British Sky Tours





***  WORLD NEWS  ***






Adrian's writing is found on the book shelves of discerning people on both sides of the Atlantic.

Both Dick Nesbitt-Dufort and Adrian Hill are published authors. Dick's father wrote a book about his experiences as a special operations pilot flying agents into Occupied France. Dick has edited and produced the memoirs of a soldier during the Napoleonic Wars. Adrian has written novels about espionage set in South Korea and Switzerland and remains the only British diplomat to have written part of the history of the US Department of State. When not organising sky tours he's working on a novel set during the height of the Vietnam War.

For those interested in the Vietnam War copies of  'Escape with Honor' written together by Ambassador Francis ' Terry ' McNamara and Adrian may be found via the publisher - Potomac Books -


Novel about Vietnam War written from personal experience. Feel welcome to take a peep.


 1625 hours on 14 February 1971

North Vietnamese Base Area 615 B located in the Laos high country 87 kilometres west of the frontier with South Vietnam at the heart of the Communist supply system known as the Ho Chi Minh Trails.



When Adrian Hill served as a diplomat one of his most rewarding jobs was Director of British Information Services across Canada. At one stage he gave Britain's messages across the United States as well. Apart from network and local television and radio broadcasts a key part of his job was to brief and often write editorials for the hundreds of newspapers across North America, concentrating on foreign news. Most newspapers in North America view the World from a continent which could get along comfortably without anyone else - and the US/Canadian border is a surprising obstacle. Henry Ginsberg of the New York Times once challenged Adrian to find any Canadian news in his own paper. At that time Henry was their correspondent in Ottawa - he returned to New York City as the Foreign Editor and the Canadians featured more often!

Adrian's editorial contributions with a British slant proved highly popular right across North America so alongside these touring and history pages we opened this editorial page. Here we try to bring some historical perspective to the latest political and military events around the World. Military experience as a paratrooper came in handy as a diplomat. Adrian knows Afghanistan, Pakistan and India from his very first overseas posting as a diplomat serving at the British Deputy High Commission in Lahore and subsequent return visits. His career took in Cyprus and the Near East, Vietnam, Northern Ireland, Switzerland, Canada, South Korea and Jamaica and most places along the flight path.

Apart from witnessing huge armoured and airmobile battles from the Near East to the Far East, Adrian studied campaigns and battlefields on four continents, has written three books and articles for the Royal United Services Institute Journal.

Since spring 2017 he has been writing papers and articles on foreign policy and defence for Veterans for Britain. These have been featured in the British national media.

Although this website is about our tours we also try to promote the heritage of the Atlantic Charter and the Special Relationship. The United Nations and NATO owe their existence to the Atlantic Charter, unique among treaties in that there were no signatures, just messages to their respective cabinets from Churchill and Roosevelt on board a battleship and a cruiser anchored off Newfoundland - plus mutual trust at a time of great danger for the democracies.

Updates will occur when the news makes one worthwhile. Articles on British defence matters are very much works in progress and frequently edited, improved, modified to reflect new conversations and fresh information. All views expressed are personal reflections based on talking to people involved in events and over thirty years military and diplomatic service in the world's hot spots including three wars.


Adrian Hill




Last year Adrian joined a new combined think-tank and fledgling lobby group for all veterans of HM Armed Forces and the Police. All ranks welcome. This is a very well run outfit called Veterans for Britain. There's no money involved. It's all done by email and through the website although they launched with a rally in Portsmouth. You'll find some very respected names on the Board of Advisers - the Chairman is Julian Thompson, retired Major-General and Royal Marine Commando of Falklands fame - with some very switched on young people running the machine and producing papers that ask the right questions so the country proceeds at best speed - steered by a compass showing true bearings.

 If you are a veteran, if you believe we need to take better care of our freedom, starting with much stronger armed forces, sign up, your country needs you!





Readers interested in learning more about the Royal Navy and strategy for these islands can do no better than visit the websites listed with links provided at the bottom of this page.

The websites are regularly updated and the material provided by naval officers with combat experience from the Falkland Islands to Afghanistan and respected academics on defence and foreign policy.



Catching some fresh air on the bow of HMS Eagle


' I do not say, my Lords, that the French will not come. I say only they will not come by sea.'
 Admiral Sir John Jervis addressing the House of Lords as First Lord of the Admiralty in 1801.



When Earl Saint Vincent made that famous remark he spoke to a country that understood the blessings of providence and elementary geography. Modern public ignorance of sea trade and sea power is shocking - even when allowing for the state education casino - given that Britain is no less an island today than 200 years ago. Our global trade and every military operation overseas depends upon freedom of the oceans. Although five per cent of our trade travels by air and our forces in Afghanistan partly supplied by air - without those super tankers bringing the fuel by sea not one aircraft could leave the runway. Every round of ammunition, every tin of beans reaches the combat zone after a long sea journey from somewhere and only the final stretch is by truck or aircraft. As a nation we enjoy all the privileges of a military super power. We are able to intervene across the globe whenever we believe that offers the safest option for ourselves - and our allies - sometimes alone, sometimes with America, sometimes with NATO and Europe. We share intelligence with the USA and three Commonwealth allies. We have a seat on the UN Security Council. Our navy's submarines are armed with strategic nuclear missiles. We are masters of our fate.

The glib observation that we punch above our weight is plain nonsense. We punch below our weight. Successive governments have sent our armed services into danger while refusing to pay for enough forces with the best equipment to succeed with the mission. Libya offers the latest occasion - where our forces coped though the air operations are costing ten fold more than necessary because we had no aircraft carrier. The choice is not about weight but aspirations and will power. Building from the foundations laid by Margaret Thatcher our economy grew until gradually it had almost caught up with a united Germany. Thanks to Gordon Brown and incompetent bankers we trail Italy. This will change. Our economy will recover and grow. Despite bankers and inexperienced politicians busy grinding the economy to a halt. None-the-less, British voters face a choice - although not one politician has alerted them - give up our privileged existence or pay the real bill.

Naval air power does not come cheap. Aircraft carriers require fighters, AWACS aircraft, helicopters. They need escort forces - for only two aircraft carriers an escort force of twelve Type 45 destroyers and twelve Astute Class submarines were judged the minimum number for covering simultaneous tasks, battle damage, transits and refits - plus a supporting fleet of as many fast supply ships. Aircraft carriers are instruments of national prestige for an island trading nation. Our people's standard of living and political power sail with them on the World's most stormy political oceans. They deter war through peaceful diplomacy. War costs a lot more than peace. The present schoolboy government rants about the price of naval power but, if they are not ready to pay the real bill for our islands' defence, they should retreat from Global politics though make the consequences abundantly clear to the voters.  


HMS Queen Elizabeth takes to the water on a much more sunny day than for her recent naming by the Queen.


The Queen at Rosyth on the 4 July...long may she reign......


Christening HMS Queen Elizabeth.....long may she sail........




What it's all about - F 35 trials off the US coast testing the fighter off the ski jump.

The Fleet Air Arm are back in business. With a full war complement of forty or fifty fighters plus helicopters she can attack targets from hundreds of miles out at sea with the most advanced stealth fighters on the planet.


STOVL and rolling stop landings on HMS Queen Elizabeth's flight deck.


View from the aft bridge control tower.


HMS Queen Elizabeth's ship's company gets a week in the Big Apple following successful trials.

Now all we need are three times the present number of destroyers, frigates and submarines.


Meeting of two ocean queens - Mary and Elizabeth - in the Upper Bay of New York Harbor with Manhattan as the skyline.



