On 15 December, the frigate “Lübeck” was decommissioned in Wilhelmshaven after 32 years. It closes the chapter of the Bremen class in the Navy, which began with the keel laying of the lead ship in 1979.
“It was an honor for me to serve as the last commander of the ‘Lübeck’ and I am proud to have been part of this crew,” says Frigate Captain Kai Röckel. “The past time has been challenging and moving. The significant workload, the corona conditions and the imminent decommissioning were special circumstances that a special crew has mastered.”
The “Lübeck” was the last representative of the Bremen class in service. Her decommissioning was an emotional moment for the crew. In the meantime, the majority of soldiers already have new posts. “But lasting memories and lived experiences connect us with the ship and with all the comrades with whom we sailed together,” says Commander Röckel.
A warship is demilitarized
The 130-meter-long steel hull had been a second home for the approximately 200 crew members. In the meantime, the personnel administration of the Bundeswehr has consulted with them about their further careers in the armed forces. But with the official decommissioning, not all crew members will have left the ship. Until March 2023, the last ones will continue to accompany the ship.
The “Lübeck” returned home to Wilhelmshaven on 16 June this year from her last five-month voyage. Until mid-September, the ship was in the naval base, after which it moved to the naval arsenal. Long before that, the crew had begun an inventory in order to have a precise overview of the material for decommissioning. Everything that can still be used for seafaring and deployment came off board at the base. The ammunition levy alone took four days. The supply soldiers of the “Lübeck” received over 1,000 keys for lockers back from their comrades.
The next step in the arsenal remains to completely clear out the ship from the inside. After more than 32 years of seafaring, the “Lübeck” has reached the end of its useful life from a shipbuilding point of view. Original calculations were based on an average service life of 90 days at sea per year with a useful life of 25 years. In reality, the ships of the Bremen class reached an average of well over 100 days at sea per year with over 30 years in service.
Therefore, a levy of the “Lübeck” to other countries is no longer provided. Weapons, computer systems and other electronic equipment disembark. The ship must now be put in a state that it is no longer a warship. Finally, the arsenal leads the ship’s hull to “recycling”, as it is called in official German.
In her past service, the “Lübeck” sailed a variety of maneuvers and missions, visited various ports and founded countless stories, emotions and experiences. A highlight, for example, was the ride on the Hudson River 2009, which ended with passing the Statue of Liberty and a photo in front of the New York skyline.
Stories of Ship Steel and Emotions
Among the former crew members is Kapitänleutnant Stefan P.. He had been on the “Lübeck” last operational duty officer specializing in submarine hunting. He is one of those who were able to stay on board for a particularly long time. “20 years on a ship, that’s a whole generation, different commanders and crews came and went, there were ups and downs,” he says.
Special things that P. remembers were the worldwide port calls. From Wilhelmshaven it went with the frigate to Brazil or to the Caribbean on the Virgin Islands for guided missile and torpedo shooting. “These are all highlights that you have experienced,” he says. “You drove over, shot missiles, ‘rattled’ one or the other port and drove back again.”
From 2003, the missions of the “Lübeck” became longer, there were fewer and fewer ships available due to various operational obligations of the fleet. Thus, in the last year of its service, the frigate spent more time in action than at home, at short intervals of five months each she supported NATO activity in the Aegean.
P. does not regret having only sailed on Bremen-class frigates during his previous service. For him, the F122 class operations center was the only one in which he wanted to do his duty. “The system was tried and tested, and if you tweaked the screw a bit, you could still get enough out of it,” he enthuses. “I need my monochrome screen and my amber radar. I can’t handle the many colors of the new generation devices.”
The baton of the Bremen class has already been passed on
Designed and built at the end of the Cold War, the main capability of Bremen-class frigates was submarine hunting in the North Sea and North Atlantic. For example, the “Lübeck” and her sister ships were given on-board helicopters for the first time in the German Navy – today a standard for all frigate classes.
The ships of the F122 class are followed in the responsible 4th Frigate Squadron by the ships of the Baden-Württemberg class, F125 for short. This type of frigate is consistently based on the operational experience gained above all by the 122 frigates as former “workhorses” of the fleet. This includes a clear orientation of the new ships towards stabilisation missions and the longest possible stay in the respective area of operation. Instead of the F122 class, the squadron now has four F125 ships plus eight crews for the newly introduced multi-crew concept.
However, the traditional name of the frigate “Lübeck” will be taken over by a corvette from the supplementary procurement of the Braunschweig class. The next “Lübeck” is expected to enter service in 2027.
Stefan P. ends his personal chapter in seafaring after more than 26 years on board naval ships. “Now younger people also have to get involved. The decommissioning fits quite well,” he says. He will continue to attend the Naval Operations School in Bremerhaven until the end of his service. There he becomes an instructor on the sonar simulator.