County-class destroyer

HMS Kent, Portsmouth Navy Yards, July 1989.jpg
HMS Kent at Portsmouth in 1989
Class overview
Builders:
Operators:
Preceded by: Daring class
Succeeded by: Type 82
Subclasses:
  • Batch 1
  • Batch 2
In commission: 16 November 1962 – 22 September 2006
Completed: 8
Cancelled: 2[1]
Laid up: 2
Lost: 2
General characteristics
Type: Destroyer
Displacement: 6,200 tons
Length: 520.16 ft (158.54 m)
Beam: 54 ft (16 m)
Draught: 21 ft (6.4 m)
Propulsion:
Speed: 30 knots (56 km/h; 35 mph)
Range: 3,500 nautical miles (6,500 km; 4,000 mi)
Complement: 471 (33 officers, 438 ratings)
Armament:
Aircraft carried: Wessex HAS Mk 3 helicopter
Aviation facilities: Flight deck and enclosed hangar for embarking one helicopter

The County class was a class of British guided missile destroyers, the first such warships built by the Royal Navy. Designed specifically around the Seaslug anti-aircraft missile system, the primary role of these ships was area air defence around the aircraft carrier task force in the nuclear-war environment.[2][3]

Eight ships were built and entered service. Two served in the British naval task force in the Falklands War in 1982. After leaving British service, four ships were sold to the Chilean Navy and one to the Pakistan Navy.

Design and development

A class of ten ships was envisaged in 1958 for about £6–7.5 million each,[4] equivalent to a costed programme for four large, Seaslug-armed, 15,000-ton cruisers, estimated at £14 million each,[5] based on an upgraded Minotaur-class cruiser (1951), approved for full design in early 1955. The final four County-class ships, with hull numbers 07 to 10, were delayed in 1960 while an anti-submarine escort carrier was considered. Hulls 07 and 08 were approved in 1963 as a temporary stopgap,[6] and the ninth and tenth hulls were cancelled.

The class was designed as a hybrid cruiser-destroyer, with a much larger displacement -similar to that of the Dido-class cruiser - than its predecessor, the Daring class. In 1955 the new First Sea Lord Louis Mountbatten specified the development of an April 1955, 4800 ton Fast fleet escort design (DNC 7/959) as a Seaslug carrying vessel with a Y stern positioned twin 3/70 AA mount replaced by Seaslug (DNC 7/1002) [7] instead of the then approved development of a large GW 58A 15,400 ton cruiser[8] which would have combined Seaslug with Type 984 3D radar and a conventional Tiger-class gun armament. During 1956–1958 a full "alternative" gun armament was an option for the new GW Fast Escort, [9] based on a modern combined gas turbine and steam turbine (COSAG) propulsion unit, as enlarged Daring fleet escorts, armed with two twin Mk 6 4.5-inch guns, two twin L/70 40mm Bofors and a twin 3-inch/70 guns. A detailed March 1957 study[10] opted for a medium tensile 505 ft (154 m) long hull and a fit of 18 Seaslug and 4 special (nuclear) Seaslug for extended range AA, anti-missile and anti-ship.[11] twin Mk 5 Bofors 40mm were maintained with the future and effectiveness of the "Green Light" (which would become Seacat) missile, under doubt[12] and Limbo mortar was the only anti-submarine weapon.

A revised design in March 1958 added Seaslug and Seacat missiles and added a telescopic hangar. Mountbatten staged an impressive demonstration shoot for flag officers and politicians: the Seaslug test ship HMS Girdle Ness launched ten successive Seaslugs, including a salvo of two Seaslugs together. The success included hits in the lethal zone of two piston-engine Fairey Firefly radio-controlled drones, at 16 km (9.9 mi) undemanding targets with a speed of only 315/375 mph.[13] This apparent success enabled the Minister of Defence Duncan Sandys to gain the approval of the Cabinet Defence Committee for Seaslug production to be approved in 1958.[14]

While the missile worked against Second World War-era level flying targets, the beam guidance system was dubious at range and in rough water which meant eight fixed stabilisers were added to the design of the County-class. Advocacy for the guided missiles fit[15] was led by Mountbatten[16] and the Cabinet agreed with using the system, despite staff reports over missile unreliability and inaccuracy,[15] confirmed by the dismal performance in the following 1959 Seaslug target launches at Woomera in South Australia.[13]. Many Royal Australian Navy officers felt Seaslug was unsuitable for the RAN.[17]

Final, late 1958 revisions to the design[18] were to adopt a high flush deck from B turret, increasing internal space, the cancellation of the nuclear-tipped Seaslug, and provision for folding fins for the Seaslug, all allowing storage of 20 extra missile bodies in tubular form for rapid assembly. Against staff advice, a tight fitting, fixed side-hangar for the anti-submarine Westland Wessex helicopter was added on the insistence of the First Sea Lord.[19] While a flawed layout, it proved usable when tested in the Falklands War in 1982.

