HMS Girdle Ness

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United Kingdom
Name: Penlee Point
Ordered: 1944
Builder: Burrard Dry Dock Co. Ltd.
Laid down: 7 December 1944
Launched: 29 March 1945
Commissioned: 5 September 1945
Decommissioned: 1951
Renamed: Girdle Ness
Fate: Stricken 1970
General characteristics as built
Class and type: Beachy Head-class repair ship
Displacement: 8,580 long tons (8,718 t) standard
  • 441 ft 6 in (134.6 m) oa
  • 425 ft 0 in (129.5 m) pp
Beam: 57 ft (17.4 m)
Draught: 20 ft (6.1 m)
Propulsion: Oil-fired triple expansion steam engines, 2 boilers, 1 shaft, 2,500 ihp (1,864 kW)
Speed: 11 knots (20 km/h; 13 mph)
Complement: 270
Armament: 16 × 20 mm Oerlikon cannons

HMS Girdle Ness was a Beachy Head-class repair ship constructed for the Royal Navy that entered service in 1945. Originally named Penlee Point, the vessel was designed as a maintenance ship for landing craft in the Pacific Theatre of World War II but used as an accommodation ship at Rosyth Dockyard. Renamed Girdle Ness, the ship was taken out of service in 1953 and converted for use in support of missile trials in the development of the Seaslug missile in the early 1960s. After trials of the missile were completed, Girdle Ness was placed in reserve before becoming an accommodation ship as part of HMS Cochrane. The vessel was stricken in 1970.

Description and early service[edit]

Following setbacks in the Pacific theatre of operations which led to the loss of naval bases, the Royal Navy required more depot and repair ships for the fleet to replace shore facilities.[1] As part of the war construction programme, the Royal Navy ordered a series of vessels based on standard mercantile designs and modified them to fit their expected roles.[2] Repair and maintenance vessels were ordered from Canadian shipyards with the escort maintenance ships intended to service smaller types of warships, and in the case of Girdle Ness, landing craft.[3]

he ships of the class had a standard displacement of 8,550 long tons (8,687 t) and 11,270 long tons (11,451 t) fully loaded. They were 441 feet 6 inches (134.6 m) long overall and 425 feet 0 inches (129.5 m) between perpendiculars with a beam of 57 feet (17.4 m) and a draught of 20 feet (6.1 m).[4][5] The vessels were propelled by one shaft driven by a reciprocating triple expansion steam engine powered by steam from two Foster Wheeler water-tube boilers, creating 2,500 indicated horsepower (1,900 kW). This gave the vessels a maximum speed of 11 knots (20 km/h; 13 mph).[4][5] Dominion Engineering Works of Montreal, Quebec provided the machinery for Girdle Ness.[6] During the war, the vessels were armed with sixteen single-mounted 20 mm Oerlikon cannons.[5]

Girdle Ness was ordered as HMS Penlee Point (F04).[7] She was built by the Burrard Dry Dock Co. Ltd. at their yard in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, as one of twenty-one Beachy Head-class repair ships. These were Canadian Fort ships, similar to the US Victory ships, that had been modified for use as auxiliary ships.[1] Penlee Point was laid down on 7 December 1944 and launched on 29 March 1945. The ship was commissioned on 5 September 1945.[7] The hull was completed at the South Yard of the Vancouver Dry Dock Company.[8]

On entering service she was used as an accommodation ship at Rosyth Dockyard from 1946 to 1952, being placed in reserve in 1951.[9]

Conversion as a trials ship[edit]

A trials ship was needed to support the Seaslug missile development program. Initial tests were carried out from a shore-based launcher but there was a need to test the missile under realistic conditions, and also to gain experience of handling a large missile at sea.

In February 1953 Penlee Point was moved to Devonport Dockyard, Devon, for conversion into a trials ship. The conversion began in May 1953 and was completed in 1956, and she was re-commissioned as Girdle Ness on 24 July.

During her conversion the entire superstructure was removed and most of the forward part of the hull gutted to provide space for the missile launcher and its attendant magazines. When she was finally completed in her new guise she had a large, boxy bridge structure, forward of which was a triple Seaslug launcher.

One of the reasons why Girdle Ness was chosen for conversion was a result of a 1950 Admiralty Ship Design Policy Committee recommendation. The committee proposed that three missile-equipped types of ship would be required by the Royal Navy:

A: Task Force Ship, capable of 30 knots, and armed with two triple Seaslug launchers
B: Ocean Convoy Escort, capable of 17 knots, and armed with two triple Seaslug launchers
C: Coastal Convoy Escort, capable of 12 knots, and armed with a triple Seaslug launchers

Girdle Ness was chosen to be a prototype for the Type C: Coastal Convoy Escort, although this idea was dropped before she came into service.

Radar equipment[edit]

Seaslug's guidance was a beam riding system, with the missile following a beam projected from the launching ship. This required the installation of a large radar set, for both target acquisition, tracking and the control beam.

