Eftirfarandi er frásögn Richards Hussey, sjóliða sem sendur var á Íslandsmið á herskipi hennar hátignar HMS Caprice, í janúar 1973, til þess að vernda breska togara sem voru að veiðum innan fiskveiðilögsögu Íslands, sem hafði verið færð einhliða út í 50 sjómílur (úr 12 mílum) nokkrum mánuðum fyrr. Frásögnin birtist hér óstytt og óbreytt í uppskrift eftir hljóðrituðu viðtali sem síðuhafi tók við Hussey í Lissabon í Portúgal 3. febrúar 2017. Hún mun birtast hér síðar í íslenskri þýðingu. Hussey sér sjálfur um kynningu á sér í upphafi viðtalsins.

Hér fyrir neðan eru ljósmyndir frá Richard Hussey, sem hann ritaði skýringar við. Texti í viðtalinu vísar til atriða sem myndirnar útskýra nánar.


„Okay, my name, my full name, is Richard Hussey. I was born in London, England, on the 29th of June 1953. I have no objections to the contents of this interview being used for any purpose by anyone at any time. Okay, to introduce myself then I suppose the most logical place to be starting is that I joned the Navy. I joined the Navy at fifteen years old in 1968. I joined at a large Naval training establishemt that existed at the time, called H.M.S. Ganges and there were some two thousand boys, fifteen to sixteen years old and we spent a year in basic training. And I loved every minute of it. I was always fascinated with the sea. As a young boy I had been involved in maritime pastimes and it was always my ambition to join the Navy as soon as I could. So in those days you could leave school at fifteen, so that’s what I did, I left home and I joined the Navy and I loved  every minute of it. I was promoted to leading junior or head boy if you like, in charge of some thirty, forty other men in -or boys- in the mess. And yeah, I did very well because I enjoyed it so much. When I left training, my first ship was an aircraft carrier, H.M.S. Eagle, quite a large aircraft carrier, operating various fast jets and helicopters. And I served three years on board that ship and during that time I visited virtually everywhere in the world, Far-East, South-Africa, Australia, New Zealand, Hong Kong, Singapore, all around the Mediterranean. Virtually everywhere apart from, at the time, the Americas but quite an adventure for young man, sixteen to eighteen and I had…yeah… a very good time. So my enthusiasm for the Navy never diminished throughout that time. I still loved ships, I loved the sea, most of all I loved the travel, so – and still do as a matter of fact – so everything was suited to…the lifestyle was exactly suited to me. However, at the time I was a young man, a little bit wayward, bit headstrong. Came the day at the end of 1972, after I’d left the Eagle incidentally. But I got in bit of a trouble with the Authorities and I ended up going to the detention centre, what you might call a prison, for a short time. I actually spent Christmas 1972 and New Year ’72/’73 in prison. I was released early January and joined a new ship. Now at that time I was onboard the ship for just a month – I don’t think it was even a month – just a few weeks, when I was called to see the master at arms. He was the man who did the regulating the ships personnel and organized the movements of personnel. And he said to me that I was required to join a ship down in Plymouth which was waiting to go up to Iceland to participate in the Cod war with the Icelandic gunboats that were up there. I seem to recall this all had already been going on for some weeks so I must have had some prior knowledge of what was coming. But quite honestly, my own – as I recall – my own attitude to this was this was gonna be on a destroyer. And that really excited me, I’d had an aircraft carrier – a very large ship but I had always really thought about the real Navy was working on small ships. And the Caprice, an old wartime destroyer, built in 1942, just about at the end of her life, but she was a real old fashioned proper Navy small warship and that really took me. So really that was the part of this that really became central to the following story rather than the Cod war itself which as a nineteen year old man I must have been aware of – I must have understood the implications both from the Icelandic side and of course I would have been told that the work we were doing with defending our fisherman, who at the time were being interrupted, intercepted by the Icelandic gunboats and they were cutting their nets et cetera. My understanding at the time before they had 200 mile limits et cetera was that under international law at the time the fishermen were fishing legally in those waters and that the 200 mile limit, which I think it was then – 200 or twelve at the time, I can’t remember but whatever it was, they were legally fishing and Iceland had unilaterally declared that area to belong to Iceland. And I think it…as I recall…it was centered on the 100 fathom line – I might have that wrong but the 100 fathom line, where the most rich codfishing was done. In any case this was not central to my thoughts at that time. I was serving in Portsmouth so I caught the train down to Plymouth. I had just