Lord Mountbatten classified the cruiser-sized County-class as destroyers rather than cruisers, although they had destroyer-level fittings. Politically the Tigers and other cruisers were considered outdated empire relics, and with the apparently impressive performance of Seaslug against jet Gloster Meteor UC15 drones, Mountbatten could give the Royal Navy a large number of County-class 'destroyers' and a greater number of ship commands and posts for ambitious officers.[20]

While short on the support and logistic spares stocks of a traditional cruiser, they were still envisaged by the Director of Naval Construction as being 'probably' used in the cruiser role[21] with space for Flag staff offices, and admiral's barge accommodation[22] in the 1960s: the last decade when the UK oversaw significant colonial territory ("East of Suez"). Its missile capability had been overtaken by aircraft development by 1962–63, when HMS Devonshire and Hampshire entered service, but in the early and mid-1960s the modern lines of these guided-missile destroyers, with their traditional RN cruiser style and their impressive-looking missiles, enabled the overstretched Royal Navy to project sufficient power to close down the threat of a militant, left-leaning Indonesia to Malaysia and Borneo during the Indonesia-Malaysia confrontation.[23]

Design features

London leads Antrim and Norfolk during exercises in 1971

The County class was designed around the GWS1 Seaslug beam riding anti-aircraft missile system. Seaslug was a first-generation surface-to-air missile intended to hit high-flying nuclear-armed bombers and shadowing surveillance aircraft like the Tupolev Tu-16 "Badger" and Tupolev Tu-95 "Bear", which could direct strikes against the British fleet from missile destroyers and cruise missile-armed submarines. The Tu 95 and the improved Tupolev Tu-142 were demanding targets for a missile like Seaslug; the long-range Soviet turboprop aircraft flew at an altitude of 7.5 mi (40,000 ft; 12,100 m), at 572 mph (921 km/h)[24] and were barely within the engagement capability of Seaslug.[citation needed]

The Seaslug system was a large weapon. Each missile was 6 m (19 ft 8 in) long and weighed two tons; its handling arrangements and electronics systems were also large; so even fitting a single system aboard a ship the size of the Counties was a challenge. The missiles were stowed horizontally in a long unarmoured magazine which was sited above the waterline and took up a great deal of internal space. The risk of fire near the magazine was checked by an automatic sprinkler system.[25] In order to increase the number of missiles that could be carried, on the last four ships, some of the missiles were stored partly disassembled in the forward end of the magazine. Their wings and fins would be reattached before being moved into the aft sections of the handling spaces and eventually loaded onto the large twin launcher for firing.

The limitations of the beam riding guidance method and lack of a homing head, meant the Mk 1 and 2 Seaslug were intended to have nuclear variants - the much larger blast compensating for lack of accuracy. However nuclear warhead for Mk 1 Seaslug (for the first group of ships) was dropped as it needed extra crew, space and security which were not available on the smaller hull; development of the nuclear warhead for Seaslug on the second group of ships was cancelled in June 1962,[26] to reduce the naval budget, and the RNs requirement below 334 tactical nuclear warheads.