Naval power acts as a deterrent to political gamblers and thereby prevents conflicts. This applies right across the spectrum from submarines armed with strategic nuclear weapons to destroyers policing the seas against drug runners and pirates. Aircraft carriers are the most awesome expression of this global power - floating airfields that can travel 500 miles during a day. They require nobody's permission to cruise around the globe thus present a threat to most nations with hostile intent towards others. They are the most dangerous conventional weapon on the planet. They are more discreet than any ambassador.  Despite Saddam's threats, Saudi Arabia grew confident enough to allow Coalition forces onto their soil to liberate Kuwait because a US Navy carrier group cruised the Arabian Sea. The Soviet Union kept a large proportion of their airpower held ready against the possibility of massive air attacks from the Arctic Sea and the Mediterranean, launched against their surface ship and submarine bases, their ground forces and airfields, from US Navy and Royal Navy aircraft carriers.

The Cold War cost a fortune but a Third World War might have exterminated the human race. This peaceful and successful conclusion remains the best illustration of the simple logic behind strong naval power in modern times. A strong navy makes possible the exercise of peaceful gunboat diplomacy, soft power messages that remind others we have the brute force to safeguard our allies and interests in far flung corners of the globe. Soft naval power guards our freedom to trade with all continents. Sometimes naval hard power is deployed, most recently on operations such as the Balkans, Iraq twice and Afghanistan. Without aircraft carriers, logistically exposed operations such as Afghanistan become unsustainable overnight, because in real trouble only the aircraft carriers patrolling the Arabian Sea have the freedom to act without restraint in an emergency. There is no possibility of tactical support from an RAF no longer equipped with long range strike aircraft. The core of this country's diplomatic influence and military power depends upon the Royal Navy's ability to position aircraft carriers worldwide.


The old Ark Royal on speed trials. She served from 1955 until 1978 and during her final decade carried F 4 Phantom fighters and Buccaneer long range strike aircraft capable of delivering tactical nuclear weapons. She gave potential enemies sound reason for prudence and diplomacy rather than military gambles. The left hand photo shows two F 4s parked forward and several Buccaneers parked alongside the island and flight deck. Right hand photo shows three Gannet AEW aircraft parked across the stern, five F 4 Phantoms along the flight deck and some Buccaneers on the bow.


After 1945 the Royal Navy drastically reduced its considerable aircraft carrier strength. None-the-less, throughout the 1950s and 1960s invariably three large carriers and two smaller carriers plus two commando carriers were on strength and usually more than half these warships ready for operations at no warning. Throughout the Korean War a pool of three Royal Navy carriers and two Royal Australian Navy carriers ensured that one carrier from each navy patrolled Korean waters. Suez in 1956 required three large carriers and two commando carriers. Iraq's threats on Kuwait's independence in 1961 required one large carrier and a commando carrier - not surprisingly because of over-flying difficulties encountered by the RAF the navy's carriers arrived before 2 Para from Cyprus!  Malaysian confrontation with Indonesia broke out in 1962 and lasted four years. Confrontation required one large carrier and two commando carriers on station off Borneo at all times: such commitments involve at least twice as many warships as those on the front line. Withdrawal from Aden and subsequent operations around southern Arabia during the late sixties were supported by one large carrier and a commando carrier. The East African mutinies early in 1964 were dealt with by an aircraft carrier and a commando carrier.

 Labour cancelled the plan for one, possibly three ( only three made sense ) large replacement carriers in 1966 and the Hawker P 1154 supersonic jump-jet originally designed for them - the navy bears some of the blame for losing the fighter and Britain's aircraft industry lost its technical lead in STOVL. Our 1960s version of today's JSF 35 concept would be an old lady in retirement and long replaced - some 2,750 aircraft have been ordered for the JSF 35 programme.

After withdrawal from Aden in 1967 - rather like Basra without the US Army just up the road - the Labour government of the time decreed that Britain would no longer carry out military operations east of the Suez Canal. This policy flew in the face of significant treaty obligations - such as with South Korea - and common sense. I doubt if Denis Healy, then Defence Secretary, a former Royal Engineer, believed in the policy which was driven by the Treasury saving money. To compound all these mistakes in 1978 the same government paid off HMS Ark Royal - although the ' Ark ' still had plenty of life in her, probably another decade. This foolish decision was the amber light for Argentine's newly installed junta - an invasion of the Falkland Islands might prove feasible - because the Royal Navy no longer would possess the means to deploy supersonic fighters in the South Atlantic.

The two warships in the above photo - HMS Illustrious and HMS Ark Royal - recently underwent major refits and now carry up to 24 Harrier fighters and helicopters. Shortcomings revealed during the Falklands War included no AEW and an obsession with missiles rather than simple AAA for all ships. Admiral Sam Salt who commanded HMS Sheffield told me that he learnt a lifetime's worth about damage control and fire prevention in the fifteen minutes after his ship took an Exocet. These lessons have largely been put right and the aircraft carriers equipped with AEW helicopters, Phalanx gatling guns for close defence, plus the flight deck extended forward on the starboard bow to give more working room.


' One day someone will put a match to the Foreign Office.' Lord Moran when High Commissioner in Canada on learning that Argentine had invaded the Falkland Islands.

As an 18 year old seaman Lord Moran was the aircraft lookout high up on the main mast of HMS Belfast on the night of Boxing Day 1943 when the battleship HMS Duke of York sunk the battlecruiser Scharnhorst. This was the last battle the Royal Navy fought between big gun ships. His father was Winston Churchill's doctor throughout World War Two.


With its large carriers at the breakers yards and replacements cancelled the Royal Navy found itself in a desperate situation. Fortunately some bright souls came up with a new warship called a ' Through deck cruiser ' soon christened the ' See through carrier ' and all three ships of the Invincible class ( photo above ) have given sterling service from the Falklands campaign onwards. After four years of ruthless oppression to stay in power the Argentine junta were confronted by soaring inflation and high unemployment. The green light for a foreign adventure flashed when the Conservative government of Margaret Thatcher not only decided to pay off the remaining older aircraft carrier but even sell the new small carriers and scrap the amphibious landing ships, moreover axe the only ship that patrolled the waters around the Falkland Islands and the Antarctic Territories. During late April 1982 the Argentine Junta invaded the Falkland Islands. By so doing, fortunately, General Galtieri and Admiral Anaya saved the Royal Navy. 

When Admiral Sir Henry Leach briefed Margaret Thatcher on the ships heading south she asked him why Ark Royal with its Phantoms and Buccaneers was not included in the task force. The admiral reminded the Prime Minister that her Cabinet had sent Ark Royal to the breakers yard and given its aircraft to the Royal Air Force. Unfortunately neither aircraft type could fly 8000 miles. There were no further questions.

More on the South Atlantic War further below.


After ' withdrawal ' from east of Suez at the end of the 1960s the Royal Navy and consequently this country had become powerless to influence events beyond Europe. Our nuclear weapons are a deterrent rather than an offensive weapon. With the Invincible class proven off the Falklands the Royal Navy sent a carrier force on a Far Eastern soft power cruise in 1986 ostensibly as a defence sales promotion but also supporting commercial activity in the South China Sea by deterring Vietnamese or Chinese interference. Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait in 1991 and the following year an aircraft carrier with a commando carrier joined the Coalition Task Force for the liberation of Kuwait. Back in the Mediterranean one aircraft carrier took part in NATO air strikes during the 1999 Kosovo War. During 2000 a small operation to deal with civil war in Sierra Leone was carried out by HMS Illustrious and HMS Ocean. This was a text book example of how to insert and support a small intervention force - the Paras seized the airport and the Royal Navy brought a Royal Marine Commando backed by Harrier jump-jets three days later - and restore order when a state fails. Regrettably the civil aid follow-up may prove an example of the opposite result. More recently Royal Navy aircraft carriers have been involved with operations in Afghanistan since the first shots after 11 September 2001 and returned to the Gulf when the Coalition invaded Iraq.

