the return of HMS Sirius from the West Indies, a period of maintenance in Devonport
and a ‘Work Up’ at Portland, ‘she’ was ordered to join the Fishery
Protection Squadron. At this time the so-called ‘Cod War’ was in
progress. This was an on-going dispute between Iceland and the UK, as a
result of the former making a unilateral declaration of the extension of
her territorial waters. This resulted in British trawlers being harassed
by Icelandic gunboats in these fish-rich waters, and, if banned
altogether, the impact would have a profound effect upon the fishing ports
of Britain and the price of cod over the counter!
had been a few changes to the Detachment, the most prominent being the
OCRM, now Lt Bob Fletcher, (the rugby leprechaun), and the DSM, Sgt Bill
Eades. On the way north, we ‘Royals’ started to imagine all sorts of
schemes in which we may get involved. Would we be used as a boarding party
against the Icelandic gunboats, or perhaps we would sneak in and land in
one of the harbours and neutralise their capability? Surely we would be
used for something? We were to be disappointed, as in the event none of
these things happened. Instead we, as part of the ship’s company, would
be employed in ship’s duties.
relieved a Rothesay class frigate at sea and proceeded to patrol our
designated area. The weather was variable; one minute flat calm with clear
skies, the next high winds and huge waves. We worked a routine known as
‘Defence Watches’, 6 hours on 5 hours off; 5 hours on, 6 hours off. It
became monotonous and mundane. The ‘Jimmy’ utilised the under-employed
by forming cleaning parties, until eventually the whole ship had a pungent
smell of brasso and cleaning paste.
‘Action Station’ was on the starboard oerlikon, a 20mm machine gun of
WW2 vintage, aimed over iron sights and fed by a 60 round drum magazine.
This was a rather exposed position, being abaft the bridge wing, and so,
when not required to be ‘closed up’, shelter was sought in the GDP,
(gunnery direction platform). This consisted of four lookout positions.
Each of these were a set of binoculars mounted in revolving barrel like
structures, which enabled radar contacts to be confirmed by the look-out
with a visual sighting of surface or airborne targets. This position was
commanded by a Snotty. Life on the GDP was cold but much more fun that
being below and being part of the ‘Jimmy’s’ cleaning parties. In
fact when the sun was out one could even get in some bronzy, (sunbathing),
time, in the lee of the foremast.
of the time was spent patrolling our zone; back and forth, back and forth.
It must have been like this on the Atlantic convoys during WW2, endless
hours of boredom, except we didn’t have the submarines to worry about!
During the middle watch I clambered over the bridge wing and grabbed some
‘warmers’ in the bridge itself. There was a radio receiver in there
and we would listen to the conversations between the trawler skippers,
trying to identify the hometown of the various accents. Taking a glance at
the radar screen one could see dozens, possibly hundreds of specks, most,
if not all were British trawlers, going about their ‘lawful’ business.
Looking out on the bridge wing the black sea was dotted with lights as the
fishermen worked their catch aboard, toiling under arc lights in all
weathers throughout the long cold nights. These men were hardy fellows,
the salt of the earth, tough uncompromising men, men who formed the
backbone of a proud fishing industry and tradition; but for how long?
That’s what we were there for, to protect them, wasn’t it?
the boredom would be broken by the report of a gunboat coming out, and we
would dash at full speed to intercept. A Leander class frigate, on paper,
could do 30 knots, but I doubt if we achieved more than 28. At those revs
the whole ship shook and rattled, and anyone who was asleep very soon was
not so. Sometimes gunfire was heard in the distance, followed by a report
of a trawler being hit. Again we raced to the scene, the ship’s stem
ploughed into the swell cutting a passage through the uncompromising foam.
But we were too late; the assailant had done his dastardly deed and
retired to the safety of a fjord.
would be closed up, strapped in at my oerlikon, the wind chill cutting
through my many layers of clothing, the frozen salt spray stinging my face
like dozens of needles. But I was up for it! I had been advised by the
POGI, (Petty Officer Gunnery Instructor), to lay my fire onto the target,
like a wand, using the tracer as a guide. So if and when I was ordered to,
the bridge of the gunboat was going to get an extra long burst!
Icelandic gunboats we encountered regularly were the Odin and the Thor.
These were short in length, rapid in acceleration, with a tight turning
circle. The Leander frigate by contrast was slower to accelerate and was
long and sleek by comparison. Designed for anti-submarine warfare the
Leander’s had thin skins, which made them particularly, vulnerable to
the Icelander’s reinforced icebreaker bows! During cat and mouse antics
with the Thor, as she tried to impede some trawlers, we were almost down
to the gunwales as the skipper put 30 degrees of starboard wheel on at
full speed, and we came very close to collision on several occasions. Not
being allowed to fire unilaterally, the Sgt Major lined us up on the boat
deck and organised ‘volley fire’ at the opposing vessel as she passed
down our starboard side, all but 30 feet away! However the only rounds
‘fired’ were mouldy potatoes from the veg locker!
a couple of months we too were relieved, and I must say we were glad to be
hindsight Iceland was only looking after its own interests. Maybe they
could see the writing on the wall? It’s a shame the UK didn’t do the
same. Instead ‘we’ have given our fishing rights away to the EU under
the guise of the Common Fisheries Policy. Our once proud fishing industry
is now but a shadow of its former self. Iceland still retains hers!
a lasting memory for me will be of our fishermen as they toiled in those
northern waters to bring their catch safely home to port. I now have a
great respect for the people of that industry and when tucking into cod
and chips, I always give a thought to ‘those in peril on the sea’.