The County-class and the Seaslug missile were interim solutions and the new Sea Dart anti-aircraft missile would have speed and accuracy to ensure a hit without requiring a nuclear warhead. First Lord Mountbatten doubted the usefulness of tactical nuclear weapons by 1962, due to escalation theories, scientific advice and greater evidence of fallout consequences, leading to the Partial Nuclear Test Ban Treaty in 1963. There were also staff and space difficulties with carrying nuclear warheads on confined destroyers.[27] As early as 1952, Air Chief Marshal John Slessor (Chief of the Air Staff) the most influential defence Advisor to Winston Churchill considered the Navy irrelevant in a nuclear war,[28] he first defined, the role of RN was "uncertain"[28] as a pretext to maintain a large fleet and required only for political reasons. The collapse of the 1956 Suez operation and the huge impact of the British hydrogen bomb tests in 1954-57[29][30] led to the 1957 review of Britain's defences, reliance on nuclear deterrence by strategic aircraft, missiles and missile submarines and doubt that a nuclear war would last long enough to require trans-Atlantic convoys. And corresponding doubt whether major conventional war was still possible on the basis of the last 1954-5 HC speeches of Churchill[31][30] and Eisenhower, justified large cutbacks of British and American large ship, destroyer and carrier programme[32] and the future role and relevance of the Royal Navy was "unclear"[33] moving the RN to more limited, East of Suez task forces, with gun and Seaslug- and Seacat-armed destroyers escorting medium British aircraft carriers with only a limited nuclear strike capacity against ships and cities equipped with Blackburn Buccaneer S.1 (and then the improved S.2) strike aircraft mainly aimed to deter regional powers such as Indonesia[34] Early versions of the equivalent US missile system RIM-2 Terrier, like Seaslug, relied on beam riding and needed a nuclear warhead variant to compensate for inaccuracy at low level and range. However by 1962, the US was concentrating on the medium range radar guided RIM-24 Tartar and long range RIM-8 Talos, which had success against long range North Vietnamese aircraft from 1968.[35] The Royal Air Force's semi-active land-based Bristol Bloodhound was unrelated to Seaslug development, but drew top scientists away from RN work.

The County-class design attempted to give maximum protection from nuclear fallout, with the operation rooms, where the ship was fought, located 5 decks below, deep in the ship, with a lift from the bridge,[36] which maintained some duplicated command systems. The operations room, sited the main radar, sonar, electronic warfare screens and communication data and computer links. The electronics required for the Seaslug were the large Type 901 fire-control radar and the Type 965 air-search radar. These required a great deal of weight to be carried high up on the ship, further affecting ship layout. Although superior the Type 984 3D radar was rejected as it was even heavier and excluded a twin turret 4.5-inch armament forward which was needed for gunfire support or action against surface vessels. It was hoped RN carriers with Type 984 would provide primary air target for the destroyers through a datalink.[37][page needed] According to a RN Naval architect, "Sea Slug did not live up to expectations" and was obsolete by 1957.[38] The compromises required by the heavy and dated Seaslug system detracted from the success and popularity of an otherwise advanced ship design. Its ineffectiveness and vulnerable magazine[39] and missile fuel, reduced confidence in the class,[citation needed] which had potential as command ships, having good seaworthiness, speed and in the group two County class a spacious operations room with ADAWS.

In 1960, because US-designed missiles were seen at the time to be superior to the Seaslug, the Royal Australian Navy (RAN) proposed a variation of the County-class armed with the US Tartar missile and two additional modifications: hangar space for three Westland Wessex helicopters and a steam propulsion system, rather than the combined steam and gas system used in the County class. However, the RAN instead decided to proceed with the Perth class (a modified version of the US Charles F. Adams class). Two different reasons have been put forward for the Australian decision: according to an Australian history, British authorities would not allow a steam-propelled variant of the County,[40] whereas, according to a British account, the re-design required to accommodate the Tartar missile would have taken longer than the RAN was prepared to accept.[41]

The US Terrier missile had some support amongst the RN staff, but consideration was not given to acquiring it for the second batch of four ships,[citation needed] as the County class were "shop windows" for advanced UK technology, and it was vital for the British missile and aerospace industry to continue the Sea Slug project, to allow the development of the much improved Sea Dart missile. Following problems with the original version, a reworked Action Data Automation Weapon System (ADAWS) was successfully trialled on HMS Norfolk in 1970.[42] In the mid-1960s the County-class destroyers were assets; their impressive appearance and data links, feeding off the carriers' Type 984 radar, projected effective capability during the Indonesia–Malaysia confrontation.[43][44] The Mark 1 Seaslug was operationally reliable and proved useful as a missile target for the new Sea Dart missiles in the late 1970s and early 1980s; the supersonic Mark 2 version proved less effective for this. There are questions as to whether it was ever fully operational and there were problems with missiles breaking up when the boosters separated.[45] Inaccuracy, primitive beam-riding guidance and lack of infrared homing or a proximity fuze in the Mk 1 made it of limited value.[46] Short-range air defence was provided by the GWS-22 Seacat anti-aircraft missile system, which made the Counties the first Royal Navy warships to be armed with two different types of guided missile.

