HMS Mermaid

This general-purpose frigate served for only five years in the Royal Navy and had a most unusual background. She had originally been ordered by the Republic of Ghana to serve as the flagship of their navy and as the presidential yacht for President Nkrumah. It was to be named Black Star and at the time was the largest warship to be ordered by a black African state. The vessel cost in the region of £5 million and was really far more than a developing Third World country could justifiably spend on a single vessel. Nkrumah was deposed following a coup d'état and the new government cancelled the project, being keen to curb the excesses of the former ruler. This left Yarrow Shipbuilders with a partially completed ship, which they decided to finish in the hope that a buyer could be found for the vessel and so the ship was launched without ceremony on 29th December 1966.

The basic design of the ship was based on the Royal Navy Type 41/61 hull and machinery but modified to fit the requirements of the Ghanaian Navy. The hull was flush decked, and the exhausts streamlined into a single funnel. There were extra accommodation areas in the superstructure and the armament was kept relatively simple to keep the cost down. Mounted forward of the bridge was a Mk XIX twin 4in AA gun with four single 40mm AA guns mounted around the upper superstructure, while a Squid AS mortar was mounted well-aft. Sonar Types 170 and 176 were carried as was a Plessey AWS-1 radar on the foremast and a navigational radar forward of this on a platform. The ship had a displacement of 2,300 tons as standard, had a maximum speed of 24 knots and a complement of 177 officers and men in Royal Navy service.

The ship was kept at anchor for several years and was eventually purchased by the Royal Navy and transferred from the Firth of Clyde to Portsmouth Dockyard in April 1972 and then to Chatham Dockyard to be refitted to bring her up to Royal Navy standards. She was finally commissioned on 16th May 1973. The purchase was politically motivated in that it was a means by which the newly elected Conservative Government could increase the numerical strength of the Royal Navy while providing an indirect subsidy to a firm they felt was an important part of the national defence industry. It was left to the Royal Navy to find a use for her.

She was named Mermaid and after working up, was dispatched to the Far East where she was based in Singapore. Her light armament and minimal sensor fittings made her unsuitable for a role in the European environment but could provide a useful presence in the Far East, undertaking what is now known as 'defence diplomacy' roles. She stood in for HMS Chichester (the guardship for Hong Kong) at times and stood by at the end of the Vietnam War in case British nationals had to be evacuated from Saigon. Upon returning home she was involved in an unfortunate collision with the minesweeper HMS Fittleton during a NATO exercise that resulted in the tragic deaths of a number of the RNVR crew. She was involved in the 'Cod Wars', a fisheries dispute between Britain and Iceland. After being paid off she helped to conduct trials on a moving target indicator system that helped radar to pick out targets moving against the clutter generated by the surface of the sea.

In April 1977 she was transferred to the Malaysian Navy and renamed Hang Tuah where she replaced an ex-'Loch' class frigate also called Hung Tuah but retained her pendant number F76.

How to cite this article: Antill, P. (30 January 2002), HMS Mermaid, http://www.historyofwar.org/articles/weapons_hmsmermaid.html

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