The following equipment was installed:[10][page needed]

Missile trials[edit]

The firing of the first test missile from HMS Girdle Ness
Launch of a Seaslug missile, circa 1961

Seaslug was first tested at RAE Aberporth, on the Welsh coast of Cardigan Bay. Aberporth already hosted the land-based launcher, the Clausen Rolling Platform or HMS Rock'n'Roll.[15][16] Later trials were carried out in the Mediterranean, based on Malta.

Seaslug was the UK's first ship-based surface-to-air missile. It used four solid boosters, then a solid sustainer rocket. Once the boosters were dropped and the sustainer fired, four large control surfaces were used to control the missile under beam-riding guidance.[17] Seaslug was a large missile and required mechanical handling to transfer the rounds from the magazine to the trainable launcher. The large magazine was relatively highly automated for its age.[9][18]

During trials, the ship was crewed by a naval crew, with the missile operators being the first naval staff under training as missile operators. The Recording Room manned by civilian members of the RN Scientific Service analysing the performance of the Seaslug.[19]

In 1959 RFA Retainer was used for trials of replenishment at sea, transferring the two-ton complete missile rounds by highline breeches buoy.[20][21]


During the course of her life as a missile trials ship Girdle Ness fired 209 Seaslug missiles.

When the trials ended, she returned to Devonport and was paid off on 5 December 1961.[22][23] She was then reclassified as an accommodation ship, and after her return to Rosyth she was re-commissioned on 1 December 1962 and served alongside HMS Duncansby Head, another Beachy Head-class ship, at Donibristle as part of HMS Cochrane.[8] HMS Girdle Ness was decommissioned in early 1970 and was scrapped in Faslane from August 1970 onwards.

The ship's badge, a golden girdle as a trefoil knot on a blue field, is now held by the National Maritime Museum, Greenwich.[24]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Mitchell and Sawyer, p. 39
  2. ^ Lenton and Colledge, p. 341
  3. ^ Mitchell and Sawyer, pp. 39, 41
  4. ^ a b Blackman (1958), p. 79
  5. ^ a b c Lenton and Colledge, p. 350
  6. ^ Mitchell and Sawyer, pp. 40–44
  7. ^ a b "Girdle Ness (6121120)". Miramar Ship Index. Retrieved 13 April 2019.
  8. ^ a b Mitchell and Sawyer, p. 41
  9. ^ a b Wise, Jon (2007). Jordan, John (ed.). Warship 2007. Conway. pp. 9–28. ISBN 978-1844860418.
  10. ^ Wise (2007).
  11. ^ "Type 901 radar". HMS Collingwood radar collection.
  12. ^ "Type 960 radar" (PDF). HMS Collingwood radar collection.
  13. ^ "Type 983 radar" (PDF). HMS Collingwood radar collection.
  14. ^ "Type 982 radar" (PDF). HMS Collingwood radar collection.
  15. ^ "A Brief History of RAE Aberporth".
  16. ^ "The Duke Sees Two Sea Slugs Fired". 6 December 1959.
  17. ^ "Seaslug: The Most Missile In The Least Space". Flight. 21 November 1958. pp. 790–794.
  18. ^ "The missile loading control position in HMS GIRDLE NESS, November 1958". Imperial War Museum. IWM (A 34120).
  19. ^ "HMS Girdle Ness. November 1958, on Board the Navy's Guided Weapons Trials Ship. Control Rooms and Loading Spaces of HMS Girdle Ness". Admiralty. A 34121.
  20. ^ "Seaslug transfer". RFA Nosta=lgia. 1959. Imperial War Museum A 34233.
  21. ^ "HMS Girdleness Fires The Seaslug Missile 1961". British Pathé News. 4 December 1961.
  22. ^ "HMS Girdleness Returns From Seaslug Missile Trials". British Pathé News. 5 December 1961.
  23. ^ "Seaslug Trials Completed". Flight. 14 December 1961. p. 904.
  24. ^ "Official ship's badge of HMS Girdle Ness".


  • Blackman, Raymond V. B., ed. (1958). Jane's Fighting Ships 1958–59. New York: McGraw-Hill Book Company. OCLC 32592770.
  • Lenton, H. T.; Colledge, J. J. (1968) [1964]. British & Dominion Warships of World War II. New York: Doubleday and Company. ISBN 0-71100-403-X. OCLC 1366368.
  • Mitchell, W.H.; Sawyer, L.A. (1966). The Oceans, The Forts, and The Parks: Merchant Shipbuilding for British Account in North America during World War II. Liverpool: Sea Breezes. OCLC 154154648.
  • Wise, Jon (2007). Jordan, John (ed.). RFA Girdle Ness: Sea Slug Missile Trials Ship. Warship 2007. London: Conway. pp. 9–28. ISBN 1-84486-041-8.

External links[edit]