HMS Cardiff (D108) is a British Type 42 destroyer and the third ship of the Royal Navy to be named in honour of the Welsh capital city of Cardiff. Construction was started by Vickers Shipbuilding and Engineering Ltd in Barrow-in-Furness, Cumbria, and completed by Swan Hunter in Tyne and Wear. HMS Cardiff was launched on 22 February 1974.
During her career, Cardiff served in the Falklands War, where she shot down the last Argentine aircraft of the conflict and accepted the surrender of a 700-strong garrison in the settlement of Port Howard. During the 1991 Gulf War, her Lynx helicopter sank two Iraqi minesweepers. She later participated in the build-up to the 2003 invasion of Iraq as part of the Royal Navy's constant Armilla Patrol; Cardiff thwarted attempts to smuggle oil out of the country, but was not involved in the actual invasion.
Cardiff was decommissioned in July 2005, having earned two battle honours for service in the Falklands and Gulf wars. She is currently moored in Portsmouth Harbour, next to sister ship . Former servicemen have petitioned for her preservation as a museum ship and local tourist attraction at Cardiff, but her fate remains undecided.
Type 42s were designed as anti-aircraft vessels primarily equipped with the Sea Dart, a surface-to-air missile system capable of hitting targets up to away. Cardiff’s secondary weapon system was a 4.5 inch Mark 8 naval gun, capable of firing shells to a range of . After the Falklands War, in which two Type 42s were sunk by enemy aircraft, the entire class was equipped with the Phalanx close-in weapon system, a Gatling cannon that fires 3,000 rounds per minute and is designed to shoot down anti-ship missiles.
In 1980, she attended the annual Navy Days event at Portsmouth and Portland Harbour, receiving a total of 17,300 visitors. In October of the same year, she ventured abroad for the first time on a visit to Ghent, Belgium. She followed this with a fortnight of Sea Dart exercises on a range off Aberporth, in South Wales. Whilst in the region, the destroyer attended celebrations marking the 75th anniversary of Cardiff's city status.
Just over a month before the start of the war, Cardiff, under the command of Captain Michael Harris, had begun a six-month deployment to the Persian Gulf with the Armilla Patrol. Cardiff had relieved her sister ship and class lead of this posting, but was herself redeployed to the Falklands effort on 23 April. She sailed alone to Gibraltar and rendezvoused on 14 May with the Bristol Group of British warships already heading south to the islands.
During the journey, Cardiff’s crew performed various training exercises, including defence against air attack (involving simulation runs by friendly Harrier and Jaguar aircraft), nuclear, biological, and chemical weapons and Exocet anti-ship missiles. All British Type 42's involved in the war were instructed to paint two vertical black stripes down either side the middle of their ships. This would allow the Royal Navy submarines to distinguish them from the two Argentine Type 42's. On 22 May, an Argentine reconnaissance Boeing 707, no. TC-92 of the Argentine Air Force's Grupo 1, De Transporte Aereo Escuadron II (Spanish for "2nd Air Transport Squadron, Group 1"), was fired on by Cardiff. The aircraft was detected while shadowing the Bristol Group, and Cardiff was ordered to drop back and engage. The ship fired two Sea Darts at the aircraft at 11:40 (local time) from maximum range; the first fell short and second missed due to evasive manoeuvres taken by the aircraft's crew. After the attack, TC-92 dropped below radar level and returned to El Palomar. On 25 May, Cardiff was tasked with the recovery of four Special Air Service (SAS) troopers, who had parachuted from a C-130 Hercules passing over the destroyer.
The Bristol Group met up with the main task force on 26 May. Cardiff’s arrival allowed the damaged to return to the United Kingdom for repairs. Cardiff’s primary role was to form part of the anti-aircraft warfare picket, protecting British ships from air attack and attempting to ambush Argentine aircraft that were re-supplying Port Stanley Airport. She was also required to fire at enemy positions on the islands with her 4.5-inch gun. In one engagement she fired 277 high-explosive rounds, although later problems with the gun prevented continual use.
