D18 ANTRIM D02 DEVONSHIRE D20 FIFE D19 GLAMORGAN D06 HAMPSHIRE D12 KENT D16 LONDON D21 NORFOLK
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Displacement (Based on HMS Norfolk in 1974) 5440 tons Standard, 6200 Tons Full Load
Length 520.5 Ft Overall
Beam 54 Ft
Draught 20Ft (Full Load)
Armament 1 x Twin 4.5 Gun ,4 x Exocet MM38 Launcher, 1 Mk2 Seaslug Launcher, 2 x 20mm Guns, 2 x 4 pod Seacat Launchers.
Aircraft 1 x Westland Wessex HAS Mk3 Helicopter
Radars Types 965 (AKE-2), 278, 992Q, 903 and 901
Machinery Combined Steam and Gas Turbine (COSAG), 2 x Babcok & Wilcock Boilers, 2 x Steam Turbines (30,000 SHP), 4 x G6 gas turbines (30,000 SHP).
Speed 30 Knots
Range 3500 nm at 28 Knots
Complement 470

THE GENESIS OF THE COUNTY CLASS DESTROYER

The County Class Destroyers were designed to carry the Seaslug Missile system. The first drawings for the proposed design of these ships appeared in 1954 and was known as the GW24 project.

Length 372 Feet
Beam 43 Feet
Displacement 3550 Tons
Speed 30 Knots
Armament 1 x Twin Seaslug Launcher, 3 x Twin 40mm/L70 AA, Fixed ASW Torpedo Tubes
You can see from the drawing above that the design and size of the ships changed considerably from concept to actual build. The size of the ships was neccessitated by the complex nature of the Sea Slug missiles and the system required. The ultimate design for the 'Counties' was known as the GW54 concept and the tonnage had increased from 3550 Tons to over 5000 tons. This was necessary to enable enough stowage space for the missiles themselves which were stored horizontally. These ships were designed to take the Royal Navy into the missile age. The first two ships were ordered under the 1955-56 naval estimates although the design of these ships was still progressing at an early stage. While the 'Counties' were in the design stage the Sea Slug missiles were being tested onboard a converted Fleet Auxiliary 'Girdleness'. The missiles themselves were nearly 20ft long and weighed nearly two tons with the MK1 Seaslug having a range of 24 miles and the later Mk2 around 36 miles. The trials of the Seaslug proved very successful and were 92% effective against targets. Remember this is well before the age of laser guided missiles that are commonplace today. I do know that that they were used very effectively when launched from HMS Glamorgan against Stanley Airport in 1982, they left very large holes!!

Seaslug Mk2

Seaslug Trials aboard HMS Girdleness

HMS Girdleness with Seaslug Launcher

From the initial order until the ships were laid down the design was changed a number of times to accommodate advances in technology. These included the addition of a Flight Deck and Hangar to accommodate a Westland Wessex helicopter which was one of the largest naval helicopters around at the time equipped with it's own radar and dipping sonar to enhance the ships ASW capability. Unfortunately this required a very awkward arrangment as the position of the Seaslug (901) radar aft of the hangar mean't that the hangar doors opened sideways on to the port side of the ship which made it very interesting for the flight deck crew when manoeuvering the helicopter from the hangar to the flight deck on a rolling pitching ship. Fortunately no helicopters were lost over the side during this dangerous operation as far as I am aware. In the meantime other design changes included the installation of Anti-Aircraft launchers either side of the hangar. This mean't that for a time the ships had two independant missile systems, and with the Batch 2 ships later there were three when exocet was installed in place of 'B' turret.