Batch 2 improvements

HMS Norfolk, a Batch 2 ship, following modification that removed the 'B' turret and replaced it with four Exocet laucher boxes

The second four Countys had improved air warning and target indicator radar ("double bedstead" 965M and a revised 992 for closer range tracking rather than only surface warning). The revised Seaslug Mk2 was supposedly effective against supersonic and surface targets at up to 30km. ADWAS command and control system could process and prioritise air targets detected by the 965 and 992 radar and other so fitted RN warships. This was important as the Type 984 3D processing system on the carriers Victorious, Hermes and Eagle were removed from 1967-1972, affecting the first four County class ships which dependended on datalinks to the carrier systems for primary radar and targeting processing of Seaslug.

As constructed, the County-class ships were armed with a pair of twin QF 4.5-inch gun mountings. These had magazines for 225 shells for each gun, two-thirds of the magazine capacity for the same guns in the single-turreted Leander-class frigates.[47] The second batch of four ships (Antrim, Fife, Glamorgan and Norfolk) were refitted in the mid-1970s – their 'B' turrets were removed and replaced by four single MM38 Exocet surface-to-surface anti-ship-missile launcher boxes in order to increase the fleets anti-ship capability following retirement of its aircraft carriers.[48] This made the County-class ships the only Royal Navy ships to be fitted with three separate types of guided missile: Seaslug, Seacat and Exocet.

Possible development

It was suggested by Vosper Thornycroft that the Counties could have been developed for the anti-submarine role by replacing the Seaslug system with a larger hangar and flight deck and the possibility of removing Seaslug and rebuilding the missile tunnel as storage for extra Westland Lynx helicopters.[16][page needed] Certainly, these arrangements as originally installed to operate a single Westland Wessex anti-submarine helicopter were problematic, with a hangar so cramped it took an hour to get the aircraft either in or out again, during which the port Seacat launcher was unusable. However it was determined that beam-restrictions would still limit the Counties' helicopter operation in RN service to the obsolescent Wessex, as they were too narrow to handle the far more capable British-built Sea King HAS. The Chilean navy, however, did convert two of the four ships they purchased along these lines.[citation needed]

Ships of the class

Eight vessels were built in two batches between 1959 and 1970, the later four vessels carrying the improved Seaslug GWS2 and updated electronics requiring rearranged mastheads. The major identifying feature was the Batch 2 vessels' prominent "double-bedstead" AKE-2 antennas of the Type 965 air-search radar, and their taller foremast carrying the Type 992Q low-angle search radar.

Ships' names

Four of the "Counties" had names which had been used by the famous interwar County-class cruisers: London, Norfolk, Devonshire and Kent. (The last of that class, HMS Cumberland, had survived until 1959 as a trials ship). Devonshire, Hampshire and Antrim had been the names of Devonshire-class armoured cruisers of the First World War.

Four of the new ships were named after counties containing a Royal Navy Dockyard: Devonshire (Devonport Dockyard), Hampshire (Portsmouth Dockyard), Kent (Chatham Dockyard), and Fife (Rosyth dockyard). Glamorgan and Antrim are the counties in Wales and Northern Ireland which contain the port cities and regional capitals of Cardiff and Belfast (by analogy to London, England). Norfolk is the county of Nelson's birth, and the important 19th-century ports of Great Yarmouth and King's Lynn.

Three of the ships' names have been subsequently re-used: HMS London was a Type 22 frigate. HMS Kent and HMS Norfolk were used for RN Type 23 frigates though in their case after British dukedoms.

Ship Builder Laid down Launched Commissioned Fate
Batch 1
Devonshire Cammell Laird, Birkenhead 9 March 1959 10 June 1960 15 November 1962 Sunk as target, 17 July 1984
Hampshire John Brown & Company, Clydebank 26 March 1959 16 March 1961 15 March 1963 Broken up at Briton Ferry, 1979
Kent Harland & Wolff, Belfast 1 March 1960 27 September 1961 15 August 1963 Broken up at Alang, 1998
London Swan Hunter, Wallsend 26 February 1960 7 December 1961 4 November 1963 Sold to Pakistan as Babur, March 1982
Batch 2
Fife Fairfield Shipbuilding, Govan 1 June 1962 9 July 1964 21 June 1966 Sold to Chile as Blanco Encalada, August 1987
Glamorgan Vickers-Armstrongs, Newcastle 13 September 1962 9 July 1964 14 October 1966 Sold to Chile as Almirante Latorre, September 1986
Antrim Upper Clyde Shipbuilders, Govan 20 January 1966 19 October 1967 14 July 1970 Sold to Chile as Almirante Cochrane, June 1984
Norfolk Swan Hunter, Wallsend 15 March 1966 16 November 1967 7 March 1970 Sold to Chile as Capitán Prat, April 1982

