Tag Archives: No 820 Squadron

The RN STILL has a Falklands-era pilot on the Job

One of the toughest sells of the new Top Gun movie is to digest the mere possibility that a 1986-era F-14 jock would still be in uniform and on flying status in 2022– as an O-6.

But wait, the British have a Sea King pilot who went down to the Falklands in 1982 on the “Harrier carrier” HMS Invincible who is still clocking in for work.

LCDR (yes, LDCR) Phil Thornton was the youngest pilot during the Falklands conflict and continues to serve in the Royal Navy, 40 years since facing danger in the South Atlantic.

Then LT Phil Thornton, baby-faced and headed for war. Note the Sea Harrier behind him.

Complete with “war beard” in the Falklands. His aircraft is a Westland Sea King HAS.5 XZ920. Decommissioned in 2016, XZ920 is now in private service with HeliOperations in the North Sea. The ship behind him is the Round Table-class LST RFA Sir Tristram (L3505) 

Sailing with No. 820 Squadron, Thornton spent the war on a mix of anti-submarine sorties, logistics missions, scouting for surface contacts, and acting as a decoy when needed for possible incoming Argentine missiles.

One C-SAR mission, to look for a missing Sea Harrier pilot with no top cover, brought him just off-shore of the area where said Harrier had just been knocked down. Acting in conjunction with another ‘King, his job was to draw off SAMs.

He said: “I climbed to 4,000 feet and started to release my eight flares in a line about three miles apart, all the time looking towards land for the tell-tale indications of a missile launch. It was very nerve-wracking.

“On reflection, after the war, I realized that we had been called forward early for this mission because we were all young, single men with little or no commitments.”

Of the deaths, 255 British military personnel killed in the Falklands across ten weeks of 1982, 86 were sailors.

 Thornton continues to serve the Royal Navy, working in the Flight Safety Centre at RNAS Yeovilton.

More here.

Warship Wednesday March 18, 2015 Her Majesty’s Final Cruiser

Here at LSOZI, we will take off every Wednesday to look at the old steam/diesel navies of the 1859-1946 time period and profile a different ship each week. These ships have a life, a tale all of their own, which sometimes takes them to the strangest places. – Christopher Eger

Warship Wednesday, March 18, 2015, Her Majesty’s Final Cruiser


Here we see the Minotaur-class cruiser, Her Majesty’s Ship Blake, pennant C99, of the Royal Navy as she appeared after her refit to accommodate both a fleet flag suite and a quartet of helicopters.

When the Royal Navy entered World War II, they did so with several modern light cruisers to include 10 11,000-ton Town-class and had another 11 improved Crown Colony-class vessels on the builder’s ways.

However, within the first couple years of the war, the fleet lost a number of these ships to include HMS Fiji and HMS Gloucester (both sunk in an air attack at Crete, 22 May 1941) HMS Trinidad (scuttled following air attack off North Cape, 15 May 1942), HMS Southampton (scuttled following air attack off Malta, 11 January 1941), HMS Manchester (scuttled following torpedo attack off Cap Bon, 13 August 1942) and HMS Edinburgh (scuttled following torpedo attack, 2 May 1942).

With the RN down a quarter of their new cruisers and a long war expected, the call went out in another nine emergency ships to be funded as part of the Additional Naval Programme also known as the “something keeps happening to all of our bloody cruisers” program.

These new ships would be the Minotaur-class light cruiser.

Fundamentally an improvement of the Crown Colony-class design that was already being built, these 11,130-ton ships could make 31.5-knots which didn’t make them the fastest cruisers in the world, but the fact that they could steam at an economical 16-knots (the going rate for convoys) for 8,000 nautical miles on a single fill-up made it clear they were intended for distant travels.

Two triple 6

Two triple 6″/50 (15.2 cm) BL Mark XXIII mounts as seen on HMS Belfast. The Minotaur class repeated these and carried a third mount aft for a total of 9 tubes. Via Navweaps

Armed with 9 6″/50 (15.2 cm) BL Mark XXIII guns in 3 triple turrets, they had the same big tubes as the rest of the Commonwealth light cruiser fleet. These guns could fire a 112-pound shell to a maximum of 25,480 yards and the Minotaur-class was set up to carry as many as 1800 shells in their magazines at a rate of 6 rounds per minute per tube.

The thing is, by 1943, the Royal Navy was concentrating more on destroyers, and small escorts, which meant the new Minotaur‘s were put on the back burner.

Only one, HMS Swiftsure was completed during the war and even this ship just became operational in late 1944 (rushed to the Pacific she was the flagship of the British Pacific Cruiser Squadron, and was selected by Admiral Cecil Harcourt to hoist his flag for the Japanese surrender.) Class leader Minotaur was transferred before she was complete to Canada who commissioned her as HMCS Ontario almost a month after Hitler ate a bullet (or went to Argentina whichever you believe). A third ship, HMS Superb, was commissioned after the war.

That left six incomplete hulls at the end of WWII, lingering.

Three of these, Mars, Hawke, and Bellerophon were canceled, their steel broken back up and recycled.