Libya caught the Royal Navy without an aircraft carrier. Britain's rather arrogant though naive government fell into the same trap as a previous governments during the 1920s and 1930s. They predicted that Britain would not go to war against another state for ten years. Within six months British forces were engaged under a UN Resolution against Q's regime in Libya. Air operations mounted from the British Isles and later Sicily, according to one academic, ran up a bill of 1.75 billion, so far, no less than ten times the cost of deploying HMS Ark Royal ( had she still been in service ) with her Harrier jump-jets. The navy found a solution by sending HMS Ocean with six Army Air Corps attack helicopters. This filled a gap but all the helicopters - I am told - will be written off after their deployment because their electronics were never meant to cope with salty humidity - cost about 120 millions.

A combination of Tornadoes and Typhoons with Sentinel and drones worked extremely well. Indeed, the Chief of the Air Staff made this point to the House of Commons Select Committee on Defence, fully supported by the First Sea Lord. The latter remarked that the RAF's air support ' worked splendidly ' though reminded that aircraft carriers provided bases that could move around the globe. Even so, pilots were flying missions 5 or 6 hours long, a large chunk of that time making the sea crossings. France's aircraft carrier performed 1350 sorties ( most air strikes ) during 120 days off the Libyan coast. Often the carrier aircraft reacted and attacked targets of opportunity within 20 minutes.


Deployments of carriers by the Royal Navy fall into patterns. Some concerned winding down the Empire or defending the rights of newly independent former colonies and imperial allies - Kuwait, Southern Arabia, Malaysian Confrontation and the South Atlantic War. Other deployments have protected economic interests, particularly in the Middle East - Suez in 1956, the Gulf War and Iraq. Sierra Leone, Afghanistan and Pakistan, presently Libya - and piracy along the Horn of Africa - bring the Royal Navy back to colonial policing which demands long term commitments. Sooner rather than later a task force of strike carriers and commando carriers will assemble off the Horn of Africa to deal with the pirates and terror merchants by intervention on shore.

Meanwhile we could learn from our grandfathers and deploy Q ships - disguised merchant vessels, heavily armed, traps cruising off the Horn of Africa with enough firepower to blow any fast boat out of the water. The price for getting caught engaged in piracy is not yet high enough. For the education of our media ' Puntland ' the lawless region of Somalia controlled by the pirates is not a recognised state. UN rules do not apply. We can deal with the pirates as we regard appropriate. Given that the pirates can only operate from one place where they control the government the way ahead seems obvious. Better to destroy the nest, declared Lord Palmerston of the slave traders, than try killing each individual wasp. The same principle applies to states harbouring terrorists. The lesson of the last 65 years is straightforward - even during the more predictable era of the Cold War at least once every decade, frequently twice, and lately throughout a whole decade, the Royal Navy deployed its aircraft carriers for strategic deterrence or more often, warfare between states. For all the billions spent on spying, none of these crises were predicted.  


HMS Illustrious waiting for her tug to enter Portsmouth Harbour. On the left is one of the Spithead forts.


After twelve years of foot-dragging the Labour government finally signed the contracts for building two big aircraft carriers to operate the JSF 35 fighter which employs jump-jet technology originally deployed with the veteran Harrier fighters. This is the ' aircraft ' cancelled in 1966 - with 50 years worth of technology advances.

The contract was delayed by Gordon Brown because he preferred to keep the thousands of jobs as a General Election bribe in Scotland. Brown lost the election but Cameron barely won it, therefore formed a coalition with the Liberals who prostituted themselves to the highest bidder. The aircraft carriers would have been axed by the new government who are ignorant of foreign policy, defence and indeed history. Fortunately, one of the decisions that Gordon Brown got right was to make the contract so copper-bottomed that it was more expensive to cancel the ships than to build them.


The JSF 35 has a longer range, super-sonic speed, plus stealth technology


HMS Queen Elizabeth arrives at Portsmouth after sea trials off Scotland

HMS Queen Elizabeth enters Portsmouth Harbour


HMS Queen Elizabeth almost alongside in her home port.



The first of the Royal Navy's brand new aircraft carriers has arrived at Portsmouth. The second aircraft carrier, HMS Prince of Wales, was named on the 8 September with a bottle of Lofraich. As predicted on this website, eventually the ships will displace 70,000 tons - possibly 75,000 was my guess rather than 65,000 tons - and best speed will be 32 knots rather than the official 25 knots. HMS Prince of Wales is likely to displace 73,000 tons so I wasn't far out. This is more like their American super-sisters.



HMS Prince of Wales on her naming day at Rosyth in Scotland.


After reversing the ' previous decision reversal ' both carriers will operate STOVL variants of the JCF 35 after all. This decision corrects another decision, also taken in haste by the previous Prime Minister and his Chancellor - not the admirals - that would have turned the clock back to the 1960s. The previous Chief of the Defence Staff, Air Marshal Sir Jock Stirrup, will be blamed by Downing Street for taking sweets from the baby's mouth but yet again, the Prime Minister, David Cameron, looks a foolish schoolboy way out of his depth on diplomacy and defence.

There are sensible arguments - apart from greater range and payload - for returning to conventional fighters flying off angled flight decks. The choice allows American conventional naval fighters to cross-deck. No operational co-operation is envisaged by the French Government under the new Anglo-French Defence Agreement and the overall value of such activity is probably marginal. Nor could the CATOBAR version of the JCF 35 land and take off from the present French aircraft carrier - the JCF 35 is too big and too heavy when operating at maximum take-off weight, I gather from expert sources. There's also the small matter of whether the JCF 35 would burn a hole through the fight deck on the French carrier. The RN and the RAF can fly the same version, moreover equipped for buddy air-to-air refuelling. CATOBAR - Catapult take off but arrested recovery - also makes possible operating fixed wing EAW aircraft with long range. However, the Royal Navy and the Royal Air Force would abandon highly versatile technology, strategy and tactics, proven in sea and land combat.

Jump-jets operate from aircraft carriers of all sizes, also smaller ships and make-shift advance airfields. Jump-jets allow land-based crews to fly off ships, naval fighters to join ground operations. Naval fighters boosted by RAF ground attack fighters and vice-versa made effective use of the combined Harrier Force. The range of the jump-jet is less important than its ability to leapfrog from ship to shore and even leapfrog again. This agility requires modest support whereas conventional fighters, RN or RAF, cannot set up shop without all the support and defence forces inherent in a large secure base with massive runways.

During the South Atlantic War the RN Sea Harriers and RAF Ground Attack Harriers operated from aircraft carriers and hastily prepared strips on the islands. The first fighters based in Afghanistan were Harriers - no other jet fighter was able to fly  off the rough strips available at high altitudes. One can argue that performance from high altitude airstrips can prove as important as combat radius. This strategic elbow room persuaded the naval architects to design two large aircraft carriers for jump-jets. Back in 1998 they could have just as easily opted for catapult launched fighters and bought the F 18 Super Hornet. 

A widely leaked misconception is that smaller carriers would provide the same strategic impact. This old wives' tale surfaces in the newspapers every few months and reflects an editor's lunch with a senior general. Why the Defence Secretary hasn't sat on the generals, I fail to understand - too many arm chair generals prowling the House of Commons? The JCF 35 programme develops a fighter in a different league from the the much smaller Harrier. A significantly bigger ship is required to carry the new fighters. Much thought has gone into designing the new aircraft carriers and their size reflects the best value for the total investment - the whole package.

Warships go into battle and sometimes take hits. A large warship, designed to withstand battle damage, has much more chance of survival and often remains able to fight. There is armour, room for built-in redundancies for command and power cables, plenty of space for stores. By contrast, during the Falklands War the two aircraft carriers often had live ammunition stacked on the flight deck because of the cramped spaces below deck. An idea of the advantages of a big ship can be seen from an accident on board the USS Enterprise some 70 miles off Pearl Harbour in 1969. The exhaust from an F4 Phantom set off rockets which set off a chain of fuel and ordinance explosions - eighteen in all including several 500lb bombs - which blew eight holes in the flight deck, destroyed 15 aircraft, killed 28 and injured 344 members of the crew. The holes were patched and the ship ready for action within hours. The eventual repairs cost $ 122 millions.

