Rothesay-class frigate


The Rothesay class, or Type 12M frigates were a class of frigates serving with the Royal Navy, South African Navy (where they were called President-class frigates) and the Royal New Zealand Navy.[2][3]

HMS Plymouth underway.jpg
Class overview
NameRothesay class
Preceded byType 12 Whitby
Succeeded byType 12I Leander
Lost5 (as targets) + 1 (accident)
General characteristics as built
  • 2,150 long tons (2,180 t) standard
  • 2,560 long tons (2,600 t) full load
Length370 ft (110 m) o/a
Beam41 ft (12 m)
Draught17.3 ft (5.3 m)
PropulsionY-100 plant; 2 × Babcock & Wilcox boilers, 2 English Electric steam turbines, 30,000 shp (22,000 kW) on 2 shafts
Speed30 knots (56 km/h)
Range400 tons oil fuel; 5,200 nautical miles (9,630 km) at 12 knots (22 km/h)
Sensors and
processing systems
  • Radar Type 293Q target indication
  • Radar Type 275 fire control on director Mark 6M
  • Radar Type 277Q height finder
  • Radar Type 974 navigation
  • Type 1010 Cossor Mark 10 IFF
  • Type 903 radar (MRS-3 system)
  • Sonar Type 174 search
  • Sonar Type 162 target classification
  • Sonar Type 170 attack
General characteristics (as modified)
  • 2,380 long tons (2,420 t)
  • 2,800 long tons (2,800 t) full load
Sensors and
processing systems
  • Radar Type 993 target indication
  • Radar Type 903 fire control on director MRS3
  • Radar Type 978 navigation
  • Type 1010 Cossor Mark 10 IFF
  • Sonar Type 177 search
  • Sonar Type 162 target classification
  • Sonar Type 170 attack
Aircraft carried1 × Westland Wasp HAS.1 MATCH helicopter
NotesOther characteristics as per above

The original Type 12 frigates, the Whitby class, were designed as first-rate ocean-going convoy escorts in the light of experience gained during World War II. However, such were the capabilities and potential of the design that it was deemed suitable for use as a fast fleet anti-submarine warfare escort. As such, a repeat and improved Type 12 design was prepared, known as the Type 12M (M for "modified") and called the Rothesay class after the lead ship. A total of twelve vessels were constructed, with the lead ship being laid down in 1956, two years after the last Whitby. The design was successful and popular, serving the Royal Navy and South African Navy well into the 1980s, and serving with distinction in the Falklands War.

The class was highly adaptable and further modifications led to the equally successful Leander-class (Type 12I).


The Type 12M retained the hull design of the Type 12, that allowed high cruising speed to be maintained in heavy seas, critical to the success of anti-submarine warfare in the era of the threat of the high-speed Soviet submarine. Armament and the propulsion plant remained largely unchanged. The main external differences were an enlarged raked and streamlined funnel (retroactively fitted to the Whitbys) and a modified after deckhouse, enlarged to carry the SeaCat anti-aircraft missile launcher and its associated GWS-20 director and handling rooms as it became available. This weapon was not available at the time the first ships in class were completed, and either a twin Bofors 40 mm gun in a "Stabilised Tachymetric Anti-Aircraft Gun" (STAAG) mounting (Rothesay) or a single Bofors 40 mm gun on a Mk.7 mount was shipped in lieu. The arrangement of the torpedo tubes was also altered in the new design, with four fixed tubes firing aft at 45° on each beam, in front of a trainable twin mounting; the reverse of the arrangement on the Whitbys. A suitable weapon was never developed for these tubes, so they remained unused, or were never fitted. Internally, electrical generation capacity was increased to handle the increasing demands created by improved ship electronics. Accommodation standards were also improved, with partial bunking and air conditioning. Such was the success of the Rothesay design that it was elaborated into the excellent general purpose Leander-class frigate, the Type 12I.


