HMS EAGLE in the Falklands

The Eagle's Nest
HMS EAGLE, South Coast Operating Area’s, 3rd July

The Phantom pilot felt the G forces press his body back into his seat as with in the blink of an eye his aircraft was accelerated by the bow catapult and thrown off the end of the flight deck. Now taking active control of his aircraft he pulled back on the stick and quickly gained altitude.
With this aircraft launch now complete the Wessex HAS 1 SAR Helicopter that had been acting as plane guard was given permission to depart for shore.
The order was then given for the ship to fall out from flying stations.
With that order having been given a round of applause erupted within the FLYCO and bridge and also down on the flight deck.
With that last Phantom now airborne the entire air group had now departed the ship and were now heading to their air bases ashore.
The Buccaneer’s had launched first and were now on their way up to their home base at RAF Honington. The Phantoms had formed up into a V shape formation and flew performed a low flypast of the ship before turning north.
With the aircraft now gone the now empty EAGLE was able to start making her own way home to Devonport.

The Task Force had entered the western approaches to the English Channel during the late hours of the previous day where it had begun to disperse. Those ships heading for Portsmouth had raced off eastwards to try and be in a position to enter the harbour on the morning tide. The Devonport bound ships had mostly anchored behind the shelter of the breakwater at the entrance to Plymouth Sound where their crews were no doubt enjoying “Channel Night” while they waited for the weather and tidal conditions required for them to make the journey into the harbour and up the River Tamar to the naval dockyard at Devonport. While the ships and crews had all made that particular journey dozens if not hundreds of times this particular homecoming was guaranteed to be an extremely high profile event. HMS EAGLE had remained offshore sailing in a box waiting for dawn to be able to send her aircraft home. Though the ship was perfectly capable of launching these aircraft during the night it had been decided to wait until morning for a number of reasons.
Being a large ship EAGLE was only able to enter Plymouth Sound during tidal windows that occurred in the mornings and evenings otherwise she wouldn’t have enough water under her keel to be sure of a safe passage. The ship would have to follow a narrow deep water channel to its berth. The width of the channel relative to the ship meant that there was very little margin for deviation in any direction. This meant that even high winds could prevent the ship from being able to enter or leave harbour. In fact during a transit out of the Devonport in 1972 EAGLE had been very nearly grounded which could easily have seen her sustain damage that would likely have been uneconomical to fix and would probably have ended her career then and there.

With the ship now on course for home and on track to be in a position to take enter Plymouth during the morning tidal window the ships officers gathered for the entering harbour brief. Captain Slater began by reminding everyone that EAGLE’s homecoming was going to be an extremely high profile event so it was important that there were no mistakes and that despite spirits amongst the crew naturally running high everyone must behave in a professional manner while the ship was in the spotlight. He reminded the officers that when the ship had left home for the Falklands back in early April he had said “When this is over I will have ensured that for better or worse every man woman and child in the country knows the name of my ship”. That aim had certainly been achieved and right now it was for all the right reasons and he didn’t want that to change on today of all days. The ship had had its own “Channel Night” during the night which meant that there would no doubt be a few sore heads amongst the ships company this morning. Channel Night is a tradition whereby ships returning from deployment have what can often turn into a fairly wild celebration the night before they went alongside. Having been away for a few months and participated in an actual shooting war with all constant fear and stress that had come with it meant that there had been a need to blow off some steam and to celebrate the fact that they had survived and were returning home victorious.
Next up was the ships meteorological officer who quickly ran through the days forecasted weather conditions and confirmed that there would be no weather or tidal issues that would affect the ships entry to harbour.
CMD AIR who being in charge of the air group didn’t usually attend these briefings reminded everyone of what his aircraft would be doing. During their flights back to their home bases the squadrons would be performing a number of flypasts all starting with Plymouth. This would hopefully give the expected crowds something to get excited about but would also be pretty good PR for a navy that was always keen to raise its public profile. Indeed, some of the Frigates that had been anchored by Plymouth Breakwater would already be making their transit to Devonport. The sight of those ships with crews lining the sides and formations of Buccaneers and Phantoms flying overhead would now doubt make for some spectacular photographs and film. Aircrews and fast jet pilots especially love to show off and pretty much all of the aircraft were now decorated with silhouettes denoting things such as bombs dropped, aircraft shot down, ships sunk, ect. There were four Buccaneers that very proudly sported the silhouette of an aircraft carrier.
Finally the Ops officer spoke and gave the main part of the brief which concerned the important things such as tugs, route to be taken, berth, Pilot, ect.

