Named after the
village of Fittleton, (Seven miles North of Stonehenge) on Salisbury
Plain, Wiltshire, she was originally allocated the name:
Shipyard Ltd. Itchen
February 1954 by Mrs Pamela Marsden, wife of a director of the
bridge and Lattice mast
tons (standard) 440 tons (deep)
(pp) 153' (oa) x 28.8 x 8.2
Diesels, driving 2 shafts @ 2500 bhp = 15 knots
Mirrlees, Bickerton & Day JVSS 12 engines
to Deltic Engines between 1959/60 at Portsmouth
single 40mm Bofors, one twin 20mm Oerlikon
FITTLETON' was accepted into
the Royal Navy, at Itchen, on 28th January 1955, and sailed from HMS
DILIGENCE, Hythe, the same day.
Between 1955 and 1959 she was part
of the Reserve Fleet at Hythe, but in March 1959, the ship underwent an
engine conversion from Mirrlees to Deltic engines at Portsmouth.
On November 16th, 1960, she was
commissioned for the Royal Naval Reserve and renamed HMS CURZON and
transferred to the Sussex RNR, based at Shoreham, replacing HMS
During 1962, as part of the 101st
Minesweeping Squadron (MSS), she took part in numerous minesweeping
exercises visiting a number of European ports.
On October 1st 1962, the 101st MSS
was re-numbered the 10th MSS.
On August 10th, 1963, the ship left
Shoreham for the Gibraltar Exercise Area where she took part in 'Exercise Rockhaul' with ships of the 10th MSS and 7th MSS (from the Mediterranean),
returning to Shoreham on completion. During that year she, again, took
part in numerous minesweeping exercises and visits including Gibraltar,
Zaandam, Guernsey, Cork, Le Treport, Dieppe and Alderney. August 1964 saw
her operating in the Gibraltar area in 'Exercise Rockhaul 2'.
January 1965 saw her back at Chatham
for a further refit, which was completed in May of that year. During
1965/66 she took part in a number of exercises, with visits to Gibraltar
(again), Scheveningen and Calais.
January 1967 saw her back at Chatham
for yet another refit which was completed in May of that year, and
following a period of trials, she returned to her Base Port at Shoreham.
Between 1968 & 1969 she took
part in a number of minesweeping exercises, which included two visits to
the Channel Islands. In July 1969 she took part in the Western Fleet
Assembly at Torbay.
On January 1 1976 she was renamed
'FITTLETON' and attached to the Channel Group, RNR.
On September 11th, 1976, FITTLETON,
manned in the main by London Division RNR personnel, sailed from Shoreham
and later joined company with the other RNR sweepers on the NATO
exercise 'Teamwork' and was to arrive at Hamburg on September 21 for a
three day Official Visit before returning to her base Port at Shoreham on
Regretfully, this visit did not take
place, and 'Exercise Teamwork' was to go down in the annals of Naval
history as one of the most expensive peacetime operations involving the
US Navy suffered two accidents earlier in the exercise. Six crew members
of the US Destroyer
BORDELON (DD 881) were injured when, during a
refuelling operation 100 miles north of Scotland, the ship was in
collision with the carrier USS JOHN.F KENNEDY (CV-67).
The BORDELON headed for Devonport
for immediate repairs, but the damaged carrier continued in the exercise.
The USS JOHN.F KENNEDY was involved at a later date, when she lost an F14
On September 20, 1976, after
completing the exercise, FITTLETON proceeded towards Hamburg with six
other British minesweepers, when she was ordered to take part in a mail
Transfer with the 2500 ton frigate, HMS MERMAID, 80 miles north of the
Isle of Texel, in the Frisian group.
At about 1530, with the weather
fine, visibility of 5 to 7 miles and a light sea with waves of about 3 ft
high, FITTLETON commenced the operation by moving toward MERMAIDS
It was an unusual feature of the
MERMAID in that she had an exceptionally short fo'c'sle deck of only 68
ft, compared to other frigates of similar displacement. This meant that
FITTLETON, being about One Fifth of the displacement of the larger ship,
was required to approach to Heaving-Line distance (about 50 ft) with the
longitudinal operation between stems at the waterline of about 25 ft.
