HMS Ocean

Talk about Chinese whispers. It seems that everyone, including me – and the Royal Navy – who was told about the open day on HMS Ocean yesterday got a different story about who was allowed on board.

The very chirpy personnel (they were all incredibly friendly; I can only assume that they’d given the grumpy characters sump-duty or something) talking to the (enormous) queue told us that they had been told every possible variant on who was allowed, ranging from SE10 residents only, through to all Greenwich Borough residents (the Greenwich Council website said borough residents, with priority given to most local, which I took to be SE10)  and ‘local’ residents (i.e. Lewisham and Tower Hamlets) to a TV programme, I don’t know which, telling everyone on earth to turn up.

Given the extremely mixed messages and the compounding factors of the pier entrance being next door to a very busy bank holiday Clipper service and the ugly restaurants bang  in the way, I think the Navy did pretty well, really. They gave borough residents prority but kept a ‘general public’ queue, taken from the main queue when you got so far) and every so often did a run for them.

I did have to smirk at the bolshy bloke who strode up to the front of the queue (when the people I was with had waited two and a half hours) brandished his council tax bill and demanded to be given priority “But I’m a Greenwich Resident,” he announced as he was told that 98% of the queue were residents and (much more gently than I would have done it) directed to the back…

By the time I got in the queue, it covered the entire frontage of the Old Royal Naval College and was right round the corner, almost to the central path (see above). The atmosphere was Britishly stoic; even when the rain came, people stayed and I didn’t hear much in the way of moaning, bar a few grizzling children. I also notice there seem to have been a muddle about baby carriages – the Greenwich council website said there would be nowhere to leave pushchairs, but there was a fairly large corral of them by the ubitquitous recruitment tent in the ORNC.

Of course the queue did allow us to take closer looks at stuff going on on the river – I was particularly entertained by the barge tugging the newly-spruced up podule for the London Eye:

They’d hired a couple of City Tours boats to ferry people across. I’m guessing different people had different experiences but I waited about two and a half hours to get on Ocean and about half an hour to get off. If it had been a nicer day I’d have enjoyed being a bit less cold, but I wouldn’t have swapped the experience.

We were allowed to wander as we liked through the ‘big’ areas of the ship – two levels of cargo-carrying deck and the main deck on top, which they’d put several helicopters, troop carriers and vehicles that I have no recollection of what they do but was very interested at the time

As I mentioned I’m sure they chose the jovial crew members to talk with us, but all the people I met were only too delighted to talk or show us what stuff did (I spent some time chatting with the woman who packs the survival kits – I love that they include a condom in them…)

One of the most popular displays was of the food rations you get at different stages of engagement – I couldn’t actually get close to that stand but I understand they have ginger beer:

I suspect what the Navy achieved from this day is a lot more intangible than much in the way of recruitments (no one around me seemed remotely interested in joining up) but that was never the point.

They’re going to be here for several weeks now and again during the Olympics and they are only too aware of the rubbish way we’ve been informed about the placement of missiles around our houses, on our commons and, in the case of some TH residents, on our roofs. LOCOG and whichever government departments in charge of this, have been utterly useless in informing residents what will happen, leading to a load of fear and anger.

If we’d thought about it, of course we were going to need some kind of security around the games – ever since Munich they’ve been essential –  and scary though seeing SAMs on Blackheath is, the problem with having an urban Olympics is that there’s always going to be someone who has the security on their doorstep. Certainly my beef is more with the way we’ve been told so late, as a fait-accompli and so badly – I got a letter through my door that included only one of the leaflets  it said it did,  and an invitation to a similar open day at Oxleas Wood the day after it had been and gone.

What I got from yesterday’s event was the human element – that this ship is staffed by actual people with actual lives whom I got the feeling actually knew what they were doing.  I enjoyed talking with them and If I see them around town I won’t be looking at them as intruders, but as people who live on the big boat I can see from the shore.

I’ve seen where they live (well, okay, I haven’t, we didn’t get to poke around the cabins or the mess rooms or the day to day living areas which, although fair enough, being a nosy old Phantom I’d have loved) and I’m cool with the fact that they have to be here.

I’m curious to know what you thought of it (I’m assuming you went – half of Greenwich must have been there) and what you got from it. I did get a couple of other things – not least the feeling that the Naval Lady is protesting just a leeetle too much that she is ‘relevant’ – I’m not sure I saw a single banner that didn’t pronounce the fact – and that the chaps at HMSO don’t proof-read their leaflets – ‘birth cabins’ anyone?

