A Scottish maritime heritage group, Falls of Clyde International (FOCI), has embarked on a project that will return the Type 21 frigate PNS Tariq, (formerly HMS Ambuscade) to her birthplace on the Clyde. Here we look at the history of the vessel and consider the plan to preserve her as a museum ship.
FOCI was founded with the intention of bringing the tall ship, Falls of Clyde back to Glasgow for renovation and to be used as an active sail training ship. She was built on the Clyde in 1878 and is the only surviving iron-hulled and four-masted full-rigged ship in the world. She is currently berthed at Honolulu, Hawaii and FOCI has been working to restore and rescue her since 2014. They had a contract with authorities in Hawaii to remove her, although this was withdrawn in 2021 due to an insurance issue but work is ongoing to start again. This will provide the funds for the tow and some of the restoration work. (The full story is outside the scope of this article but there is more on their website here.) The plan to bring PNS Tariq to Glasgow is a separate venture by FOCI, but part of a wider vision to establish an attraction that celebrates the epic maritime and shipbuilding history of the Clyde.
HMS Ambuscade was the 4th of 8 Type 21 frigates commissioned into the RN between 1974-78. She was the first of five of the class built by Yarrow Shipbuilders at Scotstoun on the Clyde. Ambuscade served all over the world, including participation in the Falklands War where she spent 83 days continuously at sea, steamed 29,229 miles and fired 500 4.5″ rounds. (Her war is recounted in more detail by her CO here). She was involved in a serious collision with the USS Dale in April 1983, fortunately, there were no casualties but she had to be dry-docked in Mumbai and have a complete new lower bow section fabricated and fitted. The later part of Ambuscade’s career was predominantly spent as either West Indies or Falkland Islands guard ship. Along with the five other surviving Type 21s, she was sold to the Pakistani Navy, formally being handed over in a ceremony at Devonport on 28th July 1993.
Sleek, fast and loved by their crews (including those that later served on them in the Pakistani Navy), the Type 21 frigate was the poster child for the cheap frigate. Unusually for the time, they were designed by a private company, Vosper Thornycroft as the Royal Naval Corps of Constructors, responsible for RN warship design were occupied with other work. Against some resistance, Type 21 was accepted by the RN as a way to get a modern and affordable frigate to sea pending the arrival of the high-end Type 22s.
They were lightly armed and air defence capability was limited to an obsolete Sea Cat missile launcher and two Oerlikon 20mm cannon of World War II vintage. When tested in the Falklands conflict this deficiency became obvious and was largely responsible for the loss of two ships. Ambuscade had a hectic war, including avoiding being hit by an Exocet missile through timely detection and use of decoy chaff.
Famously the Type 21s had an aluminium superstructure which allowed for increased internal volume and saved on top weight. Aluminium melts at lower temperatures than steel and was a controversial choice. The material was not a factor in the loss of HMS Ardent and Antelope but the main drawback was aluminium is less resistant to metal fatigue and long periods at sea caused significant cracks to appear in the superstructure. This was later rectified by longitudinal steel stiffening beams bolted to the ship’s sides.
Always seen as somewhat under-armed in RN service, the Type 21s were quickly modernised and reclassified by Pakistan as ‘destroyers’. The RN did not supply Exocet or Sea Cat missiles, although a Lynx helicopter was transferred with each ship. Ambuscade was renamed PNS Tariq and was modernised with the Chinese-made 6-cell LY-60N surface-to-air missile system replacing the Exocet launchers and a Phalanx CIWS mount replacing the Sea Cat launcher. With upgraded primary sensors and fire control radars, in foreign service, the Type 21 had at last acquired respectable air defence capability.
PNS Tariq, proved a great asset to PN, spending about 830 days at sea and covering more than a million nautical miles in the three decades following transfer from the RN. She was formally decommissioned on 5th August 2023.
In 2020 FOCI approached Humza Yousaf (Currently Scottish First Minister who has Pakistani heritage) for help in securing the Tariq as a future museum ship in Glasgow. Subsequently, Pakistan has kindly agreed not to sink her as a target as originally intended. Instead, they will donate the ship free of charge to FOCI, although the charity will be responsible for towing her back to the UK. During her final few years in service, the Pakistani Navy has spared no expense in keeping the ship in good condition and she was dry-docked as recently as 2022. The PN has been keen to demonstrate the pride and standards of care taken in maintaining the ship to the RN and future owners.
Most observers of naval heritage efforts are rightly sceptical about any new proposal to preserve warships as there have been so many failures. Typically a well-intentioned small group has launched a campaign to save their favourite former war canoe, grossly underestimating the costs and complexity involved. These efforts often generate media coverage and modest initial support in the community but lack the funding, expertise and credibility needed to deliver the project.