This is nothing new. After the Battle of Jutland over the 31 May and 1 June 1916 the Kaiser claimed victory because the Royal Navy had lost two more ships and many more men than the Imperial German Navy. Three of the British battle cruisers had blown up because of faulty design for ammunition handling and possibly risky procedures to speed up their rate of fire, but that was kept secret at the time. None-the-less, during less than two hours, Jellicoe's main battle fleet, though taking hits, did a great deal more damage to Admiral Sheer's battleships. Apart from those sunk, three almost sank while being towed back to port. On the 2 June Jellicoe was able to signal the Admiralty in London that he had 24 battleships and battle cruisers ready to sail - Admiral Sheer had 10 ready.   

My concern over the new aircraft carriers is whether they are large enough, tough enough, fast enough. Are they properly armoured? By this I do not mean simply thick steel but modern construction techniques and materials. Secrecy can hide technology though also stupidity. Have the engines enough power? The new carriers' designed best speed is stated as 25 knots, ten slower than a USN super carrier. With STOVL jump-jets this is not critical. Fortunately the project director has revealed that their best speed will be at least 32 knots. What makes the whole package appear distorted is the plan for a ridiculously small number of fighters and dangerously low number of destroyers and frigates. Far from making the carriers smaller, or reducing their air group to laughable numbers, the right answer is to double the strength of the destroyer and frigate force. The carriers are capable of operating 70 jump-jets in an emergency. Phone the US Marine Corps!

Many lament the loss of the Ark Royal and her Harriers. As a former Chief of the Naval Staff told me recently in London, ' Forget the Harriers. It's sad about Ark Royal. Now let's concentrate on making a big success of the future carriers.'

He'd just had a tour of the first one under construction and was very impressed.      

HMS Queen Elizabeth after floating from the dry dock.


The biggest problem with the aircraft carrier programme remains that the Prime Minister and her Ministers do not understand strategy let alone the role of naval air power and thus the strategic value of aircraft carriers and a strong navy is largely lost on them. At present we have a stream of well-meaning waffle from the politicians involved. The Armed Forces are not adequate for our protection, nor sufficient for putting out brush fires. We've known for days that a huge hurricane was about to hit the British Virgin Islands yet the obvious ship, HMS Ocean, only received orders to help after the storm hit and had to cross the Atlantic. Why wasn't she sent days before to join the Royal Fleet Auxiliary that was there already?

 There is no point building two 70,000 ton aircraft carriers unless you arm the ships with a full air group on board all the time. Air groups have to train constantly to fly in all weathers, day and night, against the toughest opposition. A big carrier with a dozen fighters and a few helicopters will indeed provide visible protection by a more powerful friendly nation for some small countries, by frightening other small countries who might intend mischief. That's not the strategic reason for building the largest warships ever ordered for the Royal Navy.

There is only one way to gain true value from the carrier design; invest properly, don't penny pinch. Both carriers are designed to carry a big air group of around 40 strike fighters and up to 70 in an emergency. Equipping the air groups with the JCF 35 lifts the Royal Navy into the same naval air power league as the US Navy. Adding a JCF 35 equivalent of the EA 18 Growler to the package - two or three for each carrier - and developing UAV jammer with the Americans would allow the Royal Navy far better long range intelligence of all kinds. Having opted for the jump-jet variant of the JCF 35, thus carriers with ski-jumps rather than catapults, the EA 18 itself no longer is an option for ISTAR. Thus another answer must be found - more below. The EA 18 Growler costs about $ 145 million though an equivalent aircraft would place the Royal Navy in the same ISTAR league as the US Navy. This would provide a conventional deterrent force with enough firepower to frighten any country. Peace is much cheaper than war.

This muddle reveals the ignorance of the previous Prime Minister and his Defence Secretary. Neither understood the value of pursuing a strategy, nor indeed, the strategy they supposedly chose a few years back.

The size of the carriers - as mentioned above - has nothing to do with the variant of the JCF 35 fighter chosen for their air groups. Rather, the naval architects were asked to design ships that could launch a given number of strike sorties per day, over a period of four weeks before the ship needs re-supply with munitions and aviation fuel, which led to the plan for an air group of 36 fighters backed by 4 or more AEW and air sea rescue helicopters. The proposal began with a surge of 150 sorties per day but after a debate lasting years - yes - settled at a surge of 108 sorties followed by 72 sorties a day for ten days, followed by a further 36 sorties a day for the another twenty days. Much of the demand for space meets the need for equipment to handle ammunition and stores at this rate. CATOBAR or STOVL makes a single difference to the size of the eventual ship. Opting for the catapult launched fighter would equip the carriers with an aircraft with greater range and much greater payload and buddy refuelling. However, that means providing more space for storing fuel and heavier weapons. One suspects that space is there and that the original plan was for an air group with 48 strike fighters. 

The strategic impact of the design is out of all proportion to the cost - itself spread over 40 or 50 years - adding a huge increase in strength to the nation and the alliance. Nobody in the US Navy will question the value of a special relationship with a country that brings another two world class carrier groups to our mutual strength. I stress ' groups' because the Royal Navy needs double the number of destroyers, frigates and submarines.


Britain is well placed to develop new aerial vehicles for naval purposes. I was involved in supplying an airship to the South Korean police for the Seoul Olympic Games as far back as 1986! Since then the company has risen from the financial ashes and developed hybrid airships - mixing features of heavier and lighter than air technology - for long range ISTAR. The US Army was going to try out an HAV 304 in Afghanistan. The HAV 304 can stay airborne for three weeks and cruise at 80 knots. The payload will allow a large amount of technology on board and the crew numbers to exploit this equipment. Weather conditions may limit the use of HAV but only where extreme wind conditions occur and since their present ceiling is 20,000 feet, HAVs sound able to keep above much bad weather. Designs have been considered for HAVs with ceilings up to 60,000 feet as alternatives to satellites. Are we looking at an HAV support ship as part of a carrier task force, big enough to provide the HAV with shelter in ghastly weather, fast enough to keep pace with the task force?

BAE are working on UAV aircraft such as Taranis - more at World News Seven on Britain's nuclear forces - and there is scope for all sorts of naval applications for HAVs and UAVs. One can envisage HAVs and UAVs flying ahead of the carrier force and reaching the operational area several days before the surface ships. When the carrier strike force arrives on station the air wing has a comprehensive ISTAR picture and spent the voyage drawing up plans based on real time information.



One former UK defence industry leader - an eminent man so I gather -  proposed in all seriousness that the Royal Navy should buy American aircraft carriers and lease F 18 fighters. I'm not the greatest at sums but even I can work out that paying 5,000 sailors costs more than paying 1,400 sailors for the same number of decades. Leasing the American ship's companies wouldn't help either. The same expert faults the Type 45 destroyers because they aren't suitable for export. We need every Type 45 we can build - starting with another six Super Type 45s for our navy - and the government have exported far too many virtually new destroyers. This sorry tale of muddle, indecision and frequent political cowardice should be compared with the US Navy's long established programme of budget discipline, lateral thinking, above all clever deals for replacing its big aircraft carriers on a reliable time table. 


American Lady with a big stick - USS John C Stennis

The paramount duty of all governments is the safety of their people through strong defence. Americans understand this. No matter how many people question Iraq, hardly a soul questions the need for their navy to have enough ships and with enough fighting power. Maintaining the global power of the Royal Navy is likewise the British Government's first priority. From drawing board to commissioning a warship or submarine takes many years. You cannot design a fleet around what is happening today. You hold enough ships in reserve for dealing with unforeseen crises. You build a fleet to deal with tomorrow's dangers. One doesn't have to look hard for warning signals.