But for me the Navy’s real achievement for me yesterday was its people – thanks, guys. It was fun.

the attachments to this post:

jolly troops
jolly troops

jolly jack tars
jolly jack tars

general ship
general ship

down looking up
down looking up

looking down
looking down


Helicopter 2
Helicopter 2

helicopter 1
helicopter 1


Ships bell
Ships bell

24 Comments to “HMS Ocean”

  1. Paul says:

    They were sweethearts – at one point, our nipper looked at a table with 12 assorted objects on, and asked for a rundown of the function and other details of every single item. They always obliged, pleased that someone was asking. I was quite surprised how indulgent they were. I now understand the difference between a gatling gun and a mini gun – could come in useful.

    Did you see the engine where the camshaft had exploded? Very impressive, good that they have another eight.

    Lots of good insights on how we sold off all our Harrier jets to the US Marines, with nothing to replace them – a bunch of the pilots have, apparently, gone with the planes. Lots of expensive training thrown away, as well as expensive planes.

    (we didn’t seem to benefit from being locals, no matter, it was a pretty nice place to queue except when we were plonked next to a certain cafe complex…)

  2. I didn’t have time to wait (self-employed so I still did have to head to work) but all the sailors managing it seemed really nice, if overwhelmed. Got some good photos and generally was overwhelmed by the turnout. Disappointed by the miscommunication of course, which could have meant shorter lines and I could have gone on board. Saw kids in the market with face paint and HMS Ocean headbands on and they said they loved it! I blogged it too, tho my photos are only grey-weather phone ones

  3. museumlines says:

    Had a great time too. Credit to the Royal Navy for their warm hospitality.

    We did get close to the food ration (or ‘Scran’ to the forces) tent. Looked almost as good as a meal at the Taste of Raj!

  4. No – actually Tina, if it makes you feel any better – you DID have to queue if you were a resident – I queued for two and a half hours – it’s just you had to queue longer if you weren’t a resident. All very muddled – a bad communications error.

  5. Cromwellsbrain says:

    I don’t wish to dampen enthusiasm as the great British Summertime did a fair bit of that on Monday anyway. We started to queue at 10am with our 2-year old; made enquiries about priorities for SE10 ressies and were told that this was not ‘currently’ being implemented, but to come back in an hour and they will have sorted it out. Had an excellent hour, as per, at the Children’s wing at RMM and wandered back….. We were told to join the back of the queue – now over 1.5 hours long and as we approach the front, they will try to bring us forward with 90% of other ‘local’ (ie. within driving distance) residents. We explained our earlier advice to a seemingly senior (oodles of braiding)officer, who laughed and commented that he ‘wasn’t the least bit surprised’.

    My better half added – smilingly – that if they can’t organise a queue, we should fear for our safety in their hands, which met with an icy dismissal. Result: we decided against putting a two-year old through the misery of the queue and missed out on a great time on board (as reported by neighbours).

    Not happy with the Navy and I know that our experience was shared with plenty more disgruntled people, who walked away.

  6. I suspect you were right not to make your toddler queue that long Chris. To be honest I’m not sure how much a two year old would have got from the experience anyway – children a bit older seemed to be having a good time but a two year old might have struggled with the ramps, the crowds and the dangerous stuff.

    I’m not sure it was entirely the navy’s fault – they seemed to be as much in the dark as anyone else, though I would have liked them to have actually made, then kept to rules, whatever those rules would have been, rather than go with ‘what they’ve been told’. They should have made concrete rules themselves, told the various other bodies what they’d decided, then stuck to their decision – most problems appear to have been from moving goalposts during the day.

  7. jean-gilles says:

    yes i was also very impressed by the courtesy and generosity of all concerned on HMS Ocean – you always tell a professional by the courtesy and time they take in engaging with any questionner to explain matters which to them may seem obvious and mundane – these are the best teachers, lawyers, doctors, builders etc who are a credit to their professions – as are the personnel on HMS Ocean to us all and great ambassadors also surely.

  8. Richard says:

    I like the fact that no one argued with the navy chaps when they told people that they would have to join th eback of the queue regardless of where they lived. Was it their polite but firm responses, their lack of high viz vests or their fully loaded automatic weapons?

  9. As I’d expected the ship’s company were excellent ambassadors, especially when dealing with the youngsters. HMS Ocean herself is a fine vessel – just a pity that successive governments have cut the Royal Navy to the bone.

