No-on can say that the National Museum of the Royal Navy is afraid of a challenge. And bringing Landing Craft Tank 7074, last LCT survivor of D-Day, south from the Mersey into her new Portsmouth home was certainly that. Cradled in the heavy lift ship ‘Condock V’, she completed her journey successfully, arriving in Portsmouth Naval Dockyard for the restitution work to begin. All to be done by ML UK Ltd – the Portsmouth engineering firm which has an unparalleled track record in this specialized work, from HMS Alliance, to HMS Warrior, HMS M33, and – continuing – HMS Victory, the most challenging of them all: a 200 year-old national icon, she will be in their care for many years, as her hull is stabilized and re-supported for her next century. But ML UK are indeed the proverbial safe hands.
And what a challenge! Landing Craft Tank 7074 had settled firmly onto the bed of the Mersey, in a mute reproach to those who’d let her fall so far. Not ‘The Ship that Died of Shame’, as in Nicolas Monsarrat’s famous story about a motor gunboat turned post-WWII to worse and worse purposes till she seems to wreck herself in expiation; more ‘The Ship that Died of Sorrow’, as 7074, abandoned, slowly sank at her moorings in Birkenhead. So it took a very big, powerful crane and a set of mighty straps to raise her, oh so gently, onto the heavy lift ship that would take her south – to Portsmouth, close to where she set off to deliver tanks and their crews to join in the assault on Hitler’s Atlantic Wall. All filmed brilliantly, time-lapse, by independent producers True North.
A guy in a hard hat and a hi-vis jacket may not look like the proverbial US cavalry coming over the hill to the rescue… but as far as LCT 7074 is concerned, Nick Hewitt, (picture), Head of Exhibitions and Collections, National Museum of the Royal Navy (NMRN), fits the bill. The ship is very dear to Nick’s heart: he’s been working to save her for many a long year. And now it’s happening – with highly developed plans bringing her south to a new home outside the D-Day Story Museum in Southsea, Hampshire, to highlight the museum’s display of artefacts, photos and vehicles from the greatest seaborne invasion in history. We’ll be filmng her new life for NMRN. Mind you, Nick is clearly fearless – because the state of 7074, after years of neglect, cannot but be a huge challenge…
This was one heck of a way for a ship that hit the beaches of Normandy in June 1944 to end up… sunk ignominiously into the mud at Birkenhead docks. But that looked like the last gasp for Landing Craft Tank (LCT) 7074, just visible above the dark waters of the Mersey, after a final phase of her career hardly more dignified: as an out-of-hours dance ‘n drinking club called ‘Clubship Landfall’ – the place to go to end a night out with that final “just the one”, before tottering back to your ship or weaving your way towards a taxi to get home. After the very last lager had been consumed, and the final revolve of the glitterball, 7074 was simply abandoned and slowly, sadly died into the water. But then… along came the National Museum of the Royal Navy.
Curator Clare Hunt (picture) at The National Museum of the Royal Navy and her team are making good progress in preparing RML 497 for her future at the NMRN in Hartlepool. A conservation management plan will soon be unveiled, and in the meantime, much work is going on to support the construction of a new facility to display the Fairmile B Rescue Motor Launch – a rare survivor of the hundreds of warships like her that served in WWII in a wide range of roles, from gunboat to submarine chaser. In the new facility, 497’s full history will be told – along with the story of the Royal Navy, right up to the present day. Other ideas include a panorama of shipbuilding and engineering in the North-East – a world centre of ship construction during the industrial revolution, and beyond.
The “chummy ship” is a long-standing Royal Navy tradition- where two ships’ companies develop a special friendship. RML 497 is going to have the best possible chummy at The National Museum of the Royal Navy in Hartlepool – because the museum is also home to HMS ‘Trincomalee’, a 19th century frigate built in Bombay by the Wadia family of shipwrights. Extraordinarily, ’Trincomalee’ still has 60% of her original timbers – because she was built from Malabar teak, a very strong wood with a high oil content, which has protected her for over 200 years. Now, she floats in her own dock – and it’s a thrill to go on board, feel her move with sea around her, and know that the deck you are treading on once resounded to the slap of sailors’ feet as they rushed to make sail!
Rob is a TV producer, reporter and camera operator with 30 years’ experience at the BBC, Channel 4 and ITN, in news, factual and documentary production. He is a four times award winner, whose awards include a coveted Royal Television Society award for his work on Channel 4 News. His association with The Maritime Foundation goes back to 1995, when he won the first Desmond Wettern Maritime Media Award for a series of reports that led to a major documentary on the loss of the bulk carrier Derbyshire.
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