With the entering harbour brief completed Captain Slater dismissed his officers who would now go and change into their No1 uniforms in preparation for procedure alpha. But not before ordering the ships bosun to secure a broom handle to a prominent position on the ship’s mainmast. This order drew smiles all around as the broom handle was a tradition indicating a clean sweep or complete destruction of an enemy fleet. It had been a very long time since any ship had been able to carry out this particular tradition. The broom would in later years find its way into the collection of the Royal Navy Museum where it would be one of the most prized exhibits.


With the ship now making its approach towards Plymouth Breakwater the order was given for the ships company to carry out procedure alpha. This meant the entire ships company (excluding the special sea dutymen who would be busy handling lines) donning their No1 uniforms and lining the sides. As Captain Slater came back onto the bridge he looked down onto the flight deck where he saw the always amusing sight of the gunnery senior ratings shouting at the ships company and trying to get them equally spaced along the edge of the flight deck in something that resembled order. The phrase herding cats was often used in relation to this. The ship was now approaching the position where the tugs and Admiralty harbour pilot would meet them to guide her into the harbour and to her berth. The tugs were easy enough to spot but identifying the small pilot launch was proving to be more problematic. It seemed that every small craft afloat had come out to see the mighty ship return. Slater estimated the number to be easily well over a hundred and most likely over two hundred. Picking out the small pilot launch from the mass of yachts, dingeys, small motor launches and pleasure craft took a while.
While it was nice to receive this kind of a welcome from the public the vast numbers of small craft in close proximity to the 54,000 ton ship made everyone on the bridge uneasy as with the ship being extremely restricted in its ability to manoeuvre the potential for a collusion was high. Fortunately, one of the Ministry of Defence Police launches that always accompanied ships in and out of harbour as security had taken station ahead of the ship and was clearing the various small craft out of the way of the ship. The other launches were busy keeping civilian craft a good distance away from the ship so they didn’t interfere with the delicate operation of attaching the tugs.

With the tugs secured and the pilot embarked EAGLE now made her way into the harbour. As she passed the anchorage just inside the breakwater a number of other ships were still anchored awaiting their turn to make their way to Devonport. Having a much more limited window of opportunity to enter harbour and being the flagship and star of todays show EAGLE had priority over every other ship. Despite this the anchored ships had their crews line the sides and cheer EAGLE as she sailed past. The sound of ships horns blaring in celebration carried for miles.
Despite still being a few miles away from Plymouth crowds of people and what seemed like an entire sea of Union Flags were visible ashore.
As the ship made its turn around Drakes Island and into the Tamar it seemed that every open space, building and road ashore was packed with cheering crowds, flags and cameras. It is estimated that over 100,000 people turned out in Plymouth to see the victorious ships return home. No doubt right now HMS INVINCIBLE and HMS HERMES were getting a similar welcome as they sailed into Portsmouth.

Clearing the gap between Devils Point to starboard and Mount Edgcumbe to port EAGLE now turned north and began making her way to her berth towards the northern part of Devonport Dockyard. At this point Captain Slater saw the rusting hulk of the decommissioned HMS ARK ROYAL, EAGLE’s sistership and began to wonder. Officially ARK ROYAL had been in reserve since she had decommissioned 3 years ago but in reality, there had never been any possibility of her being reactivated. The only reason she hadn’t made the trip to the breakers yard yet was because she had been used as a source of spare parts to keep the elderly EAGLE going. Looking through his binoculars Slater noticed that a large number of dockyard workers had taken a boat over to the rusting hulk and set up deck chairs on the rust stained flight deck to get a prime view of the day’s events. The poor condition of ARK ROYAL stood in stark contrast to the condition of his own ship which still had a crew to carry out maintenance and keep the ship clean and paint over rust.
ARK ROYAL was likely not long for this world. Over the course of the 3 years she had been out of service she had been mostly stripped of any useful parts. Indeed before EAGLE had sailed many man hours had been spent aboard ARK stripping her of anything that might be needed by EAGLE or any of the other ships of a comparable era such as HMS HERMES. Whatever was left aboard that was worth salvaging would probably fit into a warehouse ashore meaning that ARK would no doubt soon find herself being ripped apart inside one final time before being sold off for scrap as the navy tried to make up for all of the money that would have been spent fighting for the Falklands.