Rothesay before her Seacat/helicopter upgrade – note 40 mm gun in stern

Increasing submarine performance in the 1960s demanded detection and engagement of targets at a greater distance from the fleet. Detection was improved with new sonar designs such as the Type 177 search and Type 199 Variable depth. To attack targets at a greater range, the Royal Navy adopted the MATCH (Medium-range Anti-submarine Torpedo Carrying Helicopter) system. MATCH was essentially the Westland Wasp HAS.1, a lightweight navalised development of the Saro P.531 (and related to the Army's Westland Scout) helicopter small enough to operate from the small hangar and flight deck that could be fitted to contemporary frigate designs, yet large enough to carry a pair of anti-submarine homing torpedoes (US Mark 44 or 46 types), allowing engagement of underwater targets at some distance from the parent vessel, outside the range of the shipboard Limbo anti-submarine mortars. To allow MATCH to be carried, all of the Type 12M class were modified and modernised, beginning with Rothesay from 1966 and finishing in 1972.

The after superstructure was removed, along with the foremost Limbo mortar, with the well being plated over to create a small flight deck. A small hangar was constructed in front of this, on top of which the GWS-20 SeaCat missile and director was (finally) shipped. The mainmast was replaced by an enclosed design, carrying the Type 1010 IFF antennas, and the funnel height was increased to carry the hot exhaust gasses over the taller superstructure. The electronics fit was also upgraded from the World War II era sets fitted in the Whitbys. A large, enclosed foremast replaced the short lattice one, carrying the distinctive "quarter cheese" antennas associated with the Type 993 target indicator. The Mark 6M director was replaced with the MRS3 Mod 3 system carrying radar Type 903, the later more automated and compact 1967–73 version of MRS3 using transistor electronics and analogue computers allowing the removal of the Type 277Q height finder. Additionally, Knebworth/Corvus 3-inch countermeasures launchers were fitted on either side of the bridge, as were a pair of World War II vintage 20 mm Oerlikon guns for "policing" work (and strictly limited anti-aircraft defence).

The extensive modifications of the Rothesays brought their armament and anti-submarine capabilities into line with that of the original Leander-class vessels. However the last four Leanders had Doppler full spectrum 184 sonar which gave a clearer faster-read sonar, and all the Leanders originally had long range air warning and AD capabilities and communication decks, while the Rothesays remained specialised anti-submarine frigates designed to perform better at that single purpose. In 1978, Rothesay went into refit for two years at a cost of £33.4 million[4] Yarmouth and Plymouth completed similar refits in 1981, which included fitting Type 994 short range warning radar and target indicator essentially (Plessy AWS1) in the old antenna, giving faster screen data in the Rothesays' operations room. This recent refit and marginally better radar resulted in their useful despatch for use in the Falklands War.[5] It was planned to refit Rhyl, Brighton, Berwick and Falmouth[6] with the very long range 2031 passive towed arrays[7] which could listen for Soviet subs at ranges of 100 miles (160 km) plus. However union strikes, allegedly inspired by Communist activists[citation needed], made it impossible to supply the equipment, possibly indicating how much the Soviets feared the potential of Type 12s with quiet steam plant and quiet hull sonars to run fairly fast and listen in the Arctic. In the immediate aftermath of the Falklands War Berwick and Falmouth twice deployed south for post-war patrols in 1982–83, probably[citation needed] ending plans to refit them as towed array frigates, as well as sister ship Rhyl which suffered mechanical failure when ordered south, and Brighton which was scrapped following the 1981 Nott Defence Review and never transferred to the standby force.


The Rothesays served throughout the 1960s and 1970s, with Londonderry converted into a weapons and electronics trials vessel in 1975. The successful performance of the Rothesays, and the ability they showed for sustained operation in rough North Atlantic sea conditions during the 1976 Cod War, showed that they were still relevant to the Royal Navy's main role of displaying that it had the ability to restrict Soviet submarine penetration through the Greenland-Iceland-UK Gap during the intensification of the Cold War. A more generous naval budget in the late 1970s provided by the new Prime Minister, the former RN Clerk James Callaghan, led to a provisional decision to retain the Rothesays through the 1980s with a second long refit. Plymouth, Yarmouth, and Rothesay were given full two year refits in 1978–81 with some significant updates of radar.

