A walk around Devonport dockyard in 1979


On a bitterly cold January day in 1979 I undertook a lunchtime walk from Devonport's most southerly berth to its northernmost point via the Yard's basins, jetties and wharves. Despite the bone-chilling temperature I managed to jot down everything I came across en-route which may be of interest to some members. Full details as follows:

‘Starting inside the historic covered slipway alongside the lower reaches of the river Tamar at the southernmost point of the Yard, the northward walk began with a short journey around the Shallow dock to the impressive No 3 building slip where the aircraft carrier HMS TERRIBLE (later HMAS SYDNEY) and the battleship HMS WARSPITE plus many other fine ships were built. After a pause to reflect on the great industrial activity that was once commonplace at this long silent and deserted slipway, the walk continued past the slip jetty and onto 1 jetty where the landing ship RFA SIR BEDIVERE and the huge stores ship RFA STROMNESS lay quietly together, whilst the minesweeper HMS UPTON sat alongside the south wall of the nearby No1 basin. The long-range salvage tug RMAS TYPHOON occupied the adjacent 1 dock.

Walking on past a vacant and freezing 2 jetty and 2 dock, the ocean-going tug RMAS ROYSTERER was soon reached on 3 jetty with the survey vessel HMS HECATE close by in 3 dock. Pressing on over an unoccupied 4 jetty and 4 dock, the harbour oilers RMAS OILMAN and RMAS OILSTONE then appeared on 5 jetty. This marked the end of the South Yard dockside walk so a swift detour and march along the dockyard link road to the more active North Yard was necessary.

Some ten minutes later just after arriving in North Yard, a welcome stop was made inside the warm cathedral sized Frigate Refit Complex where the three side-by-side dry docks were all occupied by Leander class frigates namely HMS ANDROMEDA, HMS CLEOPATRA and HMS GALATEA. After a couple of sandwiches and a jam tart, a slow stroll up and down the sides of each ship revealed their individual refit states.

Returning outside again to the adjoining 2 basin, the inshore minesweepers HMS AVELEY, HMS DITTISHAM and HMS FLINTHAM shared the north wall with the Type 21 frigate HMS AMAZON. Another Type 21 HMS ARROW lay on the south wall alongside the Leander class name ship HMS LEANDER herself. Yet another Leander HMS PENELOPE occupied the west wall whilst the basin’s river berth – 1 Wharf, was home to the Type 12 frigate HMS FALMOUTH and Type 21 HMS ALACRITY.

Heading northwards again along the icy cold riverside, an empty 2 wharf was quickly passed where a left glance across the Tamar revealed the large fleet tanker RFA OLNA on the quaintly named Yonderberry Jetty. Looking the opposite way into 3 basin the trials ship RMAS WHITEHEAD and the Leander HMS ARGONAUT were seen on the east wall with another Leander HMS ARIADNE prominent on the south wall. The minesweeper HMS WALKERTON occupied a position on the west wall.

Striding on past the small boat camber containing MoD Police launches and other similar sized craft, 3 wharf was quickly reached where another Type 12 frigate HMS BRIGHTON was secured to the Tribal class frigate HMS MOHAWK. Looking into the tidal 4 basin, several auxiliary vessels lay together including RMAS ADVICE, ALSATION, CHARLOTTE, CHRISTINE, CORGI, DORIS, FAITHFUL, MYRTLE and NANCY with the imposing floating crane CL10 towering above them all. Other auxiliary vessels noted during the walk included RMAS BIBURY, FULBECK, LADYBIRD, ROBUST and WATERFOWL.

Strolling around 4 basin the Type 21 HMS ACTIVE was passed on the south wall followed by the Leander HMS DIDO on the east. The north wall was taken up by the maintenance ship HMS BERRY HEAD where a slow upper deck promenade was planned. Unfortunately, this turned out to be nothing more than a quick fore and aft dash because of the dire temperature.

Heading out towards the river again the Leanders HMS PENELOPE and HMS DANAE plus the Oberon class conventional submarines HMS OPPORTUNE and HMS OLYMPUS were passed in 8, 9, 10 and 11 docks respectively, whilst the more modern Swiftsure class nuclear powered submarine HMS SWIFTSURE herself, sat in 12 dock awaiting the start of Devonport’s first nuclear refit.

Reaching the river berths again by way of an empty 4 wharf the Type 21 HMS ANTELOPE appeared with the Leanders HMS ARETHUSA and HMS BACCHANTE on 5 wharf. Almost immediately the scene changed dramatically as the sheer bulk of the 40,000 ton aircraft carrier HMS ARK ROYAL dwarfed everything else in the vicinity (including my dockside portacabin office) from her position on 6 and 7 wharves. After a quick retreat into the warmth of my office for extremity thawing-out purposes, the journey soon continued with a swift march in the shadow of the carrier to the northern end of 7 wharf where the Valiant class nuclear powered submarine HMS WARSPITE lay alongside another Swiftsure class submarine, HMS SOVEREIGN.

Striding on northwards over an unusually vacant 8 wharf, another left glance to the Tamar took in the submarine depot Ship HMS FORTH, the landing ship HMS DIEPPE, the destroyers HMS ULSTER and HMS CAPRICE, the cable ship CS BULLFINCH and the conventional submarine HMS CACHALOT, all tethered to their buoys on their various trot moorings.

Continuing along the dockside another Swiftsure class submarine HMS SUPERB was next encountered on 9 wharf before three more Leanders HMS AURORA, HMS JUPITER and HMS NIAID were a fine sight on 10 wharf. Immediately ahead of them three more of the elegant class, HMS AJAX, HMS EURYALUS and HMS HERMIONE lay alongside 11 wharf whilst a little further on the Type 21’s HMS AMBUSCADE and HMS AVENGER were also looking in good shape on12 wharf.

On reaching an empty 13 wharf, the south to north journey through the Yard was complete and thoughts returned to my nice warm office across the other side of 5 basin.

Shuffling off in the general direction of the heat source, a brief pause was made at the basin’s north east corner to examine the Oberon class submarine HMS OSIRIS in floating dock AFD58 and her adjacent sister submarine HMS OTUS on the basin’s east wall. Further around, the landing craft HMS Messina was seen secured on the south side of the basin whilst the harbour dredger ST MARTIN and boom defence vessel RMAS GARGANEY lay alongside the west wall - just a short hop from my most welcome doorstep!

The two and a half mile walk had taken about ninety minutes and although a ‘chilling’ experience it left me with a warmish glow knowing that the westcountry Navy and auxiliary services were still in pretty good shape in 1979’.

I hope these recollections may be of interest to some. Regards…..Paul


War Hero
I used to love bimbling round the dockyard(s) (on official business Chief, aka known in Dolphin as 'Just popping down the Fort Chief'!) just as you have described, however, I never had the foresight to jot down my experiences. Happy days.

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