Thinking about the fate of the former HMS ARK ROYAL turned Captain Slaters mind to the future of his own ship. The truth was that despite being the ships captain and the person that over 2500 of her men looked to for leadership and inspiration he simply didn’t know what fate would hold for his ship or crew even in the short term.
The ship had been scheduled to decommission this year and was supposed to have already made her final entry into Plymouth flying her decommissioning pennant. That was before the events in the South Atlantic had taken place and now the future was uncertain.

As per standard operating procedure in the days before the ship returned home a signal had been sent to Northwood detailing all of the ship’s maintenance needs so that the dockyard would know what needed to be done and could get started straight away. The fact that he had received a signal confirming that the work package had been approved gave Slater some hope that EAGLE still had a future.
Whereas he had been in the process of winding down is crew and preparing to put EAGLE to bed fate had now dictated that his ship and crew was now probably the most worked up and experienced carrier in the world at that time. The aircrews especially were arguably the most professional carrier air wing anywhere afloat. Surely the powers that be would simply just throw away all of that.
Slater knew that whatever happened would be dictated by politics and finance. The government would likely not want to be seen to be decommissioning the ship that had won the Falklands Conflict so soon after it had ended and at the very least a farewell tour of some kind was still possible.
It may well be that defence policy would change and decide that conventional fixed wing carrier capability was something worth hanging on to. After EAGLE’s performance down south Slater would be perfectly happen to question the motivations, competence and sanity of anyone who still held true to the pre Falklands plans and assumptions.
Whatever happened to his own ship the Falklands would no doubt have a dramatic and far reaching effect upon the RN.
If it was felt that big deck carriers were something worth holding onto then EAGLE may well have some more years ahead of her. The problem with all of these scenarios though was where would the money come from.
Carriers were very expensive to build and run and the nations finances weren’t exactly healthy. While retaining EAGLE and building new carriers may sound logical to military planners the bean counters in the treasury may well never give them the required money and politicians would probably feel that with the economy and unemployment rates as bad as they were the money would be better spent elsewhere.
Slater could very easily see a scenario where his ship would remain in commission but alongside for another year or two until the post conflict euphoria had passed and she had slipped out of public consciousness when she could then be quietly decommissioned. The problem was there was no getting away from the fact that EAGLE was an elderly ship and very maintenance and manpower intensive. Even to run her on for another few years would require a significant overhaul. If the navy decided to order new carriers then it would make sense to carry out such an overhaul to buy EAGLE a few more years. If not then the MOD would probably decide that it wasn’t worth spending the money to overhaul and run a ship that they were going to lose soon anyway. The ships that had been lost in the Falklands would need to be replaced and no doubt the navy would rather spend any EAGLE refit money on replacement vessels.

Speaking of lost ships as EAGLE made her way up the sea front of the dockyard the bridge crew noticed two old friends in the drydocks ashore. HMS ALACRICITY had been damaged by an air attack on the 6th of May when a bomb had smashed its way through the ship without detonating. She had limped her way back home and by the looks of things was in an advanced state of repair. Also visible was HMS ANTRIM which had sustained 2 bomb hits in the air attacks on San Carlos. These bombs had detonated and pretty much demolished the entire stern end of the ship. Slater wondered what would happen with ANTRIM. The ship had been approaching the end of its planned service life anyway and her now destroyed Sea Slug SAM system had proven itself worse than useless meaning that repairing her from a purely pragmatic point of view would just be a waste of money. However, the government not wanting the potential embarrassment of having to take the ship out of service would probably order that something be done with her. No doubt naval architects and engineers would be crawling all over her to gather data about how a relatively modern warship design had stood up to battle damage and fire. As for returning her to service there would be no point in replacing the destroyed and obsolete Sea Slug system. Even if the RN wanted to it wouldn’t have the necessary parts anyway. Fitting her with Sea Wolf was a possibility but expensive. If they really wanted to then she could probably be refitted with Sea Dart but the cost of doing that would probably be the equivalent of building a new TYPE 42. In Slaters opinion if they really had to return the sip to service it would be better to use her as some sort of training ship and build extra accommodation areas in the stern area of the ship.

Other ships that had been part of the Task Force had also sustained battle damage and having been at sea in the unforgiving climate of the South Atlantic for so long pretty much every ship in the Task Force would need some time alongside and plenty of work done to them. This would completely throw off the maintenance schedules and refit cycles for at least a year. The dockyard workers would have just found themselves with a much greater degree of job security.

