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HMS Ocean
HMS Ocean

In 1761, the 90-gun second rate vessel was built in Chatham Dockyard and some nine years later she began her long association with the West Country when she became Flagship to Plymouth.  As part of the Channel Fleet in 1778, she saw her first real action against the French as the result of a Treaty of Commerce and Alliance with the Americans at the end of the American War of Independence.  Admiral Augustus Keppel was Commander -in-Chief and sailed in HMS Victory with 29 other ships of the line, including HMS Ocean under the command of Captain John Laforey looking to engage any French ships he could find.  The resultant battle itself was relatively insignificant in terms of military strategies, however the subsequent court martials of Admiral Keppel and Sir Hugh Palliser (HMS Formidable) gained an element of notoriety in England afterwards concerning the Order of Battle.  Captain Laforey was a key witness at the trial and went on to command HMS Spartiate at the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805.

HMS OceanA second action saw Ocean engage 19 French naval vessels that were escorting a convoy of merchant ships bound for the West Indies carrying supplies and reinforcements.  This engagement took place 160 miles south west of Ushant and saw the merchantmen separated from their escorts and 15 prizes gained for not one English loss.  A subsequent successful action against French and Spanish ships occurred in 1782 some 45 miles off Cape Spartel with Ocean under the command of Captain George Ourry who had famously commanded the doomed HMS Somerset at Cape Cod in 1778.

The second Ocean was a second rate 98 gun warship and saw significant service in the Mediterranean during her service.  Perhaps the most prominent period was when she was the Flagship of Vice Admiral Lord Cuthbert Collingwood, Commander-in-Chief Mediterranean between 1806-1809.  The third Ocean was an ironclad of 50 guns and had a 2000 mile range at 5 knots, actually holding the record for the longest days run by any British ironclad under sail of 243 miles while en route to the Far East.  She served on the China Station from 1867 as the Flagship of Commader-in-Chief Vice Admiral Keppel and then Vice admiral Kellet before paying off in 1872.

HMS Ocean The fourth Ocean gained the reputation of being an unlucky ship after a number of setbacks during build including 90ft of the ship collapsing and strikes by workers.  Eventually serving on the China Station between 1901 and 1905, she was one of the first British battleships to take passage through the Suez Canal.  During her time on station, she was damaged by a typhoon and had several refits.  In 1914 under the command of Captain Hayes-Sadler, she joined the 8th Battleship squadron with responsibility for protecting Persian Gulf convoys.  Under the Turkish threat of attack against the Suez Canal, she then shifted to operations in the Dardanelles in company with a number of other British warships.  On 18 March 1915, HMS Irresistible hit a mine and was disabled, allowing the Turkish shore batteries to concentrate on compounding the damage.  After subsequently being damaged and with Ocean ordered to take her under tow but unable to do so, she drifted towards the Asiatic shore.  On assessing that the situation was hopeless, Ocean began to withdraw but almost immediately hit a mine and started to take incoming fire from the shore batteries, causing flooding in the tiller flat and starboard steering compartments, leaving the ship with irreparable damage.  She was abandoned and eventually sank in the depths of Morto Bay at about 2230 that evening.

The fifth of the line would cement the name Ocean as synonymous with the history of naval aviation.  Commissioned in July 1945 and with a complement of 1300 sailors, this Colossus Class aircraft carrier was destined to have a relatively short but very active service career.  Her first aviation evolution of note was in October of 1945 when the very last Fairey Swordfish (Stringbag) flight from a carrier deck took place.  This wonderful aircraft had served with distinction throughout WW2 and was famous for the attack on the Italian harbour of Taranto on 11 November 1940.  In December 1945, a new era of embarked aviation when Lt Cdr Eric 'Winkle' Brown became the first pilot in the world to land a solely jet powered aircraft on an aircraft carrier under way when he landed De Havilland Vampire LZ551/G (now on display in the FAA Museum) on Ocean near Spithead, despite poor weather.

