On 11 October 1976 the minesweeper, HMS Fittleton, arrived at Chatham having been sunk in a collision with the frigate, HMS Mermaid, during a North Sea exercise. Sadly 12 of Fittleton’s crew were lost.
Former shipwright, Visitor Experience team member and Reading Room volunteer, Tony Peacock, shares his memories of when Fittleton was recovered.
I remember HMS Fittleton arriving at Chatham after recovery. I have always found it upsetting to see photographs or film of damaged ships but when I first saw Fittleton alongside in the basin I was shocked and quite taken aback; a feeling of that has stayed with me and surfaces whenever I think of seeing her that time.
HMS Fittleton was a ‘Ton Class’ Coastal Minesweeper which sank on 20 September 1976 following a collision with the frigate HMS Mermaid. Twelve members of the ships company lost their lives. HMS Fittleton was allocated to the Sussex Division of the Royal Navy Reserve and was therefore manned by a volunteer ships company.
Both ships were taking part in a NATO exercise in the North Sea when HMS Fittleton was undertaking a transfer of mail from HMS Mermaid by Heaving Line Transfer. This required the two ships to steam alongside one another at a distance of forty feet apart.
HMS Mermaid was a ‘one off’ ship in the Royal Navy and due to the hull design characteristics hydrodynamic forces caused suction between the ships forcing HMS Fittleton to collide with HMS Mermaid despite attempts by Fittleton to counter the effects. The collision resulted in HMS Fittleton capsizing and sinking in 174ft of water; the ship was salvaged and made watertight for towing to Chatham.
Both ships had an association with Chatham Dockyard.
HMS Fittleton had been re-fitted twice at Chatham; January 1965 and January 1967.
HMS Mermaid was a ‘one off’ ship and had been re-fitted at Chatham before commissioning into the Royal Navy.
HMS Mermaid was built by Yarrow Shipbuilders for the Government of Ghana, officially classified as a Frigate Despatch Vessel she was also to be fitted out as a presidential yacht for the then President Nkrumah. A change of government in Ghana resulted in the ship not being required. The ship had been launched and the order cancelled in 1966. The ship was eventually taken into Portsmouth Dockyard in 1972. Mermaid arrived in Chatham in 1973 for re-fit to meet Royal Navy requirements. When the ship arrived at Chatham the superstructure behind the Bridge, which originally was to be fitted out as a large presidential suite, and a planned dinning out area on the upper deck for open air banquets had not been fitted out.
I had entered the Design Division at Chatham in January 1973 and one of my first tasks was to measure all the bulkhead openings within the “presidential suite” area and prepare the working drawings and material lists for fitting internal doors; an ideal job for a novice draughtsman.
Here is the Periscope article from December 1976:
HMS Mermaid was based in Singapore 1974 -1975 and returned to the UK in 1976. She was deleted from RN service in 1977 and eventually sold to the Malaysia.
There are several memorial plaques to HMS Fittleton:
- All Saints Church in the village of Fittleton – a small wooden plaque with HMS Fittleton’s ships badge and brass plate bearing the names of those who died.
- St Martins-in-the-Field, London – a memorial plaque.
- HMS President, London Division Royal Navy Reserve – stained glass window containing an image of HMS Fittleton at sea and a scroll listing the names of those who died.
HMS Fittleton, launched in 1951, was 153ft long x 29ft wide and displaced 425 tons fully loaded.
HMS Mermaid, launched in 1966, was 339ft long x 40ft wide and displaced 2520 tons fully loaded.