As FITTLETON closed in on MERMAID
from abeam, increasing water pressure between the hulls caused the smaller
ship to drop about 40 ft astern into a position which, although was
stable and close enough to the MERMAID, made it impossible to
conduct the transfer at the RAS (Replenishment At Sea) position. It was
therefore necessary for the FITTLETON to make a second attempt.
Once the RAS position had been
realigned, FITTLETON commenced her second approach and, in doing so, began
to experience acute forces of interaction between the ships, in
particular, the 'Resistance Barrier' emanating from the Bow of the larger
ship. On this occasion, instead of dropping astern down the barrier,
FITTLETON was forced ahead and, at the same time, sucked inward towards
the MERMAID. A reduction of speed did not slow down the forward movement,
and increased rudder, in a way, accelerated the rate of closing, so that
FITTLETON crunched alongside the MERMAID approximately bridge to bridge.
In spite of further speed reductions, she continued to move ahead under
the flare of MERMAIDS port bow.
Because of his ships forward
movement down the resistance barrier, at some 3 kts faster than the shaft
revolutions would normally have produced, FITTLETONS Commanding Officer
decided not to stop engines (the clutch disengaged at 7-8 kts) and run the
risk of damage and possible injury to the fo'c'sle party at the
guardrails, but to utilise the sweepers noted acceleration from its twin
Napier Deltic diesels, and drive her out of further trouble.
At first, with the rudder hard to
port and with both engines Full Ahead, FITTLETONs stern came into line
with the MERMAIDs stern, and it was thought that she would break away safely.
It was not to be, for, no sooner had
the ships cleared one another, the the bow pressure wave from the MERMAID,
acting on underwater stern and fitments of the FITTLETON, forced the stern
to port and the bow to starboard so that the FITTLETON was driven across
the path of the MERMAID.
In spite of prompt action by the
MERMAID, in putting her controllable pitch propellers astern, the bow of
the frigate struck the FITTLETON's starboard side in the region of
the minesweeping Store and, whilst pushing her sideways, so that there was
a reaction on the keel, rolled her completely over through 180 degrees.
The time between the initial crunch
and capsizing was not more than a minute; the time to actually capsize the
ship was about five seconds.
As FITTLETON began to list, some of
her crew managed to jump overboard, but many were still onboard when she
capsized. HMS CROFTON (Solent Division), was the first on the
scene, and by a remarkable
feat of seamanship, succeeded in placing her stern against the upturned
hull, from where she was able to rescue, not only those who were thrown
clear and subsequently surfaced, but also a non-swimmer who had clambered
up onto the keel by way of the now stationary propeller shaft.
Another non-swimmer, wearing a
life-jacket, found himself trapped underneath, and pulled himself across
the deck grabbing anything that came to hand, until he bobbed to the
Two others were trapped in the
wheelhouse but found an airlock behind the door and swam to the surface
where they were picked up. An officer, who was on the bridge as the ship
rolled over, had to swim under the ship, colliding with the flag lockers
and signal lamps before reaching the surface.
A Leading Cook, was on FITTLETONs
upper deck, making his way to the Galley to check for damage when the ship
capsized. Flooding was immediate, and he began to make his way aft. On the
way he met two ratings who were, both, considerably shaken and confused.
He guided them through the waist-deep water to the wardroom flat and from
there they escaped to the surface. he then stopped to help a third rating
who was unable to find an escape route, telling him to take his boots off.
He then guided him towards the galley flat door, which was closed,
blocking their escape. By now there was very little air in the
compartment, and they were in danger of drowning. The leading Cook told
the rating to keep close to him and swam towards the door, which they
managed to open. Both men then escaped by swimming underwater through the
wardroom flat and up to the surface.
For this action, the Leading Cook
was awarded the Queens Gallantry Medal for saving life. The citation
stated that 'by putting the safety of his fellows before his own, he
saved the life of one rating, and contributed to the escape of two others.
His determination, presence of mind and selfless consideration of others
was courageous and in the best consideration of the service.'
Another remarkable escape was by a
recruit, who was also sick on his first voyage !! He was in his bunk in
the Lower Forward mess deck, and confronted by this strange inverted
world. He made his way through the watertight door, (which he closed after
him), then went downward until meeting water in the maindeck alleyway. He
continued on downwards through it, until he came to a ladder leading up
(sic) onto the fo'c'sle and by that route, made his way clear to the
surface some 15 minutes after capsizing.
