Britain’s warships ‘dropping like flies’, as two more decommissioned

People watching navy warship HMS Westminster return to Portsmouth

The former head of the Royal Navy, Admiral Lord West, has been quoted as saying that Britain’s warships are “dropping like flies”. Seemingly he told media that the UK needs a much bigger surface fleet, as the Royal Navy is presently limited in what it is able to achieve.

This comes as a drastic shortages of sailors is forcing the Royal Navy to decommission two of its warships due to lack of personnel, according to The Telegraph. In order to man new frigates, HMS Westminster (pictured above), recently refurbished at cost of circa £100m, and HMS Argyll will allegedly be decommissioned this year.

The retirement of HMS Westminster is controversial as it underwent expensive repairs in 2017 and only recently returned to service, reports the Daily Mail.

Whitehall sources quoted in the Daily Telegraph say the pensioning off of older ships so the Royal Navy can perform as a modern, hi-tech fighting force is justifiable. “It is always emotive when ships with long histories come to the end of their working lives. But decommissioning is the right decision,” says one. “The new Type 26 frigates will be in service before those ships can be refitted.”

Sky News reported that the Royal Navy had suffered a serious drop in recruitment, with one of its sources describing the situation as a ‘general collapse’ in the flow of new recruits into the service (July 2023). Recruitment woes were thought to have been triggered by what Sky’s defence sources described as a “perfect storm” of negative factors. Those factors included a shortage of up to 35 per cent of recruitment staff in some areas of the UK, alleged problems with internal efforts to use data analytics to help with recruitment, a wider failure by the government to ensure armed forces pay keeps up with inflation, and poor retention with outflow outstripping inflow.

The Royal Navy had enjoyed a 30 per cent uplift in recruitment applications due to Covid-19. As life choices for young adults shrunk across the globe, with travel curtailed, and employment opportunities shrinking, stable employers with an air of certainty seemed more attractive. But that didn’t do enough to claw back what is described as ‘an ill-advised naval recruitment freeze’ in the 1990s. That led to a 7 per cent workforce ‘black hole’ that badly impacted the Royal Navy for years, says Navylookout The reasons may be different, but another personnel black hole is being created. There is no equipment programme, no deployment or effect that can be delivered by the navy without trained and experienced people. Even the more automated fleet of the future will still be reliant on the number and quality of its sailors and marines.

Between July 2022 and July 2023, the Royal Navy workforce shrank by 4.1 per cent (1,640 more people left than were recruited). The gap between the number of resignations and the intake of new sailors continues to grow and if numbers are allowed to decline at 4 per cent or more per year, the Royal Navy will quickly be unable to meet even its core commitments, says Navylookout.

A Royal Navy spokesman told the Daily Mail: “The operational requirements of the Royal Navy are kept under constant review.

“The Ministry of Defence is committed to ensuring the Royal Navy has the capabilities it needs to meet current and future operational requirements.”

Earlier this week, the Royal Navy announced it has delivered more than 80 tonnes of humanitarian aid for Gaza on behalf of the UK. Royal Fleet Auxiliary ship RFA Lyme Bay (pictured below) delivered more than 300 pallets of UK aid as well as medical supplies on behalf of the Republic of Cyprus into Port Said, Egypt.

The aid consisted of nearly 5,000 shelter kits and nearly 11,000 blankets.

“The UK’s Armed Forces have a proud history of providing humanitarian assistance right across the globe, and the Littoral Response Group (South) was rightly re-tasked to the eastern Mediterranean to provide the UK government with the capability to deliver aid to Gaza,” says task group commander, Commander Sam Stephens.

men loading food supplies onto HMS Lyme Regis

One response to “Britain’s warships ‘dropping like flies’, as two more decommissioned”

  1. Richard Andrews says:

    As a Master Mariner (yachts < 3000gt) I sometimes wonder if the RN should consider farming out some of its activities to the private sector – where the number of candidates greatly outstrips the number of jobs.
    A mine hunter, or RFA vessel could surely be run by merchant seaman for example.