  10. Roger Patenall says:

    Yes. A worthwhile exercise. I joined the queue at 920am, and was on the first boat over at 10am (with 190 others). Couldn’t have asked for better. No check as to where one lived at that time.
    I liked the painted sign on the superstructure saying ‘bottles’ with an arrow pointing downwards. (not sure if you can attach a picture here). And not sure quite what sort of bottles they mean. Like you, I would have liked to see some of the ‘driving bits’ and living bits.

  11. flynnsmum in e14 says:

    i sadly didnt make it. but sounded like a good day was had by all who did. photos are great. thanks for posting them. certainly got everyone talking on both sides of the river

  12. 16" East says:

    The queue and the completely misleading information was a mess, the council website said very little (customary for greenwich council!) and was incorrect of course, and there was no discernable benefit to being local at all.

    Having said all that, the Navy Staff was impeccably gracious and untiring all day for the public. The views from the ship were wonderful, even on a gloomy day, and i loved the helicopters !

    We barely coped with the two hour wait in the rain and cold, goodness knows how the families managed it!

    With so little advertising, how did so many people know ? I only found out through you, dear phantom!

  13. Nelson's Left Eye says:

    Very sadly, I didn’t have the chance to go but I’d like to respond to “…just a pity that successive governments have cut the Royal Navy to the bone.”

    The RN of today is (mostly) more versatile and capable then ever before.

    Extreme budget restraints have meant the temporary loss of our fixed-wing aircraft carriers but as there is no longer any viable air threat to the Royal Navy, these extremely expensive vessels were unnecessary. Furthermore, the carriers currently being built for the RN are similar in size to the US Navy’s mega-carriers and absolutely dwarf the Invincible class that HMS Ocean is based on.

    And when you consider the destroyers, the frigates and the submarines that make up the rest of the fleet, you will find some of the most advanced vessels in the world. For example, each one of the new Type 45 destroyers are more capable than all the older Type 42 destroyers combined and actually are the most advanced destroyers afloat.

    As for HMS Ocean herself, deploy her alongside HMS Bulwark and HMS Albion and you have an Amphibious Task Force unrivalled outside the US Navy.

    My point is that just because there are fewer vessels in the Royal Navy than there were 20-30 years ago, absolutely does not mean that it is any less capable or effective. In fact, it is quite the reverse.

  14. Chris says:

    Mr Nelson, with today’s RN, could we retake the Falklands if it was invaded again?

  15. Nelson's Left Eye says:

    Your question is redundant, Chris, as I suspect you already know. However I shall indulge you…

    The Argentine Navy main vessels are one lightly armed troop carrier, four aging (and utterly obsolete by NATO standards) frigates and three (just as obsolete) diesel submarines. The air force’s offensive force is less than 50 1970′s vintage fighter jets.

    However, with just one of those Type 45 destroyers, one nuclear submarine plus Typhoon fighter jets on station between the Falklands and Argentina, we have ensured that any invasion force will lose so many aircraft and ships that the operation will inevitably fail even before they face the heavily armed and well-prepared soldiers based on the Islands.

    Plus, with Argentina under intense satellite and communications surveillance, any hint of a serious intention to invade will be quickly identified and even more soldiers and aircraft deployed to the Falklands within hours.

    Furthermore, if you actually examine the underlying reasons for Argentina’s newly-resurfaced belligerence, you will see that these are the desperate actions of a beleaguered and unpopular government rather than any serious political intent.

  16. 16" East says:

    Thank you Nelson, that was very informative!

  17. Chris says:

    Yes, thanks, the question was not a wind-up, I was genuinely interested.

    I don’t like the idea that our navy doesn’t have any carriers!

  18. Tracey Cutler says:

    Thank you Nelson for your excellent reply. I spent a very enjoyable afternoon on HMS Dragon type 45 when she came into Liverpool last month and was seriously impressed both with the ship and her crew. Never underestimate the benefits of opendays such as this. My son has been inspired to join up after just such a day and is now working harder at school so he can join the Fleet Air Arm. Your response tells me it is not a vain hope – despite the current climate – many thanks for that.

  19. Mark says:

    I have to challenge some of what Nelson’s Left Eye says, or at least give some context to his/her comments. Today’s Royal Navy does, indeed, have far more capable ships than 30 years ago. In many respects that is thanks to the lessons learned, at the cost of sailors’ lives, in the Falklands. However the oceans have not got smaller or fewer in number over those 30 years and, no matter how impressive a ship, it can only be in one place at any one time. We remain an island, relying as ever on the sea lanes for our survival. We have seen, for example, how pirates with RPGs and simple boats can disrupt shipping in the Arabian Sea. If the Navy gets any smaller, it may not have the ability to counter such a threat.

