I remember when H.M.S. Fittleton was sunk in a collision with H.M.S. Mermaid in the North Sea off Den Helder on 20th September 1976.
I was a very Ordinary Seaman on my second deployment. We had finished our NATO exercise and were looking forward to the Fleets courtesy visit to Hamburg, and our runs ashore, some to the fleshpots of the Reeperbahn and others to see the sights of Berlin and the Brandenburg Gate.
The 20th started off just another fine day and we were winding down after all the hard work. At midday there was not a cloud in the sky and the sea was just a little choppy, no wind and not a bit cold. All the sweepers were in line behind Mermaid with Fittleton in front with the then MCM10 on board, we were then ordered to do heaving line practice on our starboard side with Mermaid and our ship H.M.S. Crofton was first to go in while Fittleton hove-to and watched. There must have been a change of plan because Fittleton sailed across our bows and went in instead. At 12.20 things started to go wrong, Fittleton went in for the run on Mermaid’s port side, bounced off and was drawn under the bows of Mermaid and out the other side. We saw it on its side, then it turned right-over; there were men running up the side and the props were still turning. We put everything over the side that would float, and the scrambling nets down the side. I remember seeing a sailor swimming to our ship. I chucked down a heaving line to him and with help pulled him down the side to the scrambling net. I never knew who he was until 1988 when I was on secondment to H.M.S. Raleigh and was talking to an R.N.R. Chief, he was that man – the Coxswain of Fittleton.
There was a very sombre mood on-board ship that night, the visit was cancelled as we had to stand-to, ready to help in rescue operations, our ships rescued 21 survivors that day but sadly 12 lost their lives.
To this day I have never been to Hamburg or Berlin. This account has not been exaggerated in any way and it is as it happened on that fateful day in 1976. I am now re-tired and live an ordinary life in the country near Fareham…….. a very ordinary life……..