Part of the Acorn Archive

Hearts of Oak



Last days of  HMS Duke of York

Wolf Rock Lighthouse 49° 56.7' N : 5° 48.4' W

I saw HMS DUKE OF YORK  on that very foggy day.


The sky was almost solid, hanging over the SCILLONIAN

and spreading out in all directions,

It was hard to distinguish where the cloud, sea or fog began and finished.

A feint ghostly light came from the horizon,

Wolf Rock lighthouse stood out against this light.

The Captain announced we were being held over,

as the HMS DUKE OF YORK was due to be towed

North. We all gathered along the ships railings,

and watched, with an almost reverend hush

We were lifting and drifting on very powerful seas,

thankfully not the high waves we often get on the

run between the mainland and the Scillies, just broad

waves, the some troughs 5 feet deep. We waited what

seemed to be an hour, sometimes the mist dropped to the horizon,

all we could see was the seas around us; the only sound was

the engines as they were used to keep course and position;

the fog lifted a little and then there was a quiet call,

"there she is", not a word more was uttered as she passed along

the horizon behind the Wolf Rock and disappeared into the fog.

I was ten years of age.

This, for me, was a defining moment.




HMS Duke of York; under tow in the English Channel


The ship left Spithead on Monday September 3rd 1951, in the company of the tugs JAUNTY, SAUCY and ENVOY to be placed in Gladstone Dock, Liverpool.



Moving these large ships was not without its problems;

HMS WARSPITE was a particular ship with her own

view of just where she should end her life, here in Mount’s Bay.

I will cover her story elsewhere on this site.


Ian Buxton writes … 

A typical towing speed for a BB was about 5knots. It is bollard pull

(thrust) rather than power that gives a tug its performance,

as a tug has to overcome the drag (resistance)

of the towed vessel (which is quite small at 5kN).


Paul Benyon writes …

They had problems with HMS VANGUARD not wanting to leave

Portsmouth Harbour in 1960, for the breakers : she tried to join those

watching the spectacle from Still and Wests

( a lovely old pub in Old Portsmouth, situated at just about the

narrowest part of the entrance to the harbour  where the current is at

its strongest ) -  so it can be a

distinct problem in confined waters or when wind and wave have other

ideas.  Looking through the large number of vessels that have been

towed away to be broken up it's quite surprising the number of vessels

that never made it to the breakers yard.


From Liverpool, HMS DUKE OF YORK

 was to be towed to Gareloch to be laid up with other ships.

She damaged her last vessel, at Liverpool.

On Friday September 7th at 10 pm she was

 in collision with the new £250,000 Wallasey cruise ship, the ROYAL IRIS, 

in the Mersey, off Gladstone Dock, Liverpool.

ROYAL IRIS  was nearing the end of a three hour cruise organised

by the Merseyside Branches of the Amalgamated Engineering Union.

The ROYAL IRIS  is electrically operated and

went temporarily out of control. She was

carried by the floodtide against the battleship.

ROYAL IRIS  was damaged about the superstructure.

Over 60 people were injured, most of them superficially.

The ROYAL IRIS called at Liverpool, where three people were taken

to hospital for treatment and then she crossed the river to Seacombe Stage

where a fleet of ambulances and taxis took over

60 people to hospital - only 10 were detained.





Tuesday, 6th November 1951

HMS DUKE OF YORK was towed to Gareloch for laying up.




Battleships in The Gareloch

The Gareloch is a natural harbour inlet, of Rosneath Peninsula, Scotland.


The first to arrive there was HMS ANSON – November, 1949.

Then HMS KING GEORGE V – June, 1950.

HMS DUKE OF YORK – November, 1951.

All three lay moored bow and stern in the Gareloch until 1957.

HMS HOWE was mothballed at Devonport.

Mothballing (officially cocooning ) was a new method of preserving warships.

The process involved sealing a ship's armarment inside cocoons constructed of a timber and webbing material, covered with fish netting, sprayed with a lacquer and coated with a latex of plastic, a dessicant being placed inside to absorb moisture.

To preserve the underwater section of the hull, dehumidification units were fitted in all the internal compartments. The main and auxiliary machinery and the boilers, together with the electrical and radio equipment, were packed and sealed.

The plan was to keep them at virtual readiness, in case of a war.

But it soon became evident that there was little likelihood of them being useful in anything other than convoy protection; and that itself was unlikely given the outcome of a nuclear exchange.

There was also the prohibitive cost of conversion into guided missile ships.

So, in April of 1957, all four ships were approved for scrap.

HMS ANSON was the first to be towed from Gareloch - December 17th 1957.

HMS KING GEORGE V was towed from the Gareloch - January 20th 1958

Sold to Arnott Young and Co, Dalmuir for breaking up.

HMS DUKE OF YORK was moved out of the Gareloch on February 18th 1958

Sold for scrap to Shipbreaking Industries Ltd., Faslane, only a short distance away.


Thanks to

Ian Buxton, Paul Benyon


Royal Naval Museum - Portsmouth, Hampshire UK



Raymond Forward