DILIGENCE, a shore establishment at Hythe, on Southampton Water, was commissioned in March 1953, tasked to equip and commission newly-built Coastal and Inshore Minesweepers, receiving them after formal acceptance from their builders and either fitting them out for operations, if they were to go straight into service, or preserving them if they were to go into the Reserve Fleet.
Having originally been a flying boat base for Imperial Airways in 1930’s, then RAF Coastal Command during WW II and BOAC post-war, it had large hangars and a very wide slipway. It was also adjacent to a railway marshalling yard so had useful infrastructure for the large-scale logistic operations involved.
The base had specialist Electrical, Engineering and Shipwright workshops, plus extensive naval stores, victualling and clothing stores, together with an administration block to process the mass of paperwork associated with acceptance, commissioning and delivery of the ships and to look after the pay of a large, but fluctuating, number of personnel comprising base staff, ferry crews and “visiting” ships companies working up.
Engineer and Shipwright Officers of the base staff were responsible for liaison with the Admiralty Overseer and the 15 shipyards round the country contracted to build the ships, visiting these builders, as required should problems or design changes arise and for Shipbuilders Harbour Trials.
Following successful completion of Builder’s Trials and any remedial work, a small RN ferry crew would bring the new ship to DILIGENCE for storing and fitting out.
It the ship was to be commissioned for operational use, naval stores, berthing ropes, ammunition, victuals and rum had to be embarked and further sea trials conducted for weapons, sweeps, anchoring and steering gear. As the full crew arrived, base staff would assist them to settle in then the ship commissioned and sailed as directed.
However if the ship was to go into reserve, equipment and naval stores were embarked but no ammunition or victuals. Spare gear was stowed in lockers on the upper deck. The ship was then thoroughly inspected by the Captain of DILIGENCE and transferred to another yard, often Camper and Nicholson at Gosport, where guns and lockers were covered in plastic sheeting sealed to the deck and the whole superstructure was encased in a wooden cover to preserve them from the weather. [See Hero photo].
On return to DILIGENCE the ships in reserve were moored on the trots, often “rafted up” in groups of three or more so that one generator could supply power to the whole “trot” and checked weekly by base staff.
“Arking” was remarkably successful as a form of preservation. Many ships spent several years in this condition yet were re-activated for operational service with a matter of days with no loss of watertight integrity or deterioration of machinery, as demonstrated when an urgent requirement for additional ships arose in 1964 to meet the demands of Confrontation.
DILIGENCE paid off as an independent establishment in 1960and was finally closed in April 1963.