Three floating hulls that had made it far enough to be launched, Tiger, Lion, and Blake, were left hanging out while the Admiralty decided what to do with them.

This brings us to the hero of our story.

Laid down 17 August 1942 at the Fairfield Shipbuilding and Engineering Co Ltd, Govan, Glasgow, Scotland, Blake was launched 20 December 1945– some three months after the end of World War II, and work was suspended. Named after Admiral Robert Blake (1598-1657), considered the founder of what became the modern Royal Navy, of whom even Nelson wrote, “I do not reckon myself equal to Blake” she was the fifth (and last as of 2015) RN warship to bear his name.

This guy

This guy

Finally, after nine years of languishing, it was decided to complete the three floating but yet unfinished Minotaurs, Blake included, to a modified design due in large part to the perceived threat of the new Soviet Sverdlov-class cruisers.

This modification amounted to scrapping the entire armament scheme to include 6 and 5-inch guns, AAA pieces, and surface torpedo tubes, in exchange for a trio of twin 3″ guns QF Mark N1 DP guns and a pair of twin 6″/50 (15.2 cm) QF Mark N5 mounts.

A good view of the twin 152mm QF Mark N5 mount forward and the twin 3

A good view of the twin 152mm QF Mark N5 mount forward and the twin 3″ QF Mark N1 DP guns in the No.2 mount. This same gun scheme was repeated aft and was the primary and secondary teeth of the Tiger, Blake, and Lion as commissioned. Via Navweaps.

The latter, only mounted in these three post-WWII British light cruisers, were the first to use complete cartridges rather than bagged powder under a shell. As noted by Navweaps, “Controlled by the Gun Direction System (GDS1) using the Type 992 radar. This system enabled the ships to engage multiple targets within a few seconds of each other and was technically very advanced for its time.”

Out of the six turrets used afloat, three used RP15 hydraulic control, and three used RP53 electric control. It is believed that HMS Tiger had all hydraulic control; HMS Blake had all-electric control while HMS Lion had one of each. They could fire a 133-pound shell 20 rounds per minute per tube to about 25,000 yards.

As such, the four tubes on Blake and her two full sisters could dish out 80 shells in a frantic minute while their original 9-gun Minotaur half-sisters could only fire 54.


With the three “new” cruisers entering the fleet, the RN took their half-sister baggers Swiftsure and Superb out of service and both were scrap by 1962. The Canadians followed suit with Ontario/Minotaur.

Finally commissioned 18 March 1961, HMS Blake took to the sea.

HMS Lion in Malta early 1960s. Tiger and Blake shared the same outline at the same time

HMS Lion in Malta early 1960s. Tiger and Blake shared the same outline at the same time. Bigup and note the arrangement of the twin 3″ DP guns to the stern.

Tiger-class cruiser HMS Lion (C34) during FOTEX63 with a Whirlwind of 846 NAS from HMS Albion

After just two years she was withdrawn and converted once more in 1965 to become one of the first modern helicopter cruisers.

While she retained her forward mounts, those aft were replaced by a hangar enormous enough to fit a quartet of Wessex (later Sea King) helicopters inside. Additionally, she was given room, space, and commo equipment to serve as a fleet flagship.

HMS Tiger (C-20) and HMS Churchill (S-46), South Atlantic, April 1977

Stern view of Tiger, showing the same conversion that Blake endured

Stern view of Tiger, showing the same conversion that Blake endured

blake after her refit

Further, she was given realistic anti-air protection in the form of a pair of quad GWS.21 Sea Cat missile launchers. Short-legged surface-to-air missiles with a range of about 5km, Sea Cat was effective enough to earn at least one confirmed kill in the Falklands.

hms blake

Blake is shown with a Wessex helicopter landing

Sea King of No 820 FAA coming in to land on HMS Blake. Note the size of her hangar.

Rejoining the active list in 1969, she was perhaps one of the only cruisers to have a Harrier jump jet land upon her.

On the 52nd anniversary of Sqn Cdr E.H. Dunning’s first landing on board the cruiser, HMS Furious in 1917, 2 August 1969, Hawker Siddeley Aviation chief test pilot Hugh Merewether landed an experimental early Harrier onboard the cruiser HMS Blake.


Her sister Tiger was similarly converted while the Lion was cannibalized for future spare parts.

Then there were two…

Good overhead view of Blake

Good overhead view of Blake

Blake 1979

Blake 1979. Note the Seacat launcher amidships.

HMS Blake C99, a Tiger class light cruiser, and USS Nimitz underway in the English Channel in October 1975.

Blake endured through the 70s as something of a love boat design: big and expensive to operate and only trotted out for special occasions.

Tiger Class Light Cruiser HMS Blake at Copenhagen after helicopter conversion, 1973. Just 28 years prior, KMS Prince Eugen was tied up at the same pier. 

HMS Blake leaving Portsmouth Harbour, June 1979

She had happy if mechanically troublesome cruises in the Med, Indian, and Pacific before a 1980 refit saw her placed in mothballs, the Invincible-class “harrier cruisers” built to replace Tiger and Blake.