At the beginning of 1982, many of the class had been relegated to the Standby Squadron, likely to be disposed of following the 1981 defence review, with their sister ships likely to follow suit. However, the outbreak of the Falklands War reprieved the class. Plymouth and Yarmouth were despatched with the task force, with Plymouth playing one of the most active roles of any ship. While the class proved highly seaworthy in the rough South Atlantic, particularly in the winter patrols that followed, the initial favourable assessment of their performance in the war has been revised. It is questionable whether Seacat achieved a single kill, although both Yarmouth and Plymouth claim single shared hits on Douglas A-4 Skyhawk. Plymouth's Wasp helicopter guided an AS-12 missile onto the elderly surface-running submarine ARA Santa Fe, but only after it had been prevented from diving by depth charges and torpedo hits from the destroyer HMS Antrim and from a Wessex and a Lynx helicopter. On 1 May Yarmouth and the modern Type 22 frigate HMS Brilliant detected submarine ARA San Luis, which fired at least one German anti-ship SST-4 torpedo at them, but they failed to sink the submarine in 20 hours of mortar, torpedo and depth charge attacks.[8] In the following weeks, the limitations of the Rothesay's lack of modern sonar or link 10 data link were exposed, although Yarmouth saw the second firing of the second Exocet and may have decoyed it successfully with chaff it fired.

Other than Brighton the rest of the class were refitted for post war service, allowing the losses and damages suffered by the Royal Navy during the conflict to be rapidly made good. Berwick and Falmouth had been retained in a state of high readiness in the standby squadron, in the expectation they would be given a further long refit, possibly as towed array frigates. Their sister Lowestoft had been tested in this role. Berwick in particular still proved useful after its short refit, giving another three years' operational service, until mid 1985. The class paid off throughout the 1980s, with Rothesay finally paying off in 1988. The demise of the class also saw the withdrawal of the Wasp helicopter, the Leanders having been upgraded to carry the Westland Lynx.

New Zealand shipsEdit

The New Zealand Navy ordered two Type 12 ships in February 1957. Hastings was transferred as Otago while under construction, and Taranaki was ordered directly from the builders. They introduced bunk rather than traditional hammock bedding and rather different messing arrangements from the RN Type 12s. The ships were fitted with Seacat missiles by 1964. Unlike the Royal Navy Rothesays, Otago and Taranaki actually were armed with the Mk 20 heavyweight anti-submarine torpedoes, but abandoned them in the mid-1960s when it was clear the RN would only develop the weapons for submarines. The official reason for the RNZN abandoning heavyweight torpedoes was the Mk 20 was too slow at 24 knots (44 km/h; 28 mph). Mk 32 tubes to fire Mk 44/46 12.75-inch US lightweight torpedoes were supplied to New Zealand about 1971 as surplus from life-expired, early 1960s USN Fleet Rehabilitation and Modernization destroyers and fitted to all RNZN frigates in 1971 as a matter of policy to replace the Limbo mortars, which were removed at major refits in July 1974. A minority of the RNZN officers and ratings opposed the change, on the grounds the mortars were more effective for cold war warning.[9] New Zealand considered modernising Taranaki with gas turbines but retired the ships after 1981 when two surplus Leander-class frigates were offered for sale by the British.

South African ships (President class)Edit

Three Type 12 frigates were ordered as part of the Simonstown Naval Agreement. They were identical to the Royal Navy vessels when built but were altered during refits. The three ships were named after presidents of the Boer republics:

The modernisation involved installing a hangar and flight deck for a Westland Wasp helicopter, removing the Limbo mortar to form the flight deck, replacing the air search radar and fire control system and adding two triple 12.75-inch (324 mm) anti-submarine torpedo tubes.

The ships proved difficult to maintain due to the arms embargo and President Steyn was decommissioned in 1980 to provide spare parts.