Shortly after arrival, she was involved in the final Exocet raid against . In the early hours of 6 June, Cardiff shot down a friendly Army Air Corps Gazelle helicopter (no. XX377 of 656 Squadron), in the belief it was a low flying enemy C-130 Hercules. All four on-board were killed, the factors contributing to the accident were a poor level of communication between the army and navy, and the helicopter's "Identification Friend or Foe" transmitter had been turned off due to it interfering with other equipment. However a board of inquiry recommended that neither negligence nor blame should be attributed to any individual and that no action should be taken against any individual. The number "205" was later painted at the crash site as a memorial, the significance being that two of the helicopter's passengers were from 205 Signal Squadron. Approximately an hour after the shootdown, Cardiff spotted four landing craft carrying troops from the 2nd Battalion, Scots Guards. Having been told there were no other British forces in the area, Cardiff's crew assumed they were Argentine, and fired illuminating star shells over them in preparation to attack. When the Guards saw the star shells and realised Cardiff’s intentions, the officer in charge of the landing craft, Major Ewen Southby-Tailyour, moved them to shallow water in an attempt to outrun her. Cardiff, still closing on the craft, signalled to them a single word "friend" via Aldis lamp, Southby-Tailyour responded with "to which side". At this point Cardiff "left them alone", neither attacking or assisting them, nevertheless another "blue on blue" incident was avoided.
On the morning of 13 June, two Argentine Dagger aircraft attacked Cardiff’s Lynx helicopter, no. 335 of 815 NAS, while it was searching in the Falkland Sound area. Poor weather had forced the Argentine craft to abandon their original mission of bombing Mount Longdon, and the third Dagger of their formation had suffered a mechanical failure and returned to base. The Lynx began evasive manoeuvres and dodged the attacks; the pilot, Lieutenant Christopher Clayton, was mentioned in despatches for his efforts. Later that day, Cardiff shot down what would prove to be the last Argentine aircraft lost during the war, Canberra bomber B-108 of Grupo de Bombardeo 2 ("Bombing Group 2") en route to bomb Port Harriet House. The pilot, Captain Pastrán, survived but the navigator, Captain Casado, was killed. Although the remains of Captain Casado were discovered in 1986, they were only identified by DNA testing in September 2008. Argentina surrendered on 14 June, and Cardiff was required to accept the surrender of a 700-strong Argentine garrison in the settlement of Port Howard on West Falkland a day later. Members of Cardiff’s crew were used to man a captured Argentine patrol boat, renamed , in Stanley. Cardiff spent the rest of June acting as the Landing Area Air Warfare Controller (LAAWC) around San Carlos.
Over the course of the war, Cardiff fired nine Sea Dart missiles and one Mk 46 torpedo. She returned to the United Kingdom on 28 July 1982, having left the Falklands three weeks earlier along with and . Captain Michael Harris handed over command on 24 August 1982, after the annual maintenance period. Following the war, all Type 42 destroyers were fitted with Oerlikon 30 mm twin cannons port and starboard, for protection against airborne threats. These were later replaced by the Phalanx close-in weapon system.
In September 1990, HM Ships Cardiff, and were formed into Group X-ray and sailed to the Gulf to relieve Armilla Group Whiskey, which consisted of HM Ships , and . Cardiff and were to form part of the air defence barrier protecting three United States aircraft carriers: , and . Cardiff had other responsibilities, including surface surveillance and boarding operations, to maintain the security around the task force.
Royal Navy Lynxes worked in combination with US Seahawks during the Gulf War. The American helicopters lacked an effective anti-ship missile, but had superior surveillance capability compared to the British Lynx. They would locate hostile boats for the British helicopters, which would then attack the target with its Sea Skua missiles. In total, Lynx helicopters flew nearly 600 sorties during the Gulf War, while their crews maintained flying rates three times their norm.