With the assistance of HM Ships
CRICHTON, HODGESTON, KEDLESTON, REPTON and WISTON, 32 survivors, three of
them injured, were eventually transferred to MERMAID.
ACR (in charge of MERMAID) put an
officer on the upturned hull, and tapping was heard from inside the
vicinity of the engine room. It was known that there was someone alive in
the hull, but it was too thick to talk to anyone inside.
ACR decided to try to keep FITTLETON
afloat until specialised salvage vessels arrived, by passing minesweeping
wires under her propeller shafts and getting two minesweepers to support
her, but the wires could not hold her, and parted. He also considered
blowing a hole in the ships hull, or ramming her in a bid to cut her in
two, but rejected both ideas because of the danger to anyone still alive
in the ship, and the probability that any hole (even if successful through
the complex wood and aluminium structure) would cause her to sink
Rescue teams from the RN and the
Dutch and German Navies were rushed to the scene by helicopter to rescue
some of the missing men who were still alive in an air pocket in the hull.
FITTLETON sank, stern first,
between 2100 & 2200 in 160 ft of
The following day, MERMAID landed
the bodies of two men, and 32 survivors at Harwich. After medical
examination at the Royal Military Hospital, Colchester, only six of the
crew were detained suffering from the effects of oil and sea-water in
Back in the North Sea, Royal Navy
and Dutch frogmen started diving in relays from first light, but with
knocks on the hull going unanswered, there was no trace of any further
They found that sand had been moved
by the flow of the tide, partially obliterating the bridge of the
minesweeper, and the doors and hatches were jammed. The divers attached
cables with orange marker buoys at the bow and stern, to guide the salvage
experts with their heavy lifting chains.
For the salvage operation, a team of
11 RN divers, working from the 1581 ton German salvage tug TAURUS,
attached heavy steel hawsers to FITTLETONs hull. The lifting operation was
carried out under the command of HMS ACHILLES.
At 1630 on September 21, 1976, the 1060
ton crane MAGNUS started her powerful motors and began the lengthy task of
raising FITTLETON to the surface.
The first attempt at lifting had to
be aborted due to technical reasons, but, during that night, using
searchlights and flares, the ghostly FITTLETON finally re-appeared from
the gloomy depths of the North Sea.
Supported by the
arrived at Den Helder on October 4, where 1 officer, 4 senior rates and 6
junior rates were put onboard to look after the personal effects of the
Ships Company. On arriving onboard , the scene was chaotic, with money
scattered everywhere, piles of debris with sodden Pound Notes enmeshed in
it, all having to be swept aside. The ships company had been paid only an
hour before the tragedy, with senior rates receiving £87 each, and junior
rates getting £50 each, and the majority of the crew had also taken money
and personal possessions such as cameras, for their annual working
When the ship finally returned to
Chatham on October 11, Naval Investigators were called to the scene, as
only £174 had been recovered, and of 10 wallets found, six were empty,
and it is understood that two of them bore marks of being torn open.
The FITTLETON was subsequently sold
to LIGURIA MARITIME LTD, Sittingbourne for breaking up.
Survivors from the FITTLETON claimed
compensation for lost cash and personal possessions, much of it is
believed to have been plundered from lockers and wallets during the
The stripping of the ship was so
thorough that, at one point, even the ships bell and wheel were taken, but
these were later returned by the authorities at Den Helder.
Recognising the special
circumstances of the tragedy the MOD ultimately made good all losses of
private property and money.
On September 20, every year, there
is a memorial service for those 12 sailors who gave their lives, at the
little church in the village of Fittleton.
Also on display in the church is a
small wooden plaque with the ships badge and brass plate bearing those 12
On each anniversary the Ships Name
Plate (salvaged from the ship and presented to the village) is brought out
and proudly displayed in the church.
A memorial plaque can also be seen
at St Martins-in-the-Field, London, in memory of those who lost their
In 1993 there was a parade through
the village of Fittleton in memory of those who lost their lives, and
again in 1996 for the 20 anniversary (see below)
A Low-Key 25th Anniversary Remembrance
Service was held at Fittleton Church on Thursday 20th
Recently, the 30th
Anniversary Memorial Service was held in the church, followed by a
Get-Together in the evening for the remaining survivors.
WILL REMEMBER THEM
HEADLINES AT THE TIME