Click the USS John C Stennis



 Early in December 2007 the Russian Northern Fleet launched a big exercise with ships including an aircraft carrier weaving among the Norwegian oil rigs. This exercise involved a great deal of helicopter traffic. No warning had been given to the Norwegian government. Eventually the Norwegian oil companies had to stop all civilian helicopter flights until the Russian warships had passed through their sector. The exercise involved seizing oil rigs. Russia's fleet passed within spitting distance of the UK sector. Walk half way across the Murcheson oil rig and you step into the Norwegian sector. Nor could we have stopped them from grabbing any number of oil rigs - the RAF no longer has maritime strike aircraft and the Royal Navy will not possess an attack carrier with strike aircraft until 2019. Russia understands the value of naval soft power. Russia pursues an aggressive foreign policy for control of Europe's energy supply. The message of this major naval exercise passed over the heads of the UK media - though was not lost on the Ministry of Defence who made no public fuss.

Russia's fleet made a westerly swerve around the Shetland Islands followed by exercises with the French Navy off south-western Ireland. Next, exercises took place with the Portuguese Navy, before the Northern Fleet passed through the Mediterranean and reached the Black Sea. Yes, Russia has the right to exercise its fleet on the high seas - we don't notify coastal states either of warship transits - but the lack of polite advance warning reveals the core purpose. Showing ' diplomatically ' how they could seize the oil rigs under our noses, testing our reaction, measuring our resolve.

Despite this truculent behaviour Russia's navy is a shadow of its former power. None-the-less, based on our doorstep, Russia's Northern Fleet has enough ocean going surface ships and nuclear submarines to cause us serious concern. Eleven missile submarines, twenty-two attack submarines, eleven major surface warships including an aircraft carrier and three missile cruisers. Fortunately the Russian fleet breaks down quite often but we cannot rely on this as a defence option. Nor will this phase last much longer. Wiser to ask ourselves precisely how would Britain protect its oil and gas rigs, indeed our merchant shipping from a powerful hostile navy with bases only hours distant? There are reports that Russian surface ships and to a lesser extent submarines practise approaches to our main ports. Alpha class submarines can carry up to forty mines instead of torpedoes. The Dover Strait is the busiest sea highway on the planet. A hostile navy imposing a blockade, merely a stop and search regime, could inflict immense damage on our economy and those of our neighbours without firing a shot. Russia has just announced a large increase in spending on its armed forces- including the equivalent of nearly fifty billion dollars on new ships and submarines over the next few years.

Russia's present leaders also favour brinkmanship as a foreign policy tool. Conventional weakness inevitably forces political leaders towards the nuclear threshold - this year once again we saw Russia threaten Poland over the strategic missile defence system and nuclear bombers regularly fly courses aimed at cities in northern Britain. Restoring the Royal Navy's strength in home waters and the Atlantic would bring more stability and order to the whole region - before Russia becomes tempted to step into the present strategic vacuum and start claiming its neighbours' natural resources. To an extent this has already started with Russia's preposterous claim to a large area of the Arctic Ocean. While this claim immediately concerns the USA, Canada, Denmark, Iceland and Norway all these countries are NATO allies. 

Royal Norwegian Navy frigate Roald Amundsen keeping an eye on the Russian aircraft carrier Admiral Kuznetsov



Strong forces deter, prevent or contain threats. Weak forces do the exact reverse. When UK defence minister, John Nott, drastically shrunk the Royal Navy - he was a book-keeper in business life - his rash decision persuaded Argentina's junta to gamble in spring 1982 that they could invade the Falkland Islands with impunity. Many brave men on both sides lost their lives because of those twin foolish decisions. John Nott remains the only British defence minister who started a war with his own white paper on disarmament. David Cameron may become the second! After the South Atlantic War a serious effort was made to rebuild the Royal Navy's strength but this soon faltered with collapse of the USSR. For the last two decades the defence and security of the British Isles and our trade by sea have been shamefully neglected.

The temporary absence of a threat from potentially hostile submarines in home waters allowed both Conservative and Labour governments to run down the Royal Navy's destroyers, frigates and attack submarines. Since Tony Blair's election in 1997 this run down accelerated. The navy was forced to reduce its surface and submarine strength to counter budget over-runs for the Type 45 destroyers and the new Astute class submarines. Further drastic reductions were made to ensure the two new aircraft carriers would go ahead but their support ships were ordered then cancelled. The best way to measure the gap between what was planned and current reality is by using the previous government's own calculations when it drew up its first defence white paper in 1998. This paper opened with a proposition that another Russian threat appeared most unlikely and the navy would re-structure for intervention operations. This allowed a reduction from 35 to 32 destroyers/ frigates and from 12 to 10 attack submarines. ( I never followed their logic which implied that only 3 surface ships had been needed to deal with the Northern Fleet's many submarines. ) At the same time plans were drawn up for building 12 Type 45 destroyers ( since reduced to 8 then only 6 ships ) and as many as 20 Future Surface Combatants/replacements for the smaller type 23 destroyers plus 10 Astute Class submarines. According to the last government's own calculations at present the navy is short of 10 destroyers and 3 attack submarines - before the latest Cameron coalition cuts and any new threat emerges from Russia or indeed, anyone else, starting with Argentina and the Somali pirates.

One has to look at the Royal Navy before John Nott for an idea of the minimum strength required to carry out its tasks for NATO in the Eastern Atlantic when confronted by a strong Russian Northern Fleet. No less than 70 destroyers and frigates and 30 attack submarines backed by three aircraft carriers were required to have enough hulls ready at no warning for any sign of the Soviet Northern Fleet leaving its bases in large numbers. There were also 40 minesweepers and nearly 40 offshore patrol ships in case the Russians attempted mining and sabotage before major hostilities. We knew from reliable secret intelligence that widespread sabotage would be attempted by Russia. Supporting the Royal Navy were sophisticated maritime patrol aircraft and a strong force of strike aircraft based in Northern Scotland. What would have happened in an emergency provoked by the Russians was revealed in spring 1982 when the Argentine junta invaded the Falkland Islands. 

Bear in mind that had the Royal Navy still possessed a proper battle fleet the Argentine Junta would never have invaded. Spearheading any liberation would have been HMS Ark Royal with Phantom air defence fighters, Buccaneer strike bombers - both long range, plus AEW fixed wing aircraft and ASW helicopters. HMS Hermes and HMS Invincible would have supported Ark Royal with their Sea Harriers and ASW helicopters. HMS Bulwark and HMS Albion, commando carriers with troop transport helicopters, plus the two large assault ships, HMS Fearless and HMS Intrepid, would have carried the Royal Marine Commando Brigade and Special Forces. The whole plan for how to liberate the islands would have been vastly different. This force would have kicked down the front door, not the back.

Instead the Royal Navy pulled off the job with a much weaker force but paid a heavy price. As neither side gained air supremacy the battle turned into a bloody slogging match. Back to April 1982.    

Over a matter of days the Royal Navy gathered a small carrier task force and within three weeks despatched about 100 warships, submarines and merchant ships. These forces sailed south in three main groups - the nuclear attack submarines, the aircraft carrier group, the main amphibious group. Two small aircraft carriers were relieved later by a third and altogether six submarines and twenty-three destroyers and frigates served with the task force. Governments are penny wise and pound foolish. Lack of any form of airborne early warning ( AEW ) on the aircraft carriers led to six losses among their surface escorts with a further eleven of the destroyers and frigates suffering damage. Moreover, very few ships carried the latest defence systems against both aircraft and missiles. Had all the warships been properly armed including AEW on the carriers then the task force would have suffered far less, possibly not lost a ship, certainly significantly fewer.