Cardiff’s Lynx helicopter, no. 335 of 815 NAS, saw more of the combat in the Gulf War than Cardiff actually did. On 24 January 1991, no. 335 spotted three Iraqi minesweepers off Qaruh Island, attacked, and sank two. Later that day, the island was captured by coalition forces, becoming the first Kuwaiti territory to be liberated. Five days later, with Lynxes from Gloucester and Brazen, no. 335 attacked invading Iraqi vessels en-route to the Battle of Khafji. Cardiff and her group were relieved in late January by Group Yankee, comprising HM Ships , , and .
On 14 October 1994, in response to renewed Iraqi deployment of troops near the Kuwaiti border, the US-led Operation Vigilant Warrior began. The operation was designed to deter Saddam's "sabre-rattling" by sending large amounts of allied military forces to Kuwait; HM Ships and Cardiff were the UK contribution. The operation ended on 21 December 1994, when Saddam pulled back his forces.
Upon her return to the UK from Operation Vigilant Warrior, Cardiff participated in the 1995 NATO exercise "Strong Resolve", a training exercise conducted every four years in dual crisis management. The ship next underwent Operational Sea Training (OST) at Portland, in preparation for assuming the duty of Fleet Ready Escort, which required a ship to be available to deploy anywhere in the world at short notice. After completing OST, she attended the 50th VE Day anniversary in Copenhagen and Oslo and provided navigational sea training for frigate and destroyer navigating officer candidates. A visit to her namesake city of Cardiff for VJ Day celebrations followed, after which she sailed to Plymouth for a trials and weapon training programme. She then took part in Operation Bright Star, a multi-national exercise conducted every two years in Egypt. In November, Cardiff became the first Royal Navy ship to enter the Lebanese capital of Beirut in 27 years, spurring the creation of the Beirut Phoenicians Rugby Club, followed by visits to Tunisia and Gibraltar.
In 2000, as part of the Royal Navy's Atlantic Patrol Task North, Cardiff spent six months in the Caribbean with RFA Black Rover. They provided relief aid to the island of Caye Caulker, near Belize, in the wake of Hurricane Keith. In addition to clearing routes, distributing supplies, and making buildings and electrical cables safe, Cardiff’s surgeon and medical team monitored sanitation. In October, they also took part in the NATO exercise "Unified Spirit", held off the east coast of the United States. "Unified Spirit" is a training exercise conducted every four years in NATO-led "out-of-area" UN peace support operations. In the same year she participated in the US Navy Fleet Battle Exercise after her combat system was integrated into the Digital Fires Network.
Cardiff conducted her last Armilla Patrol in early 2003. During her time in the Persian Gulf, Cardiff prevented more than £2 million of illegal cargo from being smuggled out of Iraq, inspected 178 vessels, and seized more than 25,000 tonnes of oil. The destroyer was relieved by before the beginning of the Iraq War and returned to Portsmouth on 4 April 2003. In late 2003, the ship was involved in the annual Sea Days demonstration exercise, and in October was used for tests of QinetiQ's Maritime Tactical Network.
In 2005, she participated in the Trafalgar 200 International Fleet Review, just two weeks before she was decommissioned. In this post Gulf War period, the Royal Navy's first female chaplain also served onboard.
Cardiff was originally to be replaced in 2009 by , the first of the Royal Navy's next generation Type 45 destroyers. However, it was announced in July 2004 that she would be one of a number of ships withdrawn from service early, in accordance with the "Delivering Security in a Changing World" whitepaper on the British military.
Cardiff was decommissioned on 14 July 2005, after making a final visit to her namesake city, where members of the public were allowed on board. She now resides in Portsmouth Harbour alongside sister ship , awaiting a decision as to her fate. Following a decommissioning ceremony at Cardiff city hall, her bell was removed and is now mounted in the north aisle of St John's Parish Church in Cardiff. Calls for the conversion of the ship into a Cardiff tourist attraction have been made by a Welsh Assembly Member and former naval servicemen. , a Type 45 destroyer, has been announced as the next Royal Navy ship to be affiliated with the city of Cardiff.