Service

1982 Falklands War

Antrim and Glamorgan both served in the Falklands War; Antrim was the flagship of Operation Paraquet, the recovery of South Georgia in April 1982. Her helicopter, a Westland Wessex HAS Mk 3 (nicknamed "Humphrey") was responsible for the rescue of 16 Special Air Service operators from Fortuna Glacier and the subsequent detection and disabling of the Argentinian submarine Santa Fe. In San Carlos Water, Antrim was hit by a 1,000 lb (450 kg) bomb which failed to explode. Glamorgan, after many days on the "gun line" bombarding Port Stanley airfield, was hit by an Exocet launched from land at the end of the conflict. It destroyed her aircraft hangar and the port Seacat mounting. Her captain's prompt reaction to visual detection of the Exocet narrowly averted a hit on the fatally vulnerable Seaslug magazine, by turning the ship so as to give as small a target as possible (the stern) to the incoming weapon. The ship suffered fourteen deaths, injuries, and was lucky to survive with extensive damage and flooding. Had the missile hit a few inches higher, the above waterline magazine would have blown in an explosive fireball and many more of the crew[49] might have been lost.

Disposal

All eight of the class had short Royal Navy careers, serving on average less than 16 years. Only London of the first batch would serve further (transferred to Pakistan) while the other three Batch 1 ships were decommissioned by 1980 with Hampshire being immediately scrapped in 1977 after cannibalization for spares, and Devonshire sunk in weapons testing in 1984. Kent would serve as a floating (though immobile) accommodation and training ship in Portsmouth harbour until 1996. The four ships of Batch 2 however would be operated for 16 to 23 more years after sale to the Chilean Navy, in which they all received extensive upgrades and modernisation.

Construction programme

The ships were built at the major UK yards, with some of the machinery coming from Associated Electrical Industries of Manchester, Parsons Marine Steam Turbine Company of Wallsend-on-Tyne, John I. Thornycroft & Company of Southampton, Yarrows of Glasgow, and the Wallsend Slipway and Engineering Company, Wallsend-on-Tyne.

County-class ships [50] [39] [51] [52]
Pennant Name Built by Ordered Laid down Launched Accepted
into service
Commissioned Estimated
building cost[53]
D02 Devonshire Cammell Laird, Birkenhead 24 January 1956 9 March 1959 10 June 1960 November 1962 15 November 1962 £14,080,000
D06 Hampshire John Brown & Company, Clydebank[50] 27 January 1956 26 March 1959 16 March 1961 March 1963 15 March 1963 £12,625,000<
D12 Kent Harland & Wolff, Belfast 6 February 1957 1 March 1960 27 September 1961 August 1963[51] 15 August 1963 £13,650,000[51]
D16 London Swan Hunter, Wallsend-on-Tyne[51] 6 February 1957 26 February 1960 7 December 1961 November 1963 14 November 1963 £13,900,000
D20 Fife Fairfields of Glasgow 26 September 1961 1 June 1962 9 July 1964 June 1966 21 June 1966 £15,250,000
D19 Glamorgan Vickers Shipbuilding, Newcastle 26 September 1961 13 September 1962 9 July 1964 October 1966[52] 11 October 1966 £14,100,000[52]
D21 Norfolk Swan Hunter[54] 5 January 1965 15 March 1966 16 November 1967 February 1970[54] 7 March 1970 £16,900,000[54]
D18 Antrim Upper Clyde Shipbuilders, Govan[55] 5 January 1965 20 January 1966 19 October 1967 November 1970[55] 14 July 1970 £16,350,000[55]

Costs

Running costs

Date Running cost What is included
1972–73 £500,000 Average annual maintenance cost per vessel for County-class destroyers[56]
1981–82 £7.0 million Average annual running cost of County-class destroyers at average 1981–82 prices and including associated aircraft costs but excluding the costs of major refits.[57]

Cost of major refits

Date Running cost What is included
£5½ million – £8 million Cost of recently completed major refits for County-class destroyers.[58]

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