Swansea and Port Talbot Docks History

H.M.S. Warrior

H.M.S.  WARRIOR  at  Portsmouth

In August 1979 we sailed from Swansea in the “Hendon”, bound for Milford Haven, where we were to proceed up river to H.M.S. Warrior, which had been used as a fuelling hulk by the Navy for many years.

HMS Warrior was the first iron-hulled, armour-plated warship, built for the Royal Navy in response to the first ironclad warship, the French La Gloire, launched a year earlier. When completed in October 1861, Warrior was by far the largest, fastest, most heavily-armed and most heavily-armoured warship the world had ever seen. She was almost twice the size of La Gloire, and thoroughly outclassed the French ship in speed, armour, and gunnery. Warrior did not introduce any radical new technology, but for the first time combined steam engines, rifled breech-loading guns, iron construction, iron armour, and propeller drive all in one ship, and built to unprecedented scale

     We were on charter to the Maritime Trust, who had taken charge of H.M.S. Warrior in 1979 after lengthy negotiations and feasibility studies. Its vision was to restore a well-preserved hulk into a national treasure. Home for the project was Grays Shipyard in Hartlepool, the total cost was £8m. In August 1979, the 120-year-old hulk began her journey to Hartlepool around 800 miles of coastline she once defended so successfully.

The  crew  of  the  Hendon

Master Jack Jeffries
Mate Ron Tovey
Mate Billy Doel
A.B.s A E Jones & R Heslop
Chief Engineer Jack Gunshon
Second Engineers Ray Burrows & Ray Jones
Cook Gordon Harris


We sailed from Swansea on August Bank Holiday Monday to prepare in plenty of time for sailing on the forthcoming Wednesday. On approaching the Warrior, it was observed that the tide was running pretty strongly up the Haven and as such, required a wide sweep to run parallel with the ship at its moorings. Well, it wasn’t quite the sweep required and the combination of 18 inches of armoured shell plating on the Warrior and 12 inches of steel belting on the Hendon resulted in a resonance that I’m sure could be heard in Haverfordwest

I had to give up my berth on the boat deck to a gentleman by the name of Wing Commander Lucas (Retd.), who was to oversee the towage operation on behalf of the Maritime Trust. He was a most amiable man and fitted in immediately, indulging in the mess room banter that was such a big part of tugboat life. After preparing most of the towing gear proper, and getting the secondary gear ready for rigging the next day, everyone retired to a well earned nights sleep.

The following day saw all the secondary gear rigged and the second part of the day I spent right up in the eyes of the Warrior rigging our chain bridles with the assistance of the riggers provided. This entailed going into the bowels of the vessel and with open hatchways and companionways all over the place, and equipped only with hand torches, this proved to be a very precarious operation. The work was completed to the satisfaction of Wing.Cdr. Lucas, and all that remained the following day was the lighting of the gas towing lamps and the hoisting of the required signals.


On the day of sailing the crew were all turned to and breakfasted by 0800h and I was to go aboard the Warrior to check arrangements with the riggers about the final towing connection. Wing. Cdr. Lucas had gone aboard to check the towing lights and speak to the shore gang, and Captain Jack was looking for somewhere to fly the Maritime Trust Ensign. Someone on board the Hendon called me and informed me that Wing.Cdr. Lucas was wanted on the radio and I asked Jack of his whereabouts, and he very casually informed me that W.C. Lucas had just fallen through a hatchway. I made my way below decks with the aid of a torch and found some of the shore side gang attending to him. He was in a very poor condition, having fallen through three decks. We immediately summoned emergency services and the coastguard scrambled a helicopter from Brawdy, and the unfortunate man was whisked off to Withybush Hospital in Haverfordwest with multiple injuries. The television cameras that were there to witness the departure of this historic vessel captured all this. The photo below shows the helicopter arriving to take him to hospital prior to sailing.


This was not the best of starts to the voyage to Hartlepool and we all pondered in earnest about the rest of the passage, superstitious creatures that sailors are. After letting go and proceeding under the Cleddau Bridge with the assistance of two of the Milford Haven tugs, we negotiated the intricate buoyage system of the Haven. At the entrance to Milford Haven the channel splits into two, and we had, in consultation with the Milford Haven Port Authorities, decided on a passage plan to sail via the eastern channel. On reaching Thorn Island we had to negotiate a 90-degree turn to port to line up the channel. When towing a ship it is impossible to negotiate a turn like this in one go and we edged the old lady around gradually. The Hendon was now starting to head into the Eastern Channel but the Warrior kept on heading west, totally oblivious of our needs and showing a great reluctance to leave the Haven that had been her home for so many years. We had the engines of the Hendon going at full ahead and it was after some agonising minutes that she started to follow us around. At this stage our towing gear was still quite short, necessary to facilitate the twists and turns of the channel, and if the Warrior had not decided to follow when she did, then the outcome could have been quite different.


Captain  Jack  Jefferies  stands  on  the  bridge  wing  of  the  Hendon  after  clearing  the  Cleddau  Bridge. Affectionately  known  to  everyone  as “ Johnny  Boots”,  because  of  the  size  of  his  feet,  Jack  was  truly  one  of  life’s  characters.

Making  our  way  down  the Haven  with two  Cory  tugs  alongside  aft.

After clearing Milford Haven and streaming our full length of towing gear we made enquiries as to the well being of Wing Commander Lucas and we were informed that he had a fractured femur and numerous other injuries, but none of them life-threatening. The following morning we were off Lands End and another call to the hospital informed us of improvements in the condition of Wing. Cdr. Lucas. A message had been relayed to our Swansea office from Withybush Hospital that there was a bottle of rum in the drawer under his bunk, and it was for the crew of the Hendon on completion of the tow. On breaking this news in the mess room, he was instantly elevated to saintly status and was “one of the nicest men god ever put breath into”.  Oh, how easy we were to please.


Not  following  as  she  should.


The rest of the voyage was carried out in fair weather and we received numerous requests from vessels big and small, asking if they could close with us and take some photographs. This they all did, without creating any problems at all.


H.M.S. Warrior arriving at Tees Bay in tow of tug Hendon.


On  completion  of  eight  years  of restoration  work,  the  vessel  was  towed  to  Portsmouth,  arriving  on  June  16th  1987, where  she  has since   proved  to  be  a  massive  tourist  attraction. 


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