Slater then thought of the brand new INVINCIBLE class HMS ILLUSTRIOUS which would still be tied up alongside at Swan Hunter’s shipyard on the River Tyne. After his planned departure from HMS EAGLE Captain Slater had been due to be the first commanding officer and take her through her sea trials and work up period. If EAGLE was to be around for longer would he still be going up to the Tyne or would he be staying with his current command?
Of his crew most a large number of them had also been scheduled to move to ILLUSTRIOUS to form the core of her crew. Part of the reason for decommissioning EAGLE had been to free up manpower to fill gaps in other areas. The Falklands Conflict would have thrown these plans into disarray. HMS ILLUSTTRIOUS was now complete but tied up alongside unable to begin her sea trials due to a lack of manpower.
If the navy did want to keep EAGLE for longer then some tough decisions would have to be taken regarding manning levels.
One thing that was playing on Slaters mind were issues with his own crew. The previous years defence review had seen the navy incur a reduction in manpower which had resulted in just over 10,000 redundancy notices being handed out including many of which had gone to men aboard HMS EAGLE. When EAGLE had been ordered south these notices had been put on hold but now those men were naturally worried and were asking about their future. Would they now be retained in the service or would they still be leaving? This was a matter that Captain Slater had been taking very seriously. He had even taken it to Admiral Woodward who had assembled the men concerned and given them his word that this would be the first thing he would sort out when he got to Northwood. He had stopped short of telling them that if EAGLE was to be retained then they likely would be as well as he didn’t want to give them a false hope or jinx them.

With EAGLE now level with her berth the tugs began to push the ship towards the dock and heaving lines began to be thrown to enable lines to be passed.
Looking down from the port side of the bridge (Which was the equivalent of looking down from atop an 8 storey building) the bridge crew could see the enormous crowd made up of their families that were waiting for them ashore. Every man on the port side of the ship tried to spot their loved ones amongst the thousands strong crowd.
Also present was the obligatory Royal Marines Band seemingly playing Hearts of Oak and Rule Britannia over and over again (But being nearly drowned out by the noise of the crowd) and dozens of photographers, reporters and TV camera crews.
The lines now secured the cranes ashore began to move the gangways into position. The ships company still lining the sides on the flight deck were smartly marched back inside the ship and dismissed. With his job now done Slater thanked the harbour pilot who then left the bridge. With the bridge crew now having completed their jobs they began to swiftly clear out eager to get ashore and be reunited with their families. Being the CO tradition dictated that Captain Slater always went ashore before anyone else. On the way from the bridge down to the forward gangway Slater picked up Rear Admiral Woodward. The admiral had been observing things from the admiral’s compass platform one deck below EAGLE’s bridge to stay out of the way of the bridge crew. The two officers passed through passage ways and compartments packed with men waiting eagerly to go ashore who instinctively made space for them to pass and came to attention.
Waiting in the forward port berthing bay for the buffers party to finish installing the gangway Slater scanned the crowds for his wife Ann and two Sons Charles and Rory. He spotted them just as the buffer informed him that the gangway was ready and smiled as his young sons began to wave franticly at him. He became aware that the assembled officers and ratings around him were anxiously waiting for him to proceed ashore as that would be the signal that the ships company were free to run ashore to their loved ones.
Followed by Admiral Woodward Captain Jock Slater proceed to calmly walk down the gangway towards his waiting family.

HMS EAGLE and her men had finally come home.
 
Well, the warm up is over and done with, the enemy of the moment laid low, now the real fight to save Carrier Aviation from the true enemy, the Treasury, begins.
 
Lovely homecoming chapter, but lots of worries there.

Hopefully the Navy will get an increase in staffing from this so they can crew EAGLE and ILLUSTRIOUS (why are the ships names in CAPS rather than Italics?) might be at the expense of the other services though...

I wonder if returning from the Falklands gets QE2 her big refit earlier and better than OTL? As I recall QE2 was somewhat rushed back into service to capitalise on the 'fame' of the war.

Love that broom handle tradition!
 
I wasn't aware that the Royal Navy used brooms to signify a "Clean Sweep." I thought that was primarily an American Navy tradition? At least I couldn't find any references to RN vessels flying a broom.
 
Well, the warm up is over and done with, the enemy of the moment laid low, now the real fight to save Carrier Aviation from the true enemy, the Treasury, begins.
Now where's a convenient bomber command air strike to wipe out the treasury building in "tragic" "accident". (As it turns out Bomber Command is so inaccurate it hits "friendly" targets almost 40 years in the future.)
 
