March 5, 2020 – Merseyside shipyard Cammell Laird has officially presented the Ship’s Company of Britain’s newest aircraft carrier, HMS Prince of Wales, with a special replica ship’s bell. It is an exact copy of the one lost and since recovered from her namesake – a WW2 battleship – which sank off the coast of present-day Malaysia in 1941.
Built in Birkenhead by Cammell Laird and launched by the Princess Royal in May 1939, HMS Prince of Wales was deployed to the Far East during World War Two. She was targeted by Japanese aircraft on December 10, 1941 and sank with the loss of 327 lives. Divers recovered the battleship’s bell in 2002.
Having built sections for both of Britain’s new Queen Elizabeth-class aircraft carriers, Cammell Laird was asked to commission a replica bell for HMS Prince of Wales in spring 2019.
The original bell was surveyed at the National Museum of the Royal Navy, Portsmouth, and scans were arranged to obtain the correct dimensions. However, barnacles and a layer of marine corrosion on the inside of the bell, sustained during decades underwater, meant the team was unable to determine its internal profile.
Sheer luck then led to the discovery of Utley Offshore – the makers of the original Prince of Wales bell – located just 17 miles from Cammell Laird’s shipyard. The company, which also made the ship’s bell for RMS Titanic, still held the original pattern and a new copy was cast.
Matt Slater, the naval architect at Cammell Laird who led the project, said: “By a stroke of luck we got a lead from one of our subcontractors that put us in touch with Utley Offshore in St Helens, the foundry that actually made the original Prince of Wales bell. They still had the pattern based on the admiralty design from 1908 and that made the whole process much, much easier. This has been a wonderful project to be involved with and highly satisfying to see it through to the finish.”
On Monday, Cammell Laird’s Chief Operating Officer Tony Graham was welcomed aboard the HMS Prince of Wales aircraft carrier during its week-long visit to Liverpool and presented the replica bell to commanding officer Captain Darren Houston.
He said: “Cammell Laird’s role in the construction of the Queen Elizabeth-class aircraft carriers is a source of immense pride, and this visit by HMS Prince of Wales to Liverpool means a huge amount to the shipyard. I’m delighted to officially present this replica bell to the Ship’s Company as a sign of the strong and lasting bonds that exist between Merseyside and the Royal Navy.”
The new bell needed to be cast from nickel silver to be an accurate copy, but as most modern ship’s bells are made from bronze or bell metal, the material had to be specially sourced. Once cast, the bell was passed to Shawcross in Birkenhead for engraving, while Cammell Laird’s shipwrights set about crafting a hardwood base.
Cammell Laird has strong links with both Queen Elizabeth-class aircraft carriers, having played a key part in their construction as part of the Aircraft Carrier Alliance. The shipyard successfully completed nine units for HMS Queen Elizabeth, and its block building expertise were called upon once again in 2013 when it was tasked with fabricating and outfitting six units for HMS Prince of Wales.
Mr Graham also had a close professional relationship with the Queen Elizabeth-class carrier program over a period of seven critical years between 2008 and 2015 in his past role as Director Capital Ships and Director Ships.
The 65,000-tonne HMS Prince of Wales is scheduled to sail from Liverpool this Friday (6). She is affiliated with the cities of Liverpool and Bristol, while her sister ship HMS Queen Elizabeth is affiliated with London and Edinburgh. Liverpool is the only affiliated city that can be accessed by a carrier.