Country: United Kingdom
The amphibious assault ships of the Fearless Class were designed to enable heavy equipment such as tanks to be landed in support of helicopter-borne assaults by units of the Royal Marines. In 1958 it was announced that two aircraft carriers – Bulwark and Albion – would be converted to become Commando carriers, but not all the troops’ equipment could be carried by helicopter.
The design of Fearless (L10) and Intrepid (L11) was based on the American LSD (Dock Landing Ship); the open stern of these ships is flooded to enable landing craft to ferry equipment and troops from ship to shore. Ballast tanks are filled with water to lower the stern by about 8ft, and a gate is then opened. The ships also had facilities to act as an Assault Operations Room, with extensive communications equipment to enable naval and military personnel to work closely to control the progress of operations. Intrepid was the first Royal Navy vessel to be equipped with satellite communications equipment.
Fearless, built in Belfast, was commissioned in November 1965 and Intrepid, built on Clydebank, followed in March 1967. The two ships were regularly deployed East of Suez where they worked with the commando carriers Albion and Bulwark – notably taking part in the British withdrawal from Aden in 1967. With the reduction in Britain’s operations in the Middle and Far East, the two ships spent much of their life in operations in the Mediterranean and Norway. Their role was to support amphibious operations supporting forces defending the southern and northern flanks of NATO – Norway was of particular importance to NATO as it is close to the northern bases of the Soviet navy, and reinforcements for NATO forces would have been landed by sea.
By the late 1970s both ships had been withdrawn from the front line to be refitted, and each of them spent a period as a sea training ship for officers at the Britannia Royal Naval College, Dartmouth. The 1981 Defence White Paper proposed drastic reductions in the Royal Navy’s surface fleet, including the disposal of the two amphibious assault ships, but before this could be put into effect the 1982 Falklands War brought them back into service. They played an essential part in the landings at San Carlos.
Intrepid underwent another refit in 1984 and Fearless in 1989, but the increasing age of these ships increased their maintenance costs. Fearless was decommissioned in 2002 and Intrepid in 2004, being replaced by two new Albion-class Landing Platform dock (LPD) ships.