Blake in layup

Blake in layup. Via Flickr

When the Argentinians moved into the Falklands/Malvinas in 1982, both Blake and Tiger were pulled out of storage and readied for use in the South Atlantic. As the Royal Marines and Paras only brought 105mm light guns with them, it was thought that the rapid-fire 152mm models of Tiger and Blake may help in naval gunfire support while the extensive helicopter facilities allowed them to be lily pads for thirsty harriers and choppers.

However, the war soon proved faster than the old cruiser’s reactivation and, following the conflict, both Blake and Tiger were sold for scrap.

In all Blake spent just 15 years of her 40-year life in active fleet service and, though technically part of the RN during WWII, Korea, and the Falklands, never fired a shot in anger.

Blake was the last cruiser in the Royal Navy and, when she ran her battery before entering refit in 1979, fired the last “big gun” salvo in Britannia’s history.

HMS Blake by Ivan Berryman. The newly converted Command Helicopter Cruiser HMS Blake leaves Grand Harbour Malta at the end of the 1960s. In the background, the old Submarine Depot ship HMS Forth lies at anchor at the very end of her long career.

HMS Blake by Ivan Berryman. “The newly converted Command Helicopter Cruiser HMS Blake leaves Grand Harbour Malta at the end of the 1960s. In the background, the old Submarine Depot ship HMS Forth lies at anchor at the very end of her long career.” Via Cranston.

The bell of the last HMS Blake, scrapped in 1982, is on display in Saint Mary’s Church, Bridgewater while numerous statutes and plaques exist for her namesake.

HMS Belfast, a Crown Colony-class cruiser preserved as a museum ship in London, is the closest living survivor to the “Shakey Blakey.”


Minotaur design

HMS Jamaica, 1945. This Crown Colony class cruiser was essentally the same scheme that the Minotaurs were designed to. Via shipbucket.

HMS Jamaica, 1945. This Crown Colony class cruiser was essentially the same scheme that the Minotaurs were designed to. Via ship bucket.

Displacement: 8,800 tons standard 11,130 tons full
Length: 555.5 ft. (169.3 m)
Beam: 63 ft. (19 m) (Superb: 64 ft.)
Draught: 17.25 ft. (5.26 m)
Installed power: 72,500 shp (54.1 MW)
Propulsion: Four Admiralty-type three-drum boilers
Four shaft Parsons steam turbines
Speed: 31.5 knots (58.3 km/h)
Range: 2,000 nautical miles (3,700 km) at 30 knots (60 km/h)
8,000 nautical miles (15,000 km) at 16 knots (30 km/h); 1,850 tons fuel oil
Complement: 867
3 × triple BL 6 inch Mk XXIII guns
5 × dual 4-inch / 45 QF Mk 16 HA
4 × quad QF 2 pdr
6 × single 40 mm AA
2 × triple 21-inch (530 mm) Torpedo Tubes.
3.25 to 3.5-inch (89 mm) belt
2-inch deck
1 to 2-inch (51 mm) turrets
1.5 to 2-inch (51 mm) bulkheads

Blake as-built

Blake, 1961. Note the different armament scheme than the original as above. Photo via shipbucket

Blake, 1961. Note the different armament scheme than the original as above. Photo via ship bucket

Displacement: 11,700 tons (12,080 tons after helicopter conversion)
Length: 555.5 ft. (169 m)
Beam: 64 ft. (19.5 m)
Draught: 23 ft. (7.0 m)
Installed power: 80,000 shp (60 MW)
Propulsion: Four Admiralty-type three-drum boilers
Four shaft Parsons steam turbines
Speed: 31.5 knots (58.3 km/h)
Range: 8,000 nautical miles (15,000 km) at 16 knots (30 km/h)
Complement: 716 (885 after conversion)
Armament: As-built:
2 × twin 6 in guns QF Mark N5 with RP53 (electric) control
3 × twin 3 in guns QF Mark N1

Belt 3.5 in – 3.25 in
Bulkheads 2 in – 1.5 in
Turrets 2 in – 1 in
Crowns of engine room and magazines 2 inches.

As helicopter cruiser

Note radically different aft profile. Photo via shipbucket

Note radically different aft profile. Photo via ship bucket

1 × twin 6 in guns QF Mark N5 with RP53 (electric) RPC
1 × twin 3 in guns QF Mark N1
2 × quad GWS.21 Sea Cat missile launchers

Aircraft carried 4 × helicopters (originally Wessex then Sea King)

If you liked this column, please consider joining the International Naval Research Organization (INRO), Publishers of Warship International

They are possibly one of the best sources of naval study, images, and fellowship you can find http://www.warship.org/

The International Naval Research Organization is a non-profit corporation dedicated to the encouragement of the study of naval vessels and their histories, principally in the era of iron and steel warships (about 1860 to date). Its purpose is to provide information and a means of contact for those interested in warships.

Nearing their 50th Anniversary, Warship International, the written tome of the INRO has published hundreds of articles, most of which are unique in their sweep and subject.

I’m a member, so should you be!