Royal Navy Veteran destroyer HMS Edinburgh and giant helicopter carrier HMS Illustrious brought London to a halt on Wednesday as they glided down the River Thames. HMS Edinburgh is the last of the Type 42 destroyers and is on her first stop on a round-Britain farewell tour which ends nearly 30 years of service.
Watched by hundreds of people on both banks of the Thames, the Portsmouth-based warship glided under Tower Bridge - where she faced a barrage of camera flashes from eager tourists - and berthed alongside museum ship HMS Belfast, sister of her forebear which was sunk in the Arctic 71 years ago.
HMS Illustrious took all of her 22.500 tonne bulk down the river and through the Thames Barrier en route to her Greenwich moorings. As well as HMS Edinburgh and a third ship – HMS Blyth – the Portsmouth-based ship will be in London for six days of events commemorating the longest military campaign of the Second World War.
Captain Martin Connell, the commanding officer of HMS Illustrious, said: “We are delighted to be in London for the Battle of the Atlantic commemorations. HMS Illustrious has a very close affiliation with the City which we will be aiming to strengthen further through a very busy program of events.
“It is, however, a very poignant occasion and we look forward to welcoming onboard some of those who served through the longest and one of the most costly campaigns of the Second World War.”
This month, the 70th Anniversary of the Battle of the Atlantic (BOA 70) will culminate with a series of events in Liverpool. The city was home to the Western Approaches Command in the Second World War – it was from here that the struggle against the German U-boat was successfully directed.
HMS Edinburgh will spend the next three weeks sailing around Britain: from London to the Scottish capital and finally Liverpool as part of a farewell tour, a goodbye not just to Edinburgh herself but also a class of ship which has served the Royal Navy with distinction, and paid the ultimate price in doing so on occasions: the Type 42 destroyer.
The 42s have been the safeguards of the RN Fleet against air attack since the 1970s and have seen action in every major conflict and police action which the RN has been involved in over the past four decades, from the Falklands and two Gulf wars to UN peacekeeping duties in the Adriatic in the 1990s and, most recently, pounding pro-Gaddafi forces in the 2011 Libyan civil war.
But with all six Type 45 destroyers, 21st-Century successors to the Type 42s, now in the hands of the Royal Navy and four of them operational, the hour has come for the last of the veteran 14 Sheffield-class to sail into the sunset.
Edinburgh will continue Battle of the Atlantic commemorations by attending a Merchant Navy ceremony in Tower Hill on Saturday, and by joining up to two dozen warships in Liverpool later this month at the climax of events over the Spring Bank Holiday weekend; see the RN official Battle of the Atlantic website, www.royalnavy.mod.uk/boa70 for details.
In between, from May 15-21, there will be an emotional last visit to Edinburgh, including a final parade through the city's streets.
HMS Edinburgh returns to Portsmouth on May 31 for a ceremonial final entry to her home base, flying her decommissioning pennant. She formally bows out of service on June 6. (DN).-