Telegraph Voices: Should one of the Navy’s new ships be called HMS Sheffield?

Sheffield Cathedral opens its doors once more after refurbishments. HMS Sheffield bell
Sheffield Cathedral opens its doors once more after refurbishments. HMS Sheffield bell

‘Continuing with the name remains a proper tribute’

Bruce Collins, Professor of Modern History, Sheffield Hallam University

Sheffield and the sea are not an obvious pairing. Arguing for a new Royal Navy ship to bear the city’s name may be challenging. The navy has its own naming customs. In Nelson’s day, few warships were named after towns. York was a knee-jerk choice as its dukedom customarily went to the king’s second son. In 1800, however, the new industrial towns did not figure.

Sheffield had to wait until the 1930s, when the navy was far bigger than today’s fleet. The first HMS Sheffield was a light cruiser in service for 30 years and long commemorated in Sheffield Cathedral. It participated in the great naval dramas of World War Two: the hunting of the Bismarck and the Tirpitz and the sinking of the Scharnhorst. Its most distinguished action was on December 31, 1942 in the Barents Sea. It was the flag ship of four warships providing protective cover for an Arctic convoy. Fighting off a strong German flotilla, HMS Sheffield sank a German destroyer and badly damaged a cruiser. The entire convoy got through.

The second HMS Sheffield, a destroyer commissioned in 1975, was the first of its type, with advanced engine and weapon systems. Tragically, it was the first major British casualty in the Falklands War when it was holed by an Argentine air attack, 20 men being killed and scores injured. The third HMS Sheffield, a frigate commissioned in 1988 but sold in 2002, was named after its immediate predecessor.

The name has a proud fighting heritage. Continuing to use it remains a proper tribute to those who sacrificed so much in the Arctic convoys and in the Falklands.

But Sheffield is also linked to the sea by steel. Once the Royal Navy shifted from the 1850s to iron-clad warships, then Sheffield’s world-leading steel products tied it to the technical development of naval plating and guns. While the warships were built elsewhere, key elements in their construction and armament flowed from the metallurgic innovations and weapons technology at which Sheffield excelled. This interdependence remained vital until after World War Two. The navy’s dependence on technological and manufacturing expertise during two world wars would be emphatically symbolised by naming a new ship after the steel city.

‘The previous three’s history is illustrious’ Marcus Newton, Sheffield City Walking Tours

Sheffield steel, backbone of the Royal Navy, the Senior Service. HMS Sheffield named in tribute to the Steel City. The ship crest of crossed arrows celebrating our metal work tradition dating back to archery practice on the Wicker. I support the tradition of a Navy ship bearing the city name.

The history of the previous three is illustrious.

HMS Sheffield exemplifies protecting our country and our allies from aggression and oppression and providing aid in times of humanitarian need.

The second HMS Sheffield, a 1971 Destroyer, was tragically sunk during the 1982 war to liberate the citizens of the British Falklands, invaded by the fascist Argentine military junta. Our Town Hall memorial is witness to the 20 brave sailors killed.

The third HMS Sheffield, a 1986 frigate, undertook humanitarian aid to the citizens of Nicaragua and Honduras following devastating Hurricane Mitch in 1998. Recognition followed with the award of the Wilkinson Sword for Peace and the crew being granted the freedom of our city. The sword is now displayed in the Lord Mayor’s parlour.

My visitors are incredibly interested in the Barkers Pool war and Women of Steel memorials, and this interest is not just confined to UK and Commonwealth Citizens. We should be proud to give our name to a Senior Service vessel. By doing so we respect not just the brave crew of former HMS Sheffield but also the men and women of Sheffield who produced the steel and fittings for HMS Sheffield. The role of the Navy today is to protect the vulnerable, the homeland, our allies, our overseas citizens and provide humanitarian assistance, what finer tribute to our brave sailors than to revive the tradition.

‘It is sad the special bond was severed’ Andrew Coombe, Her Majesty’s Lord-Lieutenant for South Yorkshire

The city of Sheffield has always had strong links with the Royal Navy, even though it is one of the most landlocked counties in the United Kingdom.

The whole county of South Yorkshire has a strong military connection, with over 75,000 veterans from all arms of HM Forces.

The last HMS Sheffield (C42) was lost in the Falklands in 1982. Every year since, the HMS Sheffield Association holds a memorial service at Sheffield Cathedral when the names of those lost in the engagement are read out and the bell of her predecessor ship, HMS Sheffield (C24) the “Shiny Sheff” is rung.

The most recent HMS Sheffield - a Type 22 frigate - was launched in 1986. It was sold to the Chilean Navy in 2003.

During its service, it was awarded the Wilkinson Sword of Peace for its help during the aftermath of Hurricane Mitch in 1998, and in 1999 was granted the Freedom of the City of Sheffield.

It is a great regret that the city is no longer associated with any of HM Fleet.

I understand that the new Type 26 Global Combat Ships, needed to fulfill the Royal Navy’s three core roles - warfighting, maritime security and international engagement on the world stage - are as yet unnamed.

Every year when I sail out of Portsmouth to France, I feel great sadness that that special connection severed 14 years ago remains.

I have already written to The First Sea Lord asking that the strong established link between our city and the Royal Navy be re-established.

‘Questioning military spending is correct’ Richard Blackledge, journalist, Sheffield Telegraph and Star

We live in an uncertain world - of that there is no doubt. Recent weeks and months have underlined the threats that our nation, and the UK’s allies across the globe, face.

The terror attacks in London, Manchester and Barcelona demonstrated the shocking new array of tactics extremists have at their disposal, while the sabre-rattling from North Korea, an isolated nation with nuclear ambitions launching dangerous missiles with little warning, is a worrying threat to stability.

The Government has just spent £3 billion on launching a new aircraft carrier, HMS Queen Elizabeth, while last month a £3.7 billion contract was signed with BAE Systems to build the first three warships in a new eight-strong fleet of Type 26 frigates, which are set to be named after British cities.

Part of the justification for this new investment in the Navy is that the UK will encounter increased hostility, and this is true - we must find ways of keeping people safe. But military leaders have expressed other sentiments, too.

Admiral Sir Philip Jones, the First Sea Lord, said the 900ft long aircraft carrier was the ‘embodiment of Britain in steel and spirit’, and the vessel would ‘demonstrate the kind of nation we are’ - not diminished, he added, but confident, outward-looking and ambitious in the age of Brexit.

The Telegraph approached anti-war groups and organisations with pacifist beliefs to take part in this feature, but none were able to respond in time for publication.

Civic pride is hugely important, and the bravery of those who served on the previous HMS Sheffields is beyond doubt. However, it is valid to consider whether spending many billions of pounds of taxpayers’ money on arming ourselves with warships is really the way to deal with our risky withdrawal from the EU, or to show ‘the kind of nation we are’ in the 21st century.