Thousands turned out to see pride of Royal Navy visit the Tyne

NAVAL POWER ... HMS Onslaught seen off the Groyne at South Shields during Navy Week 1965. Picture: Gazette reader David Hetherington.
NAVAL POWER ... HMS Onslaught seen off the Groyne at South Shields during Navy Week 1965. Picture: Gazette reader David Hetherington.

IT was an era, against a background of the Cold War, which saw the Royal Navy at the height of its post-war capabilities.

Its carrier fleet, which included such legendary names as Ark Royal and Eagle, was the second largest in the world after the USA’s.

NAVAL POWER...the frigate HMS Berwick was leader of the 21st Escort Squadron of the Beira Patrol. Here's she in the Tyne for Navy Week 1965. Picture: Gazette reader David Hetherington.

NAVAL POWER...the frigate HMS Berwick was leader of the 21st Escort Squadron of the Beira Patrol. Here's she in the Tyne for Navy Week 1965. Picture: Gazette reader David Hetherington.

This was still a force that could maintain a fleet east of Suez, while also undertaking operations like the Beira Patrol, blocking oil supplies to Rhodesia.

So there is a certain wistfulness about this remarkable set of pictures, given that while the British Navy is still regarded as one of the best in the world, there are now serious concerns about its capability after years of cuts and underfunding.

The figure for personnel now stands at just over 33,000.

When these pictures were taken on Tyneside, 50 years ago this summer, 100,000 was the figure quoted as being necessary to maintain efficiency.

During their six-day stay on the Tyne, an estimated 60,000 people visited the squadron of seven ships as they lay at Newcastle Quayside.

It was the period, still, of Navy Weeks, when a representative squadron of the service – surface ships, submarines, air arm etc – would visit ports around the UK to show off naval power – and act as a recruitment drive.

And on this occasion, Tyneside and South Shields thrilled to the spectacle.

The photographs have come to light following a recent query from a reader who wondered what it was that he had witnessed as a child in the 1960s, which brought Navy ships to the river, including at least one submarine which he remembered seeing.

Well this is her – HMS Onslaught. She had been commissioned just a couple of years earlier, in 1962, her prime role being to eavesdrop. She was taken out of service in 1990.

NAVAL POWER ... HMS Onslaught seen off the Groyne at South Shields during Navy Week 1965. Picture: Gazette reader David Hetherington.

NAVAL POWER ... HMS Onslaught seen off the Groyne at South Shields during Navy Week 1965. Picture: Gazette reader David Hetherington.

Seen here off the Groyne at Shields, she was part of a representative section of the fleet which came to the Tyne for Navy Week in July 1965.

The pictures come from reader David Hetherington who, at the time, was a railway worker and young dad, who turned out to see the event with his wife, Pat, and their baby son, also called David.

Some of the events took place in the Bents Park.

He recalls the wrestling, for instance. “The man in the mask said he would only take it off if he was beaten. He never was!” says David, now 75.

AIR POWER ... the Wessex-Five troop-carrying helicopter was an attraction at Bents Park during Navy Week 1965. Picture: Gazette reader David Hetherington.

AIR POWER ... the Wessex-Five troop-carrying helicopter was an attraction at Bents Park during Navy Week 1965. Picture: Gazette reader David Hetherington.

During their six-day stay on the Tyne, an estimated 60,000 people visited the squadron of seven ships as they lay at Newcastle Quayside.

Rear Admiral John Hayes, aboard his flagship, the cruiser Tiger, praised the “enthusiasm and warm heartedness” of Tynesiders which had greeted them.

Other vessels that came included the fleet carrier Tideflow, the coastal minesweepers Wolverton and Kirliston, and two frigates – Dido, and the one you see here, HMS Berwick.

Berwick had been launched from the yard of Harland and Wolf in 1959 and in 1965, was leader of the 21st Escort Squadron of the Beira Patrol.

She later served in the Falklands in 1982-1983, and was eventually sunk as a target ship in 1986.

In the case of at least one vessel, it was a return to almost home waters.

GRAPPLING TIME ... the man in the mask was the star of the wrestling at Bents Park which formed part of Navy Week 1965.

GRAPPLING TIME ... the man in the mask was the star of the wrestling at Bents Park which formed part of Navy Week 1965.

RFA Tideflow, a veteran of the Suez Crisis, had been built by Thompson’s on the Wear in the early 1950s but engined on the Tyne. She spent the week berthed at Jarrow Slake.

Despite poor weather, thousands lined the banks of the river to watch the arrival of the squadron.

Almost as impressive was the fleet of 14 tugs that was mustered to assist the ships, which had come up from Hull.

An estimated 12,000 people also watched two performances of what was effectively a military tattoo, staged at the Bents Park by 41 Commando, Royal Marines.

This featured displays of unarmed combat and a Royal Tournament piece featuring a commando troop assault on a cliff face.

A star of the show was the Wessex-Five troop-carrying helicopter seen here.

By the time it was all over, the event had been the biggest post-war naval spectacle ever seen on Tyneside.

Thousands again turned out to see the Navy sail away – to Liverpool, first, and then to Belfast, but also, in its own way, into history.

NAVAL POWER ... HMS Onslaught seen off the Groyne at South Shields during Navy Week 1965. Picture: Gazette reader David Hetherington.

NAVAL POWER ... HMS Onslaught seen off the Groyne at South Shields during Navy Week 1965. Picture: Gazette reader David Hetherington.

STAR TURN ... thousands turned out to see Navy Week 1965, where one of the attractions was the Wessex-Five troop-carrying helicopter, pictured here in Bents Park. Picture: Gazette reader David Hetherington.

STAR TURN ... thousands turned out to see Navy Week 1965, where one of the attractions was the Wessex-Five troop-carrying helicopter, pictured here in Bents Park. Picture: Gazette reader David Hetherington.