Argentine's air force had never fought an air battle, lacked long range fighters, possessed a handful of tanker aircraft and its pilots weren't trained to attack ships. The tanker gap forced the Argentine pilots to keep their speed lower. Their navy possessed a squadron equipped with the French Etendard fighter armed with Exocet sea skimming missiles - fortunately only four missiles had been delivered before France cut off the supply. Two British destroyers were lost when stationed like sitting ducks a hundred miles ahead of the task force to provide the only available form of early warning. Admiral Sandy Woodward had no other means for providing enough alarm time to keep his precious carriers afloat. When the opposing pilots met each other in air combat the result was beyond question - 27 aircraft shot down for no loss to the Royal Navy Sea Harriers.

Supersonic land based aircraft proved no match for the sub-sonic though highly aerobatic naval jump-jets. Much credit goes to Kasper Weinberger, American Defence Secretary, who on his own initiative despatched supplies of the latest Sidewinder missiles and much else besides. None-the-less, the British pilots flew brilliantly, though our sailors could but admire the courage and skill of the Argentine pilots who repeatedly attempted low level attacks. Fortunately for the destroyers and frigates, many bombs had wrongly set fuses - but not all. Margaret Thatcher's government and John Nott in particular were extremely fortunate that so many bombs did not explode - John Nott might have been hung from a lamp post if the navy had lost seventeen ships out of twenty-three because they were sent to war lacking elementary defence against old fashioned air attacks.

Other threats to the task force came from Argentina's single aircraft carrier - purchased from Holland though originally British - three surface ships including a large cruiser and most dangerous, modern submarines built in Germany. The plan was to attack the British from two directions with an air strike from the north off the carrier and a surface attack from the south. Fortunately only one submarine had been delivered from Germany and was not ready for operations. This vessel still greatly worried the British task force. Light winds prevented the heavily laden Skyhawks from launching otherwise the World might have witnessed the first battle between aircraft carriers since World War Two. The fate of the cruiser has been debated ever since - war is war but politicians leave the young to pay the price - Admiral Sandy Woodward, commanding the task force and a submariner himself, would have sunk the carrier as well had one of his nuclear submarines been near enough; at all costs he had to safeguard his carriers. After the loss of the General Belgrano the Argentine ships effectively retreated to coastal waters. This allowed the amphibious force, including QE II and Canberra serving as troop ships to advance towards the islands for a landing.    

Some months afterwards Admiral Sandy Woodward and General Jeremy Moore were guests at a banquet in their honour given by the RUSI in London. We turned the lecture theatre into a rather splendid dining room. The evening was the best at the Institute that I can remember during nearly five decades. ( I joined as a very young RE lieutenant. ) Sandy Woodward and Jeremy Moore ' sang for their suppers ' with the most superb double-act lecture that any of us had heard. They were splendid; candid, impressive yet modest, above all volunteered their personal reflections on where things had gone right and where they should have gone much better. Sandy Woodward flew his flag in HMS Hermes which had been converted from a commando carrier role with helicopters to a Harrier carrier. Only two years before her surviving sister ship, HMS Bulwark, after a fire in the engine room only a year after an expensive refit, had been paid off. Had the fire not happened, the task force might have sailed with two carriers the size of Hermes, plus Invincible and later Illustrious. That would have made an enormous difference to the air defence and striking power of the task force while providing a far greater safety margin were a carrier hit and damaged. Because there was no HMS Bulwark all the helicopters for the land campaign were loaded on board a container ship and lost when that ship took an Exocet. This drastically effected the land campaign; the Royal Marines and Paras walked across the islands. Whereas the old Bulwark - not to be confused with the modern ship - would have enabled them to launch multiple helicopter insertions from a safe distance out to sea, beyond the range of hostile aircraft.

Had the old Ark Royal still been in commission no invasion would have taken place. Have a look at World News headline page - link further below - for updates on the row between Argentina and Britain over the Falkland Islands.


Why the Royal Navy needs enough warships. Streaked with rust after months at sea - HMS Hermes enters Portsmouth Harbour on return from the South Atlantic War - ready for a lengthy refit. Naval airpower was the crucial weapon. Without it liberating the islanders would have been virtually impossible. Although not in the league of the old Ark Royal, the flight deck on Hermes operated up to 21 Harriers, 9 large Sea King helicopters, 2 Lynx and 2 Wessex - the latter also quite large helicopters. Compare this with the 10 Harriers, 9 Sea King and single Lynx on board Invincible and you see why the Royal Navy is sacrificing orders for destroyers and submarines to rejoin the big carrier league of World Navies. We need all three types of warship. The government's record is shameful.  



  One begins to see the huge void between what is required for the Royal Navy and what the present government provides. Keep in mind that the navy's present strength already needs boosting to cope with current intervention operations beyond the Suez Canal. Borrowing a name from the last century, the Atlantic Fleet, becomes shorthand for a force that can operate from Pole to Pole and with enough strength to cover the Mediterranean and Caribbean. One large aircraft carrier would be pushed to cover this vast ocean space. Two would be stretched. There is a strong argument for building a third large carrier. Ships need refits especially after long periods at sea. There is an obvious case for keeping at least two of the present small aircraft carriers as a quick reaction reserve - which we already do with HMS Invincible - and prolonging the Harrier force as a Fleet Air Arm reserve. David Cameron's plan to dispense with Ark Royal and the Harriers is breathtaking, revealing an approach that is both idle and stupid.

Harriers could fly from HMS Queen Elizabeth for the first year or two until the JSF 35 comes into service. Moreover the STOVL JSF 35 can operate from smaller carriers thus allows the kind of emergency cross-decking envisaged by Sandy Woodward. Similar small carriers armed with a combination of Harriers and helicopters serve in the navies of Spain, Italy and Thailand. Alternatively HMS Ocean might benefit from a ski-ramp when she has a major refit and future assault ships designed with strong lifts and a ski-jump. None of these ships could launch conventional fighters - they're not big enough.

 No doubt all sorts of arguments would be raised against these ideas and the proposed reserve force but in a crisis only your existing hulls and aircraft count. At the very least we should keep the older carriers and their aircraft mothballed until the fleet receives its other proposed major units - new commando carriers although the present government has gone very quiet on this project - and these vessels should have as much flexibility as possible built into their design because the best armed ship in the world cannot patrol two places at the same time. 

The proposal is for three large assault ships with full length flight decks as helicopter carriers though able to launch and recover the STOVL JSF 35 fighter. Similar vessels planned for the US Navy match the Royal Navy's large new aircraft carriers in size and weight. For some time the Royal Navy has been looking at a design nearer the size of HMS Hermes - about 30,000 tons - which is still 10,000 tons larger than the present HMS Ocean. An amphibious ready group - to borrow the US Navy's name - consists of an aircraft carrier, a helicopter carrier such as those shown below though known in the Royal Navy as an assault ship, plus one or two assault landing ships known as landing ships dock ( LSD ) and slightly smaller, less versatile versions - the latter known in Royal Navy jargon as LSD ( A ) for Auxiliary. Photos further below show how the stern of an assault ship LPD and an LSD ( A ) will open up, allow flooding the rear part of the ship, thus effectively creating a floating dock.

During an amphibious landing the opening assaults are made by commandos from the assault ship flying by helicopter to seize strong points and headquarters on shore. These missions are co-ordinated with beach landings from the LSD force. Once the coastal target zones are secure the LSD (A) force close on the assault beaches and then begin delivering more troops, armour, artillery, heavy equipment, ammunition and supplies. Part of the Falklands legacy is that the Royal Navy has a modern and practical fleet for amphibious operations. My only criticism is that speed was sacrificed to keep the costs down. Otherwise, compared with 1982, the Royal Navy has much larger ships with the ability to operate helicopters - meaning the equipment required to start and refuel helicopters - and launch landing craft including vessels capable of delivering armour and equipment from long range onto a hostile shore.

