berths later that morning before departing the base that afternoon.

Continuing on, another frigate threesome, YARMOUTH, PENELOPE and FALMOUTH would come into view on 7 wharf, the latter two also preparing to move later in the day.

Looking beyond 7 wharf into 5 basin, another impressive sight as the aircraft carrier HERMES would be seen at the southern end of the basin’s east wall with the frigate LLANDAFF and destroyer FINISTERRE together at the northern end. The prominent arm jutting out into the basin was home on its eastern side to the destroyer MATAPAN with the frigate URANIA alongside her. A few feet away secured to a dockyard service vessel the minesweeper FENTON shared the same general area. Just ahead at the arm’s extremity, the fast patrol boats GAY CHARGER and GAY CHARIOTEER kept station abreast of various small dockyard craft. The western side of the arm was taken up by the landing ship ZEEBRUGGE. Completing the basin scene, the submarine ONSLAUGHT occupied the northern part of the west wall with the frigate VERULAM at the southern end.

After the many attractions in 5 basin another imposing vessel, the cruiser LION would appear on 8 wharf with more activity evident as the ship made ready for another afternoon departure with the Commander-in-Chief, Home Fleet, embarked.

Travelling on, Weston Mill Lake would be seen on the right with the submarine depot ship ADAMANT and two submarines, OTTER and ALARIC alongside her on 10/11 wharves.

Immediately beyond on 12/13 wharves another good-looking group consisting of the destroyer depot ship TYNE, the celebrated cruiser BELFAST and the minesweeper BRERETON making up this particular ‘little and large’ show.

Further east along the dockside, the inshore minesweeper PUTTENHAM lay quietly at Drake’s Pier, the final dockyard berth.

At this point, having passed all dockyard docks, jetties and wharves, excursionists would have more opportunities to view vessels at the various Tamar trots starting with the frigate BRIGHTON at 2 buoy, yet another warship preparing for an afternoon departure.

Nearer the Cornish bank on the Wilcove moorings, the destroyer SCORPION could be seen in-between the frigates URCHIN and VENUS.

Further north four more RFA’s would be noted in line abreast at 1 Aircraft Carrier trot, specifically, the coastal tanker OAKOL, fleet support tanker WAVE LAIRD, stores ship FORT CONSTANTINE and the water carrier SPABECK.

Just ahead but still close to the Cornish bank on 2 Aircraft Carrier trot, the carrier MAGNIFICENT continued her long 8 year parking stint at this location. Sadly, like some of her near neighbours she would soon be off to the breakers.

Back in mid-stream, the frigates ROEBUCK and PETARD and armed trawler VACEASY would be observed at 2 Hamoaze trot.

A short distance up-river the destroyer SLUYS and frigate VIGILANT lay at 3 Hamoaze trot.

A little north again the destroyer CAMPERDOWN would be seen as the sole occupant of 1 Hamoaze trot.

From this position distant views would be had of the Tamar rail and road bridges linking Devon and Cornwall and forming an attractive backdrop to more vessels on their mid-river buoys.

The first group at 1 Saltash trot consisted of the monitor HMS ROBERTS with her battleship guns sandwiched in-between the frigates TENACIOUS and VIRAGO.

Up ahead, the landing ships LST 3031 and TRACKER lay together at 2 Saltash trot.

A little further on, the frigate LOCH FYNE would be seen as the middle ship at 1 Coombe Bay trot with the minesweeper ONYX and the survey vessel COOK on either side of her.

Finally, just before the bridges at 2 Coombe Bay trot, the last of the ships on show would be observed, namely the despatch vessel ALERT in-between the minesweeper JEWEL and survey vessel SHACKLETON.Devonport aerial 10 May 1965 Tamar trots.jpg

Having reached the end of the outward journey, boat-trippers would now have the benefit of a run back through the same waters to where they started from, hopefully, having enjoyed their ‘Dockyard and the Warships’ experience of over 80 vessels, a far cry from today’s meagre offerings!

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