From the initial orders being placed for two ships in 1955-56 the first two ships were eventually laid down in 1959. These ships were the Devonshire and Hampshire. Both ships were completed in 1962 and 1963 respectively. The ships that appeared were quite unlike anything thaat had been seen before in the Royal Navy. They were called Destroyers but the resemblance to those ships that bore that title before ended with the name. They were large ships, very handsome in their appearance and similar in size to a light cruiser. The ships had a very high freeboard, and this was due to the design of the seaslug magazine and the requirement to stow them horizontally. They also had two very squat funnels, the forward one for the steam turbines and the after one for the G6 gas turbines. Having two different types of machinery available mean't that there was no longer the need to wait for the ship to raise steam in an emergency as the G6's could be called upon to give immediate power to the ship while steam was raised. This in turn provided a flexibility not seen before in a warship.

The ships were provided with excellent command and control facilities for their day and were often used during their RN service as flagships. A lift was provided from the Ops Room to the Bridge for ease of access, particularly when the ships were closed down for action stations. Accommodation standards were much improved with bunk beds and air conditioning and cafeteria style messing. The messdecks were very cramped however with much space onboard ship taken up by equipment. The ships at sea were reasonably comfortable in bad weather but could roll excessively.

A further two ships of the Batch 1 class were laid down in 1960, London and Kent, and both were completed in 1963. The build time of three years for these ships considering their size and complexity is very commendable. There was a delay in ordering after this as the design for these ships was further modified to take advantage of improvements offered by the Mk2 Seaslug and advances in electronic warfare. The next two ships, Glamorgan and Fife, were not laid down until 1962 and completed in 1966 and were the first two of the improved Batch 2 Counties with the most obvious external difference being the enormous double bedstead radar on the mainmast and a taller foremast. Financial constraints delayed the ordering of the final two ships of the class, Norfolk and Antrim, and consequently these ships were not laid down until 1966 with both ships commissioning in 1970.

The County Class received some modifications during their service with the Royal Navy. The Batch 1 ships received less in the way of modifications than the Batch 2 ships. All ships received additional 20mm guns placed either side of the foremast to give further protection against close range attack. The ships were also fitted with 'Corvus' multi-barrelled chaf launchers which provided protection against anti-ship missiles. All four batch 2 ships had 'B' turret removed in the early 70's as refits became due and were replaced with an exocet launcher to provide further anti-ship strike power. 5 ships, Antrim, Fife, Glamorgan, Norfolk and London had the Scot satellite communications system installed in the late 70's. This again was most noticeable as Scot Platforms were erected on the mainmast, in the London's case something that looked very temporary.

HMS Devonshire, Batch 1 County Class Destroyer

HMS Glamorgan, Batch 2 County Class Destroyer

BATCH 1 FOREMAST

HMS DEVONSHIRE

BATCH 2 FOREMAST

HMS ANTRIM

BATCH 1 MAINMAST

HMS DEVONSHIRE

BATCH 1 MAINMAST

HMS KENT

BATCH 1 TWIN 4.5 INCH GUNS

HMS LONDON

BATCH 2 EXOCET LAUNCHERS

HMS FIFE

SCOT PLATFORM

HMS LONDON

SCOT PLATFORM

HMS FIFE

DRAWING OF BATCH 1 COUNTY CLASS DESTROYER HMS KENT

DRAWING OF BATCH 2 COUNTY CLASS DESTROYER HMS NORFOLK

There were numerous small differences between each of the ships and the above photographs illustrate just a few of them. Naturally the Batch 1 destroyers (Devonshire, Hampshire, London and Kent), differed from the Batch 2 (Antrim, Fife, Glamorgan and Norfolk) as can be seen in the pictures above, and there were also other differences such as the postions of the ships boats, how many each ship carried, the position of the liferafts, the differences between the seacat directors and so on and so forth. For more pictures please see the photo album and make your own comparisons between the eight ships of the County Class.