As the World copes with climate change this fleet is just as likely to deploy for rescue and reconstruction tasks after a natural disaster. All the more reason why the Royal Navy and the Royal Engineers should take over a large proportion of the International Aid Budget - which in any case should return to supervision by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. At the moment we have two foreign policies - the real world and a happy clappy dreamland where the British taxpayers hand over billions each year to corrupt and incompetent governments, no questions asked, no favours expected in return.

The Chinese - who receive UK aid despite $ 3 trillion reserves - split their sides laughing every day all over Africa.


HMS Ocean the Royal Navy's modern helicopter carrier and in the right photo USS Bataan. At more than 40,000 tons fully loaded Bataan is twice as large in bulk and weight as Ocean. USS Bataan carries 30 aircraft rather than 20 helicopters on board HMS Ocean. The other main difference is flexibility. HMS Ocean can only operate helicopters. USS Bataan has a flight deck that allows her to operate her Osprey aircraft for insertions by the US Marine Corps. The flight deck design makes possible operating JSF 35 fighters. HMS Ocean would need a major refit, probably the construction of a ski ramp with the Phalanx gun system forward on a bow more like that of HMS Illustrious. She would also need stronger, side-angle lifts added to cope with the JSF 35 fighter. 

Italy's answer is the Cavour - at 30,000 tons approximately the same size as HMS Hermes. Spain also built a smaller Harrier/Helicopter carrier. Principe de Asturias at 18,000 tons fully loaded is larger than Italy's Giuseppe Garibaldi though much lighter than HMS Illustrious and HMS Ark Royal. 

HMS Bulwark and HMS Albion are Landing Ship Dock ( LSD ) - big ships at 18,500 tons equipped to launch assault landing craft and operate a small number of large helicopters. One wonders if the docking capability could have been combined with a full length flight deck - perhaps the need for space to transport stores and provide troop accommodation demanded a large superstructure rather than an island.

Royal Fleet Auxiliary ships Cardigan Bay and Largs Bay are part of a class of four ships - LSD (A) - built to support amphibious assaults. At 16,000 tons they are capable of carrying a whole Royal Marine Commando in an emergency although with facilities for 350 commandos under normal conditions.



Even the United States has limits on its military airlift. The US 82 Airborne Division keeps a company group at 2 hours readiness but to send off a battalion group requires 24 hours and a brigade group 48 hours - these are times for launching an opposed parachute assault with no integral helicopter assets. In other words, jumping into somebody's backyard, armed with whatever you can strap onto your body, shove in a kit bag and lash onto a heavy drop platform. During the last 26 years the US 82 Airborne Division and the 173 Airborne Brigade carried out combat jumps in the Caribbean, Central America, Iraq and Afghanistan. Britain has excellent airborne forces, nearly all parachutists, backed with plenty of attack helicopters, tempered by hard colonial combat, though woefully short of strategic airlift. The RAF would have to stop everything else for a week to deliver the whole 16 Air Assault Brigade from Britain to another continent, simply for an unopposed landing.

The invention of the steam turbine and oil fired boilers brought about a revolution in the reaction speed of naval forces. No longer was over a day required to build up enough steam for the fleet to set sail. The invention of gas turbines brought about another revolution - instant power, instant departure. Nuclear power made possible limitless range. However, even the US Navy is content with 35 knots as its top speed on the surface - although it can look impressive!

USS Nimitz - 1092 feet of flight deck weighing 88,000 tons making a hard turn to port at her full speed of 35 knots.

A naval task force moving at 30 knots covers 700 miles a day. A week would find them almost 5,000 miles from home base. The US Navy has a nuclear powered warship fleet for this very reason and their super carriers travel at 35 knots - moving over 950 miles a day and over 6,650 miles a week. Anyone who has planned a long range airborne operation will recognise that given calm weather the US Navy could leave San Diego early on Monday with full size Marine Corps divisions embarked and hit the viper wine bars of Pyongyang on Saturday night. Unlike an airborne force on the same mission, dependent on the US 8th Army smashing its way through the DMZ to link, the Marines would have no such worries - their supporting task force would cruise over the horizon providing air strikes and logistic support around the 24 hours. 

An amphibious task force does require a sea supply line but it's never as isolated as an airborne force during those crucial first hours on hostile territory. Both types of force require rapid build-up and reinforcement. On D Day the airborne forces were supported by battleships and cruisers shooting at targets some distance inland. None-the-less, the airborne plan was changed so that the two US divisions jumped within reach of each other, and the British 6 Airborne Division plan relied on the commandos quickly getting off the beach and striking inland to link at the Pegasus Bridge. ( Lots of pictures on our tour pages. ) Modern amphibious forces, given the kind of planning and meteorology that went on before D Day, now are capable of trans-oceanic assault landings.

Imagine another speed revolution. Suppose that a naval task force could move at 40 knots in good weather - 70 years back the Royal Navy deployed four fast minelayers with such speed, quite large ships at 3500 tons while the French Navy's contemporary 2,600 ton destroyer, Le Terrible, at 45 knots remains the fastest large surface warship ever built. A task force moving at 40 knots covers nearly 1,100 miles during 24 hours - put another way, leave Portsmouth at midnight on Sunday and reach Gibraltar around 11 pm on Monday. Base that force at Gibraltar and much of West Africa is 48 hours distant, all the Near East less than 72 hours distant with the Caribbean 84 hours distant. As an airborne force commander I would feel much happier leading my paratroopers out of an aircraft door over some exotic trouble spot - when I knew the navy was only hours astern.



Russia plans more aircraft carriers although the economic crisis may slow this programme. China intends to build six aircraft carriers. Already India proposes to build or buy a second aircraft carrier. US Defence Secretary, Robert Gates, announced a reduction of US Carrier battle groups from 11 to 10 but not for 20 years - which gives the admirals plenty of time for squashing the plan although all the more reason why their closest ally should bring forward and expand its new carrier programme. Some opposing the Royal Navy's new aircraft carriers lately claim that China has developed an ' aircraft carrier killer ' missile, long range and mounted on mobile launchers, designed to plunge at huge speed, directed by satellites that can track moving targets.

Such a system has a vulnerability - reliance on split second direction via a satellite system. An obvious way to neuter such a weapon is taking out its satellite system and supporting infra-structure. Another is destroying the launch vehicles. The USAAF may decide to go ahead with a successor to the B 2 Spirit bomber. Any new manned bomber aircraft would require survivability over hostile territory both day and night along with the ability to destroy multiple small moving targets. Ships are not helpless. Witness the US Navy's test firings by an Aegis Class destroyer that shot down ballistic missiles. Since then the Americans have taught the Japanese Navy how to shoot down a ballistic missile. The US Navy has also shot down a satellite with a laser beam. The Royal Navy's new Type 45 destroyers have a radar system and missile that simultaneously can track 300 targets while engaging and hitting sixteen targets no larger than cricket balls travelling at three times the speed of sound.

China puts a great deal of effort and money into missile systems against surface ships. Iran has been a customer and partner for many years with the aim of denying the inshore seas around Iran to NATO warships. Longer range weapons are probably intended to deter the US Navy from policing the Taiwan Strait and the South China Sea and the waters around the Korean Peninsular. China risks catastrophe. Whatever the Russians may say behind closed doors, they are sensible, prudent people, and seek reductions in nuclear weapons, not escalation of nuclear threats. That leaves China, Iran and North Korea in a rather similar situation to Russia during the time of President Eisenhower when America's nuclear arsenal far out-stripped the Soviet Union's. America could cross the unthinkable threshold and deploy tactical nuclear weapons against China and its clients with relative impunity - given enough provocation.