    With regard to the Falklands, should not forget that the Argentine invasion of 1982 was also “the desperate action of a beleaguered and unpopular government”. It was a great piece of good fortune that they were so desperate, if they had waited six months (as historians have suggested was their original plan) the Royal Navy would not have had the ships to recapture the islands. The point is, we cannot be sure where a future threat will come from or the form it will take. Who would have imagined, when the government was deciding to scrap the Harriers (not Sea Harriers, which had been withdrawn some years earlier) and Invincible class carriers, that British forces would soon be conducting operations over Libya?

    Nelson says there is no viable air threat to the RN, well senior Task Force commanders thought the same in 1982. The ground forces were promised that the Argentine Air Force would be engaged and defeated before the land campaign started. We know this was over optomistic, with ships lost to enemy air raids and Argentine supply aircraft continuing to land at Stanley airport right up to the night before the Argentinian forces surrendered. Invincible and Hermes were kept well to the east of the Falklands, out of range of Argentine aircraft, and unable to provide adequate air cover over the landing beaches. However probably the greatest contributing factor was the lack of AWACS capability, lost when the previous Ark Royal was scrapped in 1978. This meant air raids couldn’t be detected, and engaged, before they reached the ships of the task force. Aircraft carriers are not just about protecting the fleet against air threats but also offensive and defensive operations in support of ground troops. It would be a foolish government that committed ground forces to battle without any air support. Without aircraft carriers, one has to wonder if there is any point of HMS Ocean or the two Landing Platforms Dock (Albion and Bulwark). Of course, in 1982, the two previous LPDs (HMS Fearless and HMS Intrepid) were due to be scrapped, the RN had no Landing Platform Helicopter and shouldn’t have had any fixed wing aircraft (the Invincible class being designed as anti-submarine helicopter carriers).

    I fear, just as China and India are commissioning new carriers, we risk repeating the mistakes of the past.

  20. David says:

    Unfortunately we didn’t get to have a look onboard either – when I asked the (very polite) Navy chappie about the local priority queue he looked very surprised and said “no, there’s nothing like that happening”, and advised that the queue would be about 2.5 hours. I did come back later to be told that locals were given priority, but that it was now over and the current people in the queue would be the last to board.


    They did say that they hoped she would be open to the public again, but that nothing was actually confirmed.

  21. What I’m getting from this is complete mixed messages. Next time, I want the Navy themselves to set the ground rules, tell the council/media/their own people what those rules are and stick to them.

    It was a fantastic day but many people missed out because of the confusion.

  22. I too will challenge Mr Nelson’s comments as his initial snipe was at my comment. I quite agree about the capability of the Type 45s and their obvious improvement over the Type 42s. However, it doesn’t matter how wonderful the ships are if there are only six of them. A ship can only be in one place at a time. The navy, any navy, should be about having a decent number of vessels and a balanced fleet. We don’t have sufficient platforms to undertake the tasks given to the navy by the politicians, neither do we have a balanced fleet. We do not have any sort of fixed wing capability and neither will we have until at least 2016. I find myself agreeing totally with Mark’s comments which are well thought out and pay heed to lessons learned in past conflicts. Mr Nelson’s complacency that there is ‘no viable air threat to the Navy’ is staggering.

  23. Lyn says:

    Hi – Does anyone know when it’s likely to leave Greenwich?

    Thanks :)

  24. Nelson's Left Eye says:

    “Mr Nelson’s complacency that there is ‘no viable air threat to the Navy’ is staggering.”

    Okay, I’ll try again.

    In 1982, there were zero RAF fighters based on the Falklands. Today, we have Typhoons permanently based there: 21st Century NATO fighters against obsolete 1970s aircraft, with more available if the threat escalates.

    A naval air capability is therefore unnecessary for the Falklands as the threat is countered by the RAF.

    So, with the Falklands threat covered, maybe Steve Hunniset would like to tell us where there is an ‘air threat’ to the Navy where the RAF cannot be deployed.

    As for having less ships – destroyers do not carry out maritime patrol duties as their role is air defence (usually of a carrier/amphibious task force but the Falklands is an exception).
    In the 1980s, you needed 6-8 destroyers to carry out this mission. Today, you need just one. We therefore have sufficient destroyers, even when the carriers arrive.

    Maritime patrol duties, where you do need many ships to cover all regions of the globe, are carried out by frigates, of which the RN has 19.