HMS Glamorgan

To enlarge the picture please click on it

All eight ships of the County Class served in various areas of the world, particularly in the Far East in the 60's, being particularly useful as Flagships due to their excellent command and support facilities. Technology was advancing very quckly in all areas and ships were being designed that were less manpower intensive than the County Class. Unfortunately for these ships they were very manpower intensive with a crew of over 500 and they were also very expensive ships to run. They became obsolete very quickly as new missile systems were introduced, and in a period of cutbacks and financial constraints it was inevitable that some ships would have a very short service life with the Royal Navy. HMS Hampshire was the first to pay off in 1976 after only serving for 13 years, followed by HMS Devonshire in 1978. Following that between 1980 and 1982 there was a veritable cull of the remaining ships with London, Kent and Norfolk paying off during this time. Of the remaining three ships both Glamorgan and Antrim were involved in the Falklands War in 1982 and both were damaged by either missiles or bombs. Fife was in refit at this time, re-entering service in 1983. All remaining ships received further modifications as a result of lessons learned in the Falklands. Despite this time was running out for these ships and Antrim paid off in 1984, followed by Glamorgan in 1986 and Fife in 1987. It is a great shame that alternative roles could not have been found for at least some of these ships. They were large ships and modifications could easily have been incorporated into these ships that could have prolonged their service life with the Royal Navy but this was not to be. This was not the end of their seagoing lives however and 5 ships of the class were sold to foreign navies for further service, with one other ship, Kent, remaining in Portsmouth Harbour as a training ship for many years. They had plenty of potential and this was not lost of the Chilean Navy who purchased all four of the batch 2 ships for further service, with at least two of these ships giving over 20 years further service with a lot of modification that could have been of benefit to the Royal Navy had these modifications been given some consideration.

Two of the class (Fife and Antrim) were completely rebuilt by the Chileans from the mainmast aft with a new hangar and a greatly enlarged flightdeck extending all the way to the stern. This gave them the capability of being able to operate two Super Puma Helicopters. Norfolk received a smaller modification with a rebuilt hangar but the flightdeck was not extended to the stern as in the other two rebuilt ships. Despite these extensive modifications they remained instantly recognisable and retained their graceful lines. Glamorgan remained more or less in her original condition with one or two minor modifications until the end of her service with the Chilean Navy. Glamorgan, (renamed Almirante Latorre), remained in service until 1998, reputed reaching 30 knots during her last time at sea. She was used as an accomodation ship and a source of spare parts. She was later sold for scrap but never made it to the scrapyard, sinking under tow just outside Chilean territorial waters. Fife, (renamed Blanco Encelada), was the first ship to be fully modified by the Chileans with a new hangar and extended flightdeck and she had a full active operational life with the Chilean Navy until decommissioning in 2003. She was scrapped several years later. By 2006 two ships of the class were still active, (Norfolk renamed Capitan Prat and Antrim renamed Almirante Cochrane). By this time the Chilean Navy were acquiring more modern ships to update their Navy so Prat paid off in August 2006 leaving Cochrane as the last operational County Class Destroyer in service, but only for a short time. She finally paid off in December 2006. Prat was scrapped in 2009, and finally Cochrane made the final departure of the class to the scrapyard in December 2010, ending 50 years of this class of warship. It is a great pity that they did not return to the UK for visits as a last look round one of them would have been fantastic. Unfortunately they were no less expensive for the Chileans to run than they were for the Royal Navy.

London was transferred to the Pakistan Navy in 1982 and served as a Cadet Training Ship and received very little in the way of modifications apart from the removal of her seaslug system some time during her service with that country. She continued in service until 1993, and was scrapped two years later.

Kent was the final survivor in UK waters and served in Portsmouth Harbour, anchored off Whale Island as a Training Ship. She served for several years in this role before being relieved by HMS Bristol in 1993. She languished in Portsmouth Dockyard until 1998 before making her final jorney to the scrapyard.

After their passing it is quite unlikely that the Royal Navy will ever see warships like this again. Long after their departure from the Royal Navy they are spoken about with fondness by all that have served on them, and I have never heard a bad word spoken about them. It is true to say that they are missed very much. They were truly magnificent looking warships, and possibly the most handsome of warships to have served in the Royal Navy. They were also highly regarded by the Chilean Navy and the same comments have been passed on from those that served on them thousands of miles away from where they were built.

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