I wasn't aware that the Royal Navy used brooms to signify a "Clean Sweep." I thought that was primarily an American Navy tradition? At least I couldn't find any references to RN vessels flying a broom.
It allegedly dates back to Maarten Tromp in 1652 - probably not (at the time it was apparently used to show the ship was for sale), but it's almost certainly older than the US is.
 
why are the ships names in CAPS rather than Italics?
It's a UK 'Service Writing' (or 'Defence Writing' as it's now called) convention. Upper case is used for:
a. Code words, nicknames, and the names of exercises, projects and operations, for example ‘Operation COOT’.
b. The names of Royal Navy ships (that is starting with ‘HMS’).
c. Protective markings and descriptors.
d. Postal towns in addresses.​
 
It allegedly dates back to Maarten Tromp in 1652 - probably not (at the time it was apparently used to show the ship was for sale), but it's almost certainly older than the US is.
Yeah, I did see that article. I should have clarified that I meant in more modern times.
 
Now where's a convenient bomber command air strike to wipe out the treasury building in "tragic" "accident". (As it turns out Bomber Command is so inaccurate it hits "friendly" targets almost 40 years in the future.)
Considering the RAF will problably see a rise of the FAA as something that will bite on their budget, I wonder if they wouldn't side with the treasury...
 
IIRC Brian Hanrahan was with a platoon of Gurkhas when the Argentines surrendered IOTL.

Their British officer's comment on the signal was, "Bloody marvellous!"

This was in stark contrast to the miserable expressions on the faces of his men after he told them (in Nepalese).

Did that still happen ITTL?
 
A thought occurred to me; OTL, the Royal Navy almost sold Invincible to the Australians as part of a downsizing measure. Here, with CATOBAR carriers proving their worth again, the Royal Navy doesn't exactly need all three Invincibles, nor do I think they can really afford it, either. Having two Invincibles plus one CATOBAR carrier would allow the Royal Navy to stick with one full-size carrier but still be able to provide air cover while it's in refit.

The question is, which one. I think Illustrious would be the best; it buys the British time to start designing a new carrier and solve the manpower crunch before Ark Royal comes online, and a big part of the appeal for the Australians was that the ship was already complete, which means Ark Royal is a lesser option in that regard. Invincible herself just did a lot of hard steaming and is probably do for a refit that Australians would rather avoid paying for, so she's a lesser option, too.
 
Also, if the RN stays with CATOBAR carriers, I can't see them building Ocean either, since they'll quite rightly say that an Invincible will pick up the slack when needed since they aren't the RN's main air defence option.

Edit: I think the RAN would probably pick up the Ark Royal, since there is no way that they'll be accepting Sea Dart into service on a single platform. Likely they'd delete the launcher and radars and replace them with more magazine space, an enlarged deck park and Vulcan CIWS where the fire control radars were located.

Illustrious would have to go into the dockyard for that anyway, so why not just sell the third hull off with a reduced weapon fit and divert the launcher and ancillaries to a new build Type 42 replacement?
 
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Ramontxo

Donor
I wasn't aware that the Royal Navy used brooms to signify a "Clean Sweep." I thought that was primarily an American Navy tradition? At least I couldn't find any references to RN vessels flying a broom.
AIUI It is in fact a Ducht tradition going back to the Anglo Ducht naval wars.

Edited to add that so sorry for being way to late in this previously answered post
 

Coulsdon Eagle

Monthly Donor
It's a UK 'Service Writing' (or 'Defence Writing' as it's now called) convention. Upper case is used for:
a. Code words, nicknames, and the names of exercises, projects and operations, for example ‘Operation COOT’.
b. The names of Royal Navy ships (that is starting with ‘HMS’).
c. Protective markings and descriptors.
d. Postal towns in addresses.​
Learn something new every day!
 
If the RN goes full CATOBAR and sells the Invencibles, HMS Ocean might a cheaper alternative as a pure heli carrier and amphib support, specially since it was built from the start to carry LCVPs, up to 40 vehicles and 800+ marines, and could still carry Harriers. The Invencibles could not do this, at least not without expensive alterations.

The RN could undergo some horse trading and do a deal with the Treasury: 2 CATOBARS and Ocean, and sell off the Invencibles earlier. I'd bet it would be an easier fight than keeping CATO and the Invencibles...
 
I wasn't aware that the Royal Navy used brooms to signify a "Clean Sweep." I thought that was primarily an American Navy tradition? At least I couldn't find any references to RN vessels flying a broom.
Oldest definite references I've seen to relate to contests between RN Ships in a squadron/port. If a ship won all the contests ( tug of war , gun drill etc ) it got to put a broom on its mast to signify a clean sweep , if it just came first it raised a flag with a Cockerel on it ( Cock of the Walk )
 
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