The best way of avoiding a violent struggle lies along a path leading to democracy in China. The South Koreans won their democracy in remarkably similar political and economic circumstances and all those who helped them remember those days with pride. More at World News Six. China's students attempted to gain a foothold for democracy 20 years ago though suffered brutal repression, hundreds losing their lives around Tiananmen Square. One can argue that Tiananmen was China's Kwangju - the big city of the south-west where in 1980 a peaceful student protest was massacred by South Korea's generals. A decade later the junta chief was in gaol and his most prominent political prisoner residing in the presidential Blue House.

Britain finds itself in a similar position to another nuclear armed nation, Israel; competing for the world's resources and trade, relying on its brightest and skilled, confronted by a huge power ruled by a despotic regime. Sooner or later our relations with China - if that country remains under a Communist regime - must end in tears. Nurturing democracy takes patience and time although success explodes like an avalanche without warning signs. Deterrence buys time. Uneasy peace is much cheaper than open warfare. Thus the coalition government in Britain led by David Cameron and Nick Clegg, by adopting the Liberal Party policy of disarmament and merging within Europe, make a strategic blunder - one expects little else from amateur schoolboys but this says nothing for their diplomatic and military advisers. Reducing our nuclear deterrent and its protection, shrinking our navy and air force, under these circumstances, become precisely the opposite of common sense. The power to inflict lethal damage is the only thing China's regime understands. 

The safe long term course for Britain remains to restore our naval strength by raising the money through ' commercial ' deals. Such a policy would raise the cash to restore tactical nuclear power and increase conventional strike power, spread this among the Royal Navy's older and new aircraft carriers, moreover, among significantly increased numbers of surface ships and submarines. A larger Royal Navy with strategic and tactical nuclear weapons, plus much greater conventional fire power introduces another global player who makes China's leadership constantly stare over their shoulder while shadow boxing with the United States.  

Naval warfare is too serious for leaving to our present generals - HMS Ark Royal returns to her building yard on Tyneside

Article on destroyers and frigates is found via link below.


' When you're on the phone to Downing Street this morning, Adrian, remind the lady who ordered all those ships that she's sending south.'

The late former Prime Minister Jim Callaghan discussing events with Adrian over a coffee in an Ottawa hotel during spring 1982.


Much more about the Royal Navy and strategy on the websites listed below. These websites are regularly updated and the material provided by naval officers with combat experience from the Falkland Islands to Afghanistan and respected academics who focus on defence and foreign policy.

The Navy Campaign is a small organisation (registered as a limited by guarantee company) though extremely helpful consisting of retired Commodore Steve Jermy and Bethany Torvell, promoting the urgent need for a stronger Royal Navy.

Steve Jermy flew from HMS Invincible during the Falklands War and commanded destroyers and the cruiser, HMS Tiger. His last operational post was as Strategy Director at the British Embassy in Kabul. After retirement from the RN with a Masters from Cambridge, he soon established a reputation as an academic and recently published the first book on strategy written by a British officer for a long time - joining the ranks of Winston Churchill, Bernard Montgomery, Bill Jackson, Basil Liddell-Hart and other respected names.

Bethany Torvell comes from a naval family. She studied politics at Goldsmith's College and international security at King's College London. She has worked for an MP and taught at Goldsmith's though has yet to command a ship larger than a two crew Laser.

The Navy Campaign started out with three short term goals:

Communication - relaying information between Parliament, the Press and the Public so that the case presented is balanced.

Aviation/Amphibiosity - campaigning to maintain these two key capabilities, as they maintain and facilitate political choice.

Personnel and People - campaigning for the retention of individuals and skills within the Navy, as well as bolstering morale and re-invigorating the Naval Community.

As the campaign evolved, the aims became more simply promoting the Navy, a task they are proud to undertake!

' Our end goal is to see a balanced military capable of responding to unknown future threats. As an island nation with citizens spread across the World, we firmly believe that the Royal Navy has a central role to play in keeping our country and people safe.'

Amen to that!

The Navy Campaign quote the First Sea Lord, Sir Mark Stanhope, writing the foreword to a Global Force 2010/2011, for want of a better description, the Royal Navy's annual report:

' The Royal Navy has an important role to play....based around a total force able to deliver both a future Carrier Strike and a credible Amphibious capability. Both can and will deliver combat effect, anywhere in the World, without needing the co-operation of other states to do so - as Admiral of the Fleet Sir Jackie Fisher put it in 1919 " the whole principle of navy fighting is to go anywhere with every damned thing the Navy possesses." It means that the UK's air and land forces will in time be given the mobility, access and protection they will need to succeed in the range of operations they will face in the coming years. As such, the Government's commitment to Carrier Strike and Amphibious capabilities represents a long term investment in the future protection of the UK and its global interests. Both have a proven track record in preserving national strategic choice and lie at the heart of the UK's military capability.'

Let's have the last word from a man who in 1667 learned the hard way the value of a strong Royal Navy when the Dutch burned his fleet anchored in the River Medway, including the flag ship named after him.

  "It is upon the navy under the good Providence of God that the safety, honour, and welfare of this realm do chiefly depend."

Charles the Second

A think tank formed by many of the naval officers who served in the South Atlantic. Their website offers well presented papers on naval flying, designing and operating aircraft carriers, written by people who know what they're talking about - as opposed to former parachute engineers!



Readers of this page might like to look at World News One - Headlines - for comment from a British slant about the latest foreign affairs and defence news . World News One discusses leadership, intelligence and diplomacy. World News Two Two sets out the present state of the Royal Navy, Army and Royal Air Force. World News Three covers naval air power from a British viewpoint. World News Four concentrates on surface ships. World News Five deals with reform of Britain's Army. World News Six gives ideas about future diplomacy with China.  World News Seven records the history of British nuclear forces. Links to these pages and several others are found below.



WORLD NEWS HEADLINES.......latest on politics and foreign news.....links all pages and new China debate



Destroyers and Frigates.......Future British Diplomatic and Military Strategy.

Radical changes required to intelligence gathering, foreign policy control, Royal Navy, Army and Royal Air Force. Before take off briefing for Normandy air/land tours.



Approaching Pegasus Bridge captured by glider attack on D Day. We fly along all the British, Canadian and American Assault beaches and over the Pointe du Hoc before landing in France. Our ground tour is by comfortable car and easy walking through Saint Mere Eglise and the American drop zones to Omaha Beach, Utah Beach and the Pointe du Hoc. We fly back the same evening unless you wish to enjoy our popular overnight in Normandy.

Click the photo for more about....


Anyone taking our Normandy sky tour finds it helpful to have an idea of the scale of Operation Overlord. Their Finest Hour, Map Table and The Special Relationship are worth a glance to understand some of the events before America's entry into the Second World War. Many visitors to our website probably know much of what is explained on these pages. Please grant us your forbearance. We try to ensure that those less familiar with the background to D Day, particularly the young, start their tour with a sound conception of what was at stake thereby making their time with us all the more worthwhile and enjoyable. churchill college.htm




The soaring Swiss franc makes tours of Britain an absolute bargain at the moment. Yet friends from Bern return disappointed with their hotels and tours where obvious places are left out by the tour organiser. Rather like visiting Paris and seeing the Eiffel Tower but leaving out Notre Dame.

Adrian has been married to Swiss for 35 years and both his children are British and Swiss. Not only does he speak Schweizerdeutsch and French but understands what Swiss expect when on holiday. There is no need to pay high rates for the so-called best hotels when you can be much more comfortable and eat better food at those smaller family hotels that thrive because of reputations passed around by word of mouth. Why not benefit from our years of experience and knowledge from taking overseas visitors on private road tours all over the British Isles.

If you are Swiss and would like us to organise a tour of the UK by road, just email through the link on our home page. 



Combine Normandy with Churchill College, Cambridge......where you may see Sir Winston Churchill's Archives.....more about the remote highlands and islands that we visit with our British Isles tours.....just click the photos.