In 1946 Ocean continued operations in the Mediterranean and for a period of time was the only operational carrier in the Fleet of conducting night flying operations, some 250 night flying landings being conducted during a 4 month deployment without serious mishap by embarked Fireflies and Hellcats. 

A change of decade saw a change in threat.  The Korean War in 1952 saw a determined enemy and a requirement for sustained close air support and on her first patrol in May of that year, the embarked squadron aircrews were all set to break the existing record of 106 sorties flown in a day by HMS Glory.  By the end of the day, some 123 operational sorties had been flown breaking all existing records for British light carriers.  Then the 9 August saw the setting of another record when Lt 'Hoagy' Carmichael became the first pilot of a piston-engined aircraft to shoot down a Mig15 jet engined aircraft in a Sea Fury FB11 aircraft of 802 NAS, earning him a DSC.  

In 1956, the crisis that was to be known as "Suez" became the catalyst for another Ocean first.  Proceeding towards Malta in October of that year with the 12 Whirlwind and Sycamore helicopters of the Joint Experimental Helicopter Unit embarked, Ocean made good speed.  On arrival she embarked part of 45 Commando.  With 40 and 42 Commando being landed by the Amphibious Warfare Squadron, the call soon came to land 45 Commando as initial reinforcements.  A combined effort to airlift men and stores from Ocean and HMS Theseus saw the first helicopter-borne assaullt landing in British naval History and this undoubtedly set the corner stone for the Commando Helicopter Carriers of today.

Originally conceived in the mid 80s as a replacement for HMS Hermes, the current bearer of the name Ocean is the first purpose built British amphibious helicopter carrier (landing Platform Helicopter - LPH) and is currently the largest warship in the Royal Navy inventory.  Designed from the outset to embark, support and operate both troop carrying and attack helicopters she is also able to operate in a secondary role that enables her to ferry (not operate) Harrier aircraft, provide a base for anti-submarine warfare (ASW) helicopters or simply to operate as an aviation training ship.  Her 6 helicopter operating spots on the flight deck compliment the massive hangar space below which can accommodate up to 12 medium sized helicopters such as the troop carrying Sea King Mk4, the command and control platform Sea king ASACS, the Westland Merlin or more of the smaller Lynx helicopter.

A relatively small ship's company of 370 is supplemented on operations by the aircrew and maintainers of embarked helicopter squadrons, known as a Tailored Air Group and embarked military forces to suit whatever tasking is required.  This can boost the accommodation requirements to almost 1200.  A permanent detachment of Royal Marines from 9 Assault Squadron RM look after the LCVP Mk 5 landing craft that can carry up to 35 fully equipped troops over distances of up to 200nm at a speed of 25kts.  Alternatively they can carry a land rover and trailer, 105mm guns or trucks carrying up to 8.2 tonnes of stores.  Separate to the flight deck and often the first internal part of the ship that visitors get to see is the vehicle deck.  This can store up to 40 landrover variants, 34 trailers and six 105mm light guns.

Ocean is propelled by two Crossley Pielstick medium speed 12-cylinder diesels and is capable of reaching a maximum speed of 18kts.  The ship can carry 1500 tonnes of aviation fuel and an equal amount of diesel fuel allowing a range of some 8000 miles at a cruising speed of 15kts.

The ship is currently emerging from a docking period that has seen major investment in the vessel and has been conducted by Babcock Marine in HMNB Devonport.  Ocean has progressed well with many major improvements including habitability upgrades, a completely new galley, Marine and Weapon Engineering enhancements and a complete repainting of the ship’s hull.  The next major milestone will be returning to sea in September as the arduous task of setting to work systems that have lain dormant for more than a year are brought back online.

Credit to Mrs Joyce Knowlson, author of " HMS Ocean  - Peactime Warrior" for some of this information taken from her book about the 5th Ocean.

Battle Honours
Ushant 1781 Dardanelles 1915
Suez Canal 1915 Korea 1952-53
Al Faw 2003