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From Defence Net:

[/i] Royal Navy patrol vessel HMS Leeds Castle returned to Portsmouth for the last time on Monday 8 August 2005 as her 24-year career came to an end.

HMS Leeds Castle flying her paying off pennant prior to decommissioning [Picture: LA (Phot) Chris Wenham]
She marked the occasion by flying a 23-metre decommissioning pennant as she entered Portsmouth Harbour and her 81 ship's company lined the decks.

Her lengthy service has been divided between fisheries protection duties around the UK coast as the Falkland Islands patrol vessel, spending three years at a time policing the southern most waters of the South Atlantic.

Since returning from her final Falklands deployment in November 2004, Leeds Castle has been busy on a variety of tasks. For four weeks from mid-May she acted as the command ship for four UK minehunters on live mine clearance work off Lithuania.

She paid her farewells to her affiliated town of Chatham in Kent before sailing to Newcastle to escort more than 100 tall ships during their 'parade of sail' to Fredreikstadt in Norway. From there she made her final return to Portsmouth. Her Commanding Officer, Lieutenant Commander Chris Goodsell, said:

"It has been an honour and a privilege to serve as the last Commanding Officer of HMS Leeds Castle through the final few months of her long and distinguished history. She has served the Royal Navy with distinction and now heads towards a well-deserved retirement."

Leeds Castle and her sister ship Dumbarton Castle are being replaced in the Falkland Island patrol role by HMS Clyde, currently being built by shipbuilders VT in Portsmouth, which is expected to enter service in 2007. Clyde's greater reliability and more modern design will allow her to remain in the South Atlantic until 2012 and be more readily available for tasking.

Though displacing little over 1,400 tonnes fully loaded, HMS Leeds Castle has spent much of her Royal Navy service in great waters thousands of miles from home.

One of a rare breed – as only two of the class exist – Leeds Castle with her sister-ship Dumbarton Castle are among a dwindling number of Falklands War veterans remaining in service with the Navy.

The ships' association with the Falklands did not end with the war in 1982: for over ten years the two Castle-class vessels have taken it in turns to provide a "resident" presence in the islands, remaining on station there for three years at a time with regular rotation of their ships' companies.

The vessels, completed in the early 1980s by Hall Russell at Aberdeen, were designed as offshore patrol vessels. Specifically they roles included protection of the North Sea oil and gas installations and fishery protection, their versatility being enhanced by their most characteristic feature – a large flight deck over one-third the ship's length and capable of landing Sea King helicopters. Each of them also has temporary accommodation for up to 25 Royal Marines.

HMS Leeds Castle was launched in October 1980 by Peggy Speed, wife of the then Navy Minister. She was commission a year later, and so was a very new ship when she was deployed in the role of dispatch vessel with the Falklands Task Force.

She proved to be a valuable workhorse, tirelessly transferring stores and mail to and from the larger warships and support vessels. At one point she found herself in the rescue role when her sea boat plucked the crew of a ditched Sea King from the icy waters, as well as the four-man crew of a capsized craft from the Royal Fleet Auxiliary Fort Grange which was involved in an unsuccessful effort to attach a line to the floating helicopter.

So successful were the two Castle ships during the conflict that they were later chosen to provide longer-term support for the British garrisons on the Falklands and the island of South Georgia.

Leeds Castle spent three years on station from 1995, sailing into hurricane-force winds and the region's worst winter on record. In 1998 she was relieved by Dumbarton Castle and returned for a refit followed by service as a member of the Fishery Protection Squadron.

In 2001 it was again her turn to provide the Falklands presence –for the last time in her case. She returned to the UK in November 2004.

HMS Leeds Castle has a complement of 45. She is equipped with surface-search and navigation radars and is armed with a 30mm BMARC gun. She is affiliated to the town of Hastings and to Leeds Castle in Kent.

There has been only one other Leeds Castle in Royal Navy service – a Castle-class corvette completed in February 1944. She was employed as an escort for Atlantic convoys until September that year when she was redeployed to the Gibraltar convoy routes, finally conducting ant-submarine sweeps in the Irish Sea.

After the war Leeds Castle was allocated to anti-submarine training duties in Portsmouth, and was re-designated a frigate in 1947. She continued to serve in the training role, latterly from Portland, until 1956 when she paid off and was sold for scrap.

She was one of the smallest of the Royal Navy's frigates and was in continuous service for 12 years – an unusually long time for a ship of her kind. Her sole Battle Honour – "Atlantic 1944" – was complemented by the Battle Honour "South Atlantic 1982" awarded to today's ship.

The tradition of 'Paying-off'

The Royal Navy's dictionary of traditional terms and sayings, known by the title "Covey –Crump", notes that the custom of wearing a paying-off pennant after a commission abroad never has been an officially authorised action. It is said to have originated in the 19th century when all cleaning rags were stitched together and hoisted as a sign that they were finished with.

Later, pennants - with the cross of St George at the hoist - came into use but were not provided from official sources and no instructions about them appear in any naval regulations. Today, they are invariably bought ashore at the expense of the ship's welfare fund.

As the pennant is unofficial, there are no authoritative rules that govern its length, although various rules have been cited:

the length of the ship if the commission has lasted the correct length of time, with additions or abatements from that length corresponding to the difference between the actual length of the commission and the 'normal' length of a commission;
the length of the ship plus one foot for every month completed on station;
one-and-a-half times the height of the foremast. [/i]


awww! ;-)

Le Chevre - Matelot Brevete d'antan

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