Construction programmeEdit

Pennant Name Builder Ordered Laid Down Launched Accepted into service[Note 1] Commissioned Estimated building cost[Note 2] Fate
Royal Navy
F101 Yarmouth (a) & (b) John Brown and Co Ltd, Clydebank.[10] 29 November 1957 [11] 23 March 1959 [11] March 1960 [10] 26 March 1960 [11] £3,505,000 [10]
reconstructed 30 September 1969 [12]
Paid off April 1986, sunk as target July 1987.[11][13]
F107 Rothesay (a) & (b) Yarrow & Co Ltd, Glasgow.[14] 6 November 1956 [11] 9 December 1957 [11] April 1960 [14] 23 April 1960 [11] £3,715,000 [14]
reconstructed 5 July 1968 [15]
Paid off 30 March 1988,[13] sold for scrapping 1988.[11]
F108 Londonderry (a) & (b) JS White & Co Ltd, Cowes, Isle of Wight.[14] 15 November 1956 [11] 20 May 1958 [11] July 1960 [14] 18 October 1961 [11] £3,570,000 [14]
reconstructed 19 December 1969,[15]
Paid off 29 March 1984,[13] sunk as target 15 June 1989.[11][13]
F129 Rhyl (a) HM Dockyard, Portsmouth
(b) English Electric Co Ltd, Rugby.[14]
29 January 1958 [11] 23 April 1959 [11] November 1960 [14] 31 October 1960 [11] £3,625,000 [14]
reconstructed 16 June 1972 [15]
Paid off 1982, sunk as target September 1985.[11][13]
F126 Plymouth (a) HM Dockyard, Devonport
(b) English Electric Co Ltd, Rugby.[16]
1 July 1958 [11] 20 July 1959 [11] June 1961 [16] 11 May 1961 [11] £3,510,000 [16]
reconstructed 28 February 1969 [17]
Paid off 26 April 1988,[13] transferred to Warship Preservation Trust April 1989.[11] Scrapped in Aliaga, Turkey, October 2014.
F115 Berwick (a) & (b) Harland & Wolff Ltd, Belfast.[16] 16 June 1958 [11] 15 December 1959 [11] June 1961 [16] 1 June 1961 [11] £3,650,000 [16]
reconstructed 13 March 1971[18]
Paid off 1985,[13] sunk as target September 1986.[11][13]
F113 Falmouth (a) Swan, Hunter & Wigham Richardson Ltd, Wallsend-on-Tyne
(b) The Wallsend Slipway & Engineering Co Ltd, Wallsend-on-Tyne
(b) Parsons Marine Turbines Co Ltd, Wallsend-on-Tyne.[16]
23 November 1957 [11] 15 December 1959 [11] July 1961 [16] 25 July 1961 [11] £3,805,000 [16]
reconstructed 18 December 1970 [15]
Paid off July 1980,[13] to standby. Reactivated 1982 for South Atlantic patrols. Struck 1984. Sold for scrapping 1989.[11][13]
F103 Lowestoft (a) & (b) Alexander Stephens and Sons Ltd, Linthouse, Glasgow.[16] 9 June 1958 [11] 23 June 1960 [11] October 1961 [16] 26 September 1961 [11] £3,510,000 [16]
reconstructed 29 May 1970 [15]
Paid off 1985, sunk as target 16 June 1986.[11][13]
F106 Brighton (a) & (b) Yarrow & Co Ltd, Glasgow.[16] 23 July 1957 [11] 30 October 1959 [11] October 1961 [16] 28 September 1961 [11] £3,600,000 [16]
reconstructed 18 February 1972 [15]
Paid off Nov 1981, sold for scrapping 16 September 1985.[11][13]
Weymouth (a) Harland & Wolff Ltd, Belfast.[11] 10 April 1959 [11] Cancelled 1960, and completed as the Leander-class frigate Leander.[11]
Fowey (a) Cammell Laird and Co (Shipbuilders and Engineers) Ltd, Birkenhead.[11] 19 October 1950 [11] Cancelled 1960, and completed as the Leander-class frigate Ajax.[11]
Hastings (i) (a) JI Thornycroft Ltd, Southampton.[11] February 1956 [11] To New Zealand February 1957 (see HMNZS Otago below).[11]
Hastings (i) (a) Yarrow & Co Ltd, Glasgow.[11] 2 December 1959 [11] In 1960 changed to be completed as the Leander-class frigate Dido.[11]
Royal New Zealand Navy
F111 HMNZS Otago (ex Hastings) (a) JI Thornycroft Ltd, Southampton.[19] February 1956 (for RN)
February 1957 (for RNZN) [11][19]
5 September 1957 [19] 11 December 1958 [19] 22 June 1960 [19] Stricken 1983.
F148 HMNZS Taranaki (a) JS White & Co Ltd, Cowes, Isle of Wight.[19] 27 June 1958 [19] 19 August 1959 [19] 28 March 1961 [19] Stricken 1982,[13] sold.[19]
South African Navy
F150 SAS President Kruger (a) Yarrow & Co Ltd, Glasgow.[20] 6 April 1960 [20] 21 October 1960 [20] 1 October 1962 [20] Sunk on 18 February 1982, after a collision at sea with the replenishment ship SAS Tafelberg.[20]
F147 SAS President Steyn (a) Alex Stephen & Sons Ltd, Linthouse, Glasgow.[20] 20 May 1960 [20] 23 November 1961 [20] 26 April 1963 [20] Paid off 1984. Sold for breaking up 1990.[13][20]
F145 SAS President Pretorius (a) Yarrow & Co Ltd, Glasgow.[20] 21 November 1960 [20] 28 September 1962 [20] 4 March 1964 [20] Paid off 1985, sold for breaking up 1990.[13][20]