To succeed there are several big hurdles to overcome. The current owners must agree to part with the vessel. A suitable long-term berth for the vessel must be found that does not entail costly fees and be in a good location to attract visitors. Various stakeholders, which may include the MoD, the local council, landowners, regulatory bodies and contractors all need to be assured the project is viable and compliant before they will agree to it being taken forward. Initial funding is then needed to tow or transport the vessel to its new home. Further funding is needed to carry out preservation work and considerable modification to make them a safe, accessible and interesting visitor destination. Finally, it must be properly established as a financially sustainable enterprise that generates an on-going income stream needed to maintain the vessel, promote and staff the attraction.
HMS Plymouth was the first semi-successful attempt to preserve a warship as a Falklands memorial. She was opened to the public in 1988, initially in Plymouth, then in Glasgow and later in Birkenhead. The Warship Preservation Trust that owned her (and HMS Onyx) collapsed in 2006 and she was scrapped in 2014, primarily because a suitable berth could not be found. HMS Ocelot was successfully saved in 1991, having the advantage of a good available location at Chatham Historic Dockyard. In the last decade, there have been several unsuccessful attempts to save other ships, including HMS Liverpool (2013) and HMS Edinburgh (2014). Even more wildly ambitious projects to preserve HMS Illustrious (2016) and HMS Hermes/INS Viraat (2021) also failed. There is also a live campaign to save HMS Bristol but a less attractive proposition for preservation would be hard to find. Completely stripped of weapons and sensors and even her masts for her cadet training role, she barely resembles the unique vessel she was in her prime. She is now decaying alongside at Whale Island and should be given the dignity of prompt disposal. There is also an ongoing effort to save HMS Bronington but even rescuing this small mine sweeper, currently half-submerged in Birkenhead docks, will be a struggle. The only recent example of success in the last 10 years was the restoration of WWII LCT 7074 but this project had the full backing of the National Museum of the Royal Navy and National Lottery funding.
On the right course?
Although establishing Tariq/Ambuscade as a viable museum ship cannot yet be fully guaranteed, the FOCI proposal has already overcome some of the biggest hurdles and they have a credible plan. The ship is due to be collected from Karachi in early October and undertake the 6,140nm journey, arriving in December. Having already obtained the ship for free in very good condition, they have two possible options for a berth on the Clyde. The best long-term option would be in the Govan Graving Docks which are currently derelict but are due for a major renovation which includes residential, retail and maritime heritage spaces. The number 2 dry dock caisson at Govan has not been moved in 40 years but it should be possible to remove it temporarily, bring Ambuscade in and then seal it shut. The alternative option is to berth her downriver on the Greenock waterfront at the Beacon Centre with the visitor site behind. This may be the first place she is berthed, pending completion of the work at Govan.
Ambuscade would be part of a wider experience that includes a Falklands memorial and FOCI has offers of a Sea Harrier, Lynx Helicopter and a captured Argentine Pucara aircraft for display. The shoreside visitor centre would be constructed using shipping containers as has been used successfully elsewhere by Boxpark to create retail areas. This is a low-cost way to create an attraction with much simpler planning rules as the buildings are temporary. The Boxpark would also contain an exhibition covering the Clyde shipbuilding story as well as food and retail outlets that would generate additional income. With a large Pakistani diaspora in Glasgow, there is also interest in the ship’s time in Pakistani naval service (which was longer than her RN service) and there has been support from this community as well as those with RN and shipbuilding connections.
FOCI will not be heavily reliant on public donations and has engaged a professional fundraising company with experience in multi-million-pound projects. There is already some support from wealthy philanthropist donors and there are several funding bodies that could provide grants. The Govan site is part of urban regeneration efforts, and FOCI could be eligible for ‘levelling up’ funding, having already secured the support of Glasgow City Council. NMRN analysis suggests the attraction would get between 250-400,000 visitors annually and will create around 50 new jobs. BAE Systems, Babcock and Thales all have current or historical ties to Glasgow and although not providing funds, have given tacit agreement to assist with maintenance work on Ambuscade.
At present the majority of UK naval heritage is centred on the South of England with HMS Belfast in London and the historic dockyards at Portsmouth and Chatham. Once the greatest shipbuilding centre in the world, it is appropriate that a new naval museum comes to the Clyde, giving Scotland and northern England a more accessible attraction. Thanks to the efforts of FOCI, hopefully, we can soon look forward to seeing a great new naval museum established in Glasgow, featuring a well-loved vessel with a fine history.
Main image: PNS Tariq seen from RFA Fort Victoria (Photo: Shaun Jones, August 2013).