We were walking on Camber Beach when we spotted this enormous smoke-belching hulk out to sea in line with Dungeness Power Station, no camera at the ready. Fortunately Canon Richard Orchard (retired), alerted by a press report, was stationed, binoculars in hand, on St Mary’s church tower roof. He confirmed the sighting and in a flash of inspiration telephoned Canon David Frost at St Mary’s rectory who took this photo – not sufficient for total recognition but unmistakable as a foreign warship. Do our vessels belch so much black smoke and where was the Royal Navy escort, we wondered.
Richard Orchard adds:
If you’d climbed St Mary’s tower around midday today (Friday, October 21) , and thousands of visitors do all year round, you’d have been treated to an amazing sight: eight warships (two of them ours) steaming down the Channel: a Russian armada, on its way to Syria. President Putin, we are told, very much wanted us to see them, but few were looking. Black smoke belched from the aircraft carrier Admiral Kuznetzov. (Perhaps the Russians don’t have a word for pollution. But then the escorting destroyer Peter the Great is nuclear powered, so maybe that makes up for it.) It’s their only aircraft carrier, while we have two, but not yet launched and no planes when they are. Come back, Boys’ Own Paper, we need you to play these games properly.
[Editor’s note: Mr Putin may have been trying to impress the citizens of Rye (and a few other places) by sending his aircraft carrier through the Dover Straits, but the stream of smoke (largely unburnt fuel oil) it left in its wake demonstrates the poor state of this 26 year-old ship, designed in the Soviet era. Her engines (pressurised steam turbines) are so badly maintained and unreliable that she rarely puts to sea without a support tug in case they break down.
On Wednesday we heard that she has had to ask the Spanish authorities for permission to refuel at Ceuta, a request that was withdrawn after NATO opposition. Apparently, although she carries enough fuel for the round trip to and from Russia, this is only sufficient if she proceeds at ‘economical speed’ – probably around 10 knots. Any faster – she will need to achieve full speed (about 25 knots?) in order to launch and recover aircraft – and she will gobble up fuel at a rate that would leave her insufficient to get home. The Russian navy may well have a decrepit old carrier but it would seem they lack a ready facility to refuel at sea, unlike the Royal Navy who, with a task force of this nature would automatically have either an accompanying tanker or a pre-arranged refuelling rendezvous. And, of course, our own carriers, when they finally arrive with planes, will be state of the art, highly efficient units – eat your heart out, Vladimir.
From a historical point of view it is fascinating to note that the town’s ability to watch against possible invaders – very probably first tested when parts of William the Conqueror’s fleet may well have been spotted from a high point in the town – and tested for nearly 900 years (concluding with Hitler’s aborted Operation Sealion) against other aspiring European invaders – and doubtless often from the same 12th century Norman church tower from which this photo was taken – is still alive, even if on this occasion the duty fell, not to soldiers, but to our two Church of England canons armed with a camera].
Photo: David Frost and library image