At the start of the second commission following UK work up the Starboard crew as the on-crew were to take the boat over to the USA Eastern Test Range (ETR) at Port Canaveral to shake down the on board missile system under the view of range safety inspectors. Following clearance, by Starboard crew, of any bugs the Port crew would then take over the boat and conduct the launch of a missile down the ETR to the Antigua Mils target area and then bring the boat back to the UK.
However, prior to passage across the Atlantic to Port Canaveral for the Demonstration And Shakedown Operation (DASO) launch of a missile down the Eastern Test Range (ETR) Starboard crew conducted dive and recovery trials. During one of the recovery banging was heard on the hull a re-run of the same dive attitude and recovery was ordered and the source of the banging was narrowed to the fore ends.
On surfacing the skipper through the scope saw the port fore hydroplane was hanging off its hinge mounting thereby disabling the boat to continue with its passage to the USA.
Repulse returned to Faslane for repairs. It was New Years Eve 1972 and as we stepped ashore the dockyard workers were not best pleased to be working instead of first footing celebrations.
In readiness for Repulses docking at Faslane the Port hydroplane had been removed from Renown (which was in refit at Rosythe) and transported to Faslane but the keyway of that fore plane was at 90 0 to that required by the Repulse mountings. A spare with the correct keyway orientation had to be transported from RNST Copenacre to Faslane.
The upshot of this incident was that Repulse sailed two weeks late for Port Canaveral and the ETR firing date off Port Canaveral could not be changed. There was very little time for the Starboard crew to complete their part of the missile system shake down and clearance of any failures and then hand over to Port crew for their shake down so the programme was changed and Starboard crew had to conduct the launch of the DASO missile.
It was a hectic first week in Port Canaveral for both the Missile Control Centre (MCC) and Missile Compartment (MC) staff to complete the range test procedures (which proved the Weapon System was ready for the firing) and provide test data for the ETR staff to select which missile was to be the prime DASO Candidate. The MCC and MC staff also had to undergo individual exams to prove each member was competent to safely handle and control the missile and its payload whilst it was on board the boat (if one member failed then the all MCC and MC had to be re-examined again). We all passed with flying colours.
On the launch day everything went like clockwork and the launch from the boat was executed without problem. In the MCC we heard the range commentary as the missile broached, first stage ignition, rotation etc. However, the commentary stopped at the point of first stage separation, things had started to go wrong. The missile was still on track down the range but it was pitch oscillating. In the MCC (long before range safety came to the same conclusion) we all agreed this was a problem with the missile rate gyro unit (a USA package which cannot be tested in the UK) and that its necessary gain change had not occurred at staging. When the missile loses its first stage it is now half the length it was when it was launched. Therefore the sensitivity (gain) of the electronics controlling the missile direction nozzles has to be reduced otherwise the missile will oscillate as it tries to follow its designated flight path.
The Range Safety Officer agreed the missile was on track and would have landed within the range target area. He was therefore satisfied the crew had successfully completed their part of the DASO firing and decided to abort the missile flight by invoking the missile destruct system via its on board telemetry system. As the prime missile launch was successful there was no need to launch the second prepared missile.
Repulse headed back to port during which the MCC Staff had to complete the collation of the necessary computer printouts and paperwork of the missile tests prior to and during launch. Only then could we retire to the Senior Rates mess to put on a couple of barrels of Courage Sparkling for the rest of the senior rates.
When we arrived in the mess we were met with cheers and a song (sung to the sound of silence) – see attached sheet. Those in the SR mess and even the Admirals (UK and USA and Senior Officers being hosted by the mess had practiced and sang it was a great tribute to us. The American Admiral remarked that in an American boat under the same circumstances the atmosphere could have been cut with a knife. It was pointed out to him the missile launch, which was a totally British affair, was a success however, it was a USA bit which failed and therefore there was no need for us to be upset.
Post launch the ETR staff reviewed their photographs of the missile flight and found something strange on the inter-stage section – see photo 1.
The photo was blown up as far as their equipment would allow - see photo 2.
We admitted it was a larger version of the self adhesive British Bulldog emblem that both MCC and MC staff were wearing on our uniforms on launch day - see photo 3 (ETR data is on the rear of photo 1).
Before we sailed – the first time - I had bought the emblems 4 small and one large (meant for bathroom walls) from the Dumbarton town centre supermarket. The larger ones were stuck to both sides on the inter-stage section of all three DASO missiles as at that time we didn't which one would be fired.
FIRST COMMISSION MISILE FIRING
FIRST DAY COVER
RETURNING BACK TO THE UNITED KINGDOM AFTER SECOND DASO
MID ATLANTIC WE HAD TO SURFACE DUE TO A CASING RATTLE
FOLLOWING PICTURES SHOW THE STORY.
Following is what Robin Oliphant says about these photo's:
We had to surface in the Atlantic on our return from Florida to fix a casing rattle.
I was the Casing Officer (legs showing under trousers) but it was the 2nd Cox'n who had the hard work and was the real hero.
As he went forward he was washed over the starboard side.
We pulled him back on board. Shortly afterwards the 3 of us went over the port side.
It was a problem as no one was left to pull us back on board. The 2nd Coxn was the fittest.
He stood on my shoulders (I think I was underwater at the time) and reached a handhold and got
back on deck and then pulled the 2 of us back on the casing.
The Doctor had been summoned to the Bridge as the XO thought we might have a resuscitation required but
the Doctor was a keen photographer so he just took pics and gave us a tot of medicinal rum when we got down below.
I wish I could remember the name of the 2nd Coxn and the 3rd person (who volunteered).
Based on Jonno's description of events below, this will be (L to R) Harry Roberts, Robin Oliphant and Jonno Johnston being pulled up on the starboard side.