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Warship Wednesday8th May 2024

HMS PHOEBE – Last Hot-Rivetting

Two years before the closure of Chatham Dockyard, the last hot-rivetting to be undertaken was completed.

It was an event that marked the end of an era in ship-building and repair techniques at Chatham Dockyard, techniques that were once commonplace in Chatham, before the introduction of all welded ships and submarines soon after the Second World War.

Towed Array Sonar System

HMS PHOEBE arrived at Chatham in January 1981 for a normal refit, which included preparing the ship to be fitted with new weapons and communications equipment. The work package included several major structural alterations, both on the upper deck and internally.

During the refit, PHOEBE had to “lose” 70 tons of top weight to compensate for the weight of the new Towed Array Sonar System (TASS). The Towed Array was to be carried on a large steel winch sited at the stern, starboard quarter.

(The winch, sonar array, plus 1000-1500m of towing cable did not get fitted to PHOEBE until January 1984, at Devonport Dockyard). After conversion, PHOEBE was classified as a Leander Class Batch 2A Towed Array Sonar Conversion.

To permit fitting the TA winch two mooring bollards had to be re-sited, the bollards sat on a 4ft x 2ft deck strengthening plate which required connecting to the deck by 70 rivets.


Mr Jim Beer, the last riveter Technical Supervisor took charge of a four-man squad to complete the task. Once heated in an infra-red forge the rivets were passed by Alf Peacock, using tongs, to the below deck team, Dave Lynch and Graham Ray who held the rivets in place while Fred Burbidge hammered them flat with a pneumatic hammer.

HMS PHOEBE was constructed by Alex Stephen & Sons Ltd, Glasgow and completed in April 1966. She spent the early years of her life as a Chatham-based ship. After her Exocet conversion was completed in 1977 she became Devonport based. When the 1981 / 82 refit was completed she became a Chatham-based ship again.

HMS PHOEBE was also used as the first “HMS Hero” in the TV series “Warship”, although other frigates of the Leander class later took the part, they all used PHOEBE’s pennant number – F42.

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