HMS Avenger (F185)

HMS Avenger was the eighth Type 21 frigate of the Royal Navy and entered service in April 1978. She was built by Yarrow Shipbuilders Ltd, Glasgow,Scotland. She was sold to Pakistan in 1993 as the PNS Tippu Sultan and was used as a cruise missile target in the Indian Ocean on the 27th April 2020

Commanding Officers

1978-1979 Cdr Geoff A Eades
1979-1981 Cdr Peter J A Ford
1981-1982 Capt Hugo M White F4
1982-1983 Capt A Peter Woodhead F4
1983 Lt Cdr/Cdr Andrew Gordon-Lennox
(Temporary Command – See Armilla Patrol incident below)
1983-1984 Capt A Bruce Richardson F4
1985-1986 Capt Chris J S Craig F4
1988-1989 Cdr Christopher V Ellison
1990-1991 Cdr Andrew J G Miller
1991-1992 Cdr Nigel R Owen
1993-1994 Cdr David H Durston
Royal Navy Service
With the appointment of Captain Hugo White in 1981, Avenger became leader of the 4th Frigate Squadron. Avenger was a late arrival at the War, as she didn’t leave the UK until 10 May 1982, arriving at the Falklands on the 25th May – a record for any ship involved in the operations, and a massive distance in 14 days. Collectively All Type 21’s had a massive short distance high-speed ability thanks to the Rolls Royce Olympus turbines, but at the time the RN preferred this information not to be publicised. Avenger had averaged 28 knots and the Type 21’s became nicknamed the Boy Racers. Captain White led Avenger in the Falklands War surviving an attack by an Exocet missile which it shot out of the sky with the 4.5 inch mark 8 gun on the focsle of the ship. Her divers salvaged a 20mm Oerlikon from the wreck of HMS Antelope which was remounted to increase her Anti-Aircraft capability,referred to on board as “Antelopes Avenger”. She also assisted with naval gunfire support during the campaign.

On June 11, she was conducting naval bombardments of Port Stanley in preparation for an amphibious assault by British troops. While the shelling was going on, she directly struck a house where civilians were sheltering, killing three British women and wounding several others. They are the only British civilian casualties of the war.

During the Falklands deployment, an alarming crack in the ship’s hull progressively worsened with the stormy South Atlantic weather. On return to UK, she was taken in for refitting, with a steel plate being welded down each side of the ship to eliminate the problem. At the same time modifications were made to reduce hull noise.

In 1983 the Avenger, and sister ship HMS Ambuscade, were on the Royal Navy ‘Armilla’ patrol, a permanent presence in the Persian Gulf during the 1980s and 1990s. The Avenger’s commanding officer, Captain Woodhead RN was returning from a visit ashore in the ships Lynx helicopter when it suffered a catastrophic failure and, nose down, plunged into the sea off Muscat, Oman. The Lynx helicopter never resurfaced from its entry into the sea and for a short time there was no sign of the aircrew or ship’s Captain. As the sea boat approached the crash sight the crew observed some green clothed bodies breaking the surface on the water. Luckily there was movement and four people were seen clustering around a small aircrew emergency dinghy.

avenger_purdyThe recovery of the Captain and Lynx aircrew was swift and they were soon inside the helicopter hanger set up as an emergency sickbay facility by the ship’s medic. The First Lieutenant (Lt Cdr Gordon-Lennox) on the ship’s bridge ordered a marker buoy to be placed at the scene of the crash and when this was completed the Avenger sailed for the nearest port, Muscat some 10 miles to the north of the current position ordering ‘full speed ahead’. On a Type 21 this meant its powerful Rolls Royce Olympus turbines hit full RPM taking the Avenger up to a very healthy 35 knots. Meanwhile, in the hanger, the ships medic had quickly ascertained the extent of the injuries. The Captain was in severe back pain as was the helicopter pilot. The observer was badly shocked and the leading Air Mechanic, who was also onboard, exhausted and dazed. The fact the Captain was in the hanger at all was due to the extraordinary heroism of the Leading Air Mechanic. When the Lynx entered the water nose down it continued to plummet towards the seabed only slowing its natural descent after about 80 feet. The pilot and observer sitting to the front of the aircraft were very badly shaken but managed to free themselves and exit the aircraft. Behind them in the main cabin the Captain had been dazed in the crash and was lying still. In very poor visibility the Leading Airman had released himself and then pulled the Captain from his seat. Using the cabin doors emergency release he managed to open an exit point then kick them both free from the still sinking aircraft and swim towards the surface. By the time the pair reached the other aircrew on the surface they had been under water for nearly five minutes. Considering the Leading Airman was primarily a trained mechanic, with only limited aircrew training, he acted both bravely and effectively. His actions that day were later recognised by a Royal Navy gallantry award

As the Avenger made fast progress towards Muscat, an Oman army helicopter had responded to the ship’s emergency call for medical assistance. The flight deck brought the helicopter into land and its medical crew disembarked to assist the ship’s medic with the casualties. Realising it was important the Captain, pilot and observer get to a hospital as quickly as possible it was suggested the Oman helicopter evacuate them to the nearest one in Muscat. When this was suggested to the Captain he quite understandably informed the medics ‘there is no fucking way I am getting into that helicopter.’

This ship soon reached Muscat and in a remarkable piece of seamanship the First Lieutenant berthed the Avenger like it was a speedboat. It was to be the fastest berthing manoeuvre many of the crew had witnessed in their careers. Almost instantly a gangway was laid and the casualties placed in the waiting ambulances. All of the aircrew and the Captain recovered but it was nearly two months before he could return to the Avenger. In the meantime the ship continued its Armilla patrol duties with the First Lieutenant, Lieutenant Commander Andrew Gordon-Lennox RN, now the acting commanding officer of the ship and firmly at the helm.

The Armilla patrol was not to be free of further incidents as, just days later on the 27th April 1983 HMS Ambuscade was badly damaged after hitting the stern of the American warship USS Dale during routine ship manoeuvres.