Deck codes after midlife refitsEdit

Name Pennant Deck Code
Rothesay F107 RO
Londonderry F108 LD
Brighton F106 BR
Yarmouth F101 YM
Falmouth F113 FM
Rhyl F129 RL
Lowestoft F103 LT
Berwick F115 BK
Plymouth F126 PL

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ The term used in Navy Estimates and Defence Estimates is "accepted into service". Hansard has used the term acceptance date. Leo Marriott in his various books uses the term "completed", as does Jane's Fighting Ships. These terms all mean the same thing: the date the Navy accepts the vessel from the builder. This date is important because maintenance cycles, etc. are generally calculated from the acceptance date.
  2. ^ "Unit cost, i.e. excluding cost of certain items (e.g. aircraft, First Outfits)."
    Text from Defences Estimates


  1. ^ HT Lenton (1967). Warships of the British & Commonwealth Navies. Allan.
  2. ^ Purvis,M.K., 'Post War RN Frigate and Guided Missile Destroyer Design 1944–1969', Transactions, Royal Institution of Naval Architects (RINA), 1974
  3. ^ Marriott,Leo, 'Royal Navy Frigates Since 1945', Second Edition, ISBN 0-7110-1915-0, Published by Ian Allan Ltd (Surrey, UK), 1990[page needed]
  4. ^ UK Hansard 2/7/81 ; cf table-( Rothesay/ Leander refit cost) R.J. Alrich Intelligence, Defence and Diplomacy. British Policy in the Post War World Routledge (2013) p 112.
  5. ^ . Admiral Sandy Woodward. One Hundred Days. Memoirs of the Falklands Battle Group. (3rd ed) Harper (2012) London.[page needed]
  6. ^ N. Friedman. British Frigates and Destroyers (2006)[page needed]
  7. ^ N. Freidman. British Destroyers and Frigates (2006)[page needed]
  8. ^ Lt Cdr S. R Harper. USN. Submarine Operations in the Falklands War. Naval War College, R.I.1994. US
  9. ^ Lt Cmdr Jackson & Ratings. Visit of HMNZS Otago to Timaru 1974 and (2) Lt Cmdr Jackson. TBHS visit 1974 and (3) Lt Cmdr Dick Ryan. Otago University. Talk & discussion 1984).
  10. ^ a b c Navy Estimates, 1960–61, pages 226–7, List and particulars of new ships which have been accepted or are expected to be accepted into HM service during the Financial Year ended 31 March 1960
  11. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x y z aa ab ac ad ae af ag ah ai aj ak al am an ao ap aq ar as at au av aw Gardiner (1995) page 519.
  12. ^ Freidman, Norman "British Destroyers & Frigates", pub Chatham,(London) 2006, p210.
  13. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o Friedman (2006) page 337.
  14. ^ a b c d e f g h i Navy Estimates, 1961–62, pages 222–3, List and particulars of new ships which have been accepted or are expected to be accepted into HM service during the Financial Year ended 31 March 1961
  15. ^ a b c d e f Freidman (2006) p.210
  16. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o Navy Estimates, 1962–63, pages 218–9, List and particulars of new ships which have been accepted or are expected to be accepted into HM service during the Financial Year ended 31 March 1962
  17. ^ Friedman(2006)p210
  18. ^ Freidman(2006)p210
  19. ^ a b c d e f g h i j Gardiner (1995), page 284.
  20. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o Gardiner (1995) page 334.


  • Friedman, Norman (2006), British Destroyers and Frigates, the Second World War and After, Seaforth, ISBN 978-1-84832-015-4
  • Gardiner, Robert (1995), Conway's All the World's Fighting Ships 1947–1995, Conway Maritime Press, ISBN 0-85177-605-1