met my girlfriend at the time, who’s now my wife, but I was actually more excited about going on the ship than anything else, but yes, so I went to Plymouth and went into the Plymouth naval base, the dockyard, and asked where my ship was berthed and I do remember having some surprise when I saw her. The ship was not like normal naval ships at the time, which were absolutely immaculate and without any rust and you know well painted and maintained. This ships was right at the end of her life and you could tell it was quite old even then. And she didn’t look pristine shall we say. When I went on board and introduced myself, I saw the sailors were a different bunch from the sailors that I knew at the time. They were disciplined, smart, shiny shoes, short hair and these all looked quite piratical and they were a lot older than the normal sailors on other ships. I then found out that at nineteen I was the youngest – I think I was the youngest guy onboard. Everybody else were old sailors that were coming towards the end of their time, what we call three badge men. And there was quite an extraordinary atmosphere on board because it appeared to be an undisciplined bunch and there didn’t appear to be much applied discipline but everything was working as it should. We even had unlimited beer ration which was unheard of in those days, which again I found very surprising because although it was unlimited it wasn’t rationed and normally it was rationed on a warship at the time. People weren’t actually drinking as much as they were on a ship which was rationed – and people used to find ways around the rationing. And so, it was quite extraordinary. But the other surprise was that we still used hammocks. And so my first day was spent actually constructing my hammock, which we had to do at the time, I still remember. Constructed from sixteen nettles and then you had a stretcher bar that you had to fit, so you had to make this hammock yourself out of the makings that were issued to you, the ropes and lines and canvas. The but that again, was quite an adventure and I really felt like a real sailor when a first night at sea in a hammock. But being a big ship person I had never actually been on a ship like this. This was a really, really unstable ship. She was topheavy and they used to say that she rolled on wet grass, it was…so it was quite an experience for me when we left harbour and started up the Irish sea. Not the most peaceful stretch of water. And there I was in my hammock swinging from side to side, going up the Irish sea. In those days the ships used to burn heavy oil, heavy fuel oil, furnace fuel oil as I recall. And it was a steamship. And one of the things – the whole ship used to smell of sulphur through the ship, so with the ship heaving up and down and the smell of sulphur, you can imagine it was pretty unpleasant. And in those days, everybody used to smoke so…and about four or five guys in the mess used to smoke pipes. So you can imagine, then we ate in the mess as well. So it was a pretty unfragrant environment. We knew, we had been told that the gunboats and I seem to recall that they were Þór and Ægir, that we were looking to go and to try and intervene between these gunboats and the trawlers. We had been told that of course these guys, that the ships themselves were built very, very solidly, this is why they could be used to ram and that the men onboard – clearly Icelandic sailors – had been quite used to operating in those foul conditions – that was a normal day for them. However we were a little bit tougher than the usual more modern ships that had been up there at the time, that had suffered quite a lot from the collisions that had been happening between the gunboats and the…themselves. And they had suffered quite a few collisions. As I seem to recall some of the ships had welded railway lines and other protrusions to try and discourage the gunboats ramming them. I don’t think there’d been any shots fired as I recall, not even over the bow. I may be wrong on that. But in any case we were all quite excited at the prospect of going up there and rather than just being patrolling or on passage, we’d actually be doing something and have a little bit of excitement. I’m afraid that’s the way that young men think. The consequences of it, the reasons behind as it is in more serious wars I’ve been involved in, really doesn’t touch you when you are involved and the people who are at the front end, it’s…that’s the things that the politicians worry about. I’m afraid when you‘re involved in any sort of confrontation, you tend to think about the persons closest to you, your own guns crew, your own mess, your own ship. And in any case, we weren’t expecting much in the way of violence at all, just some exciting tales to come back and tell people back home of them. It’d be quite good experience. What we weren’t prepared for was the violence of the weather. Sailors tend to exaggerate but I don’t think I am here…I think…well certainly it was the first time I’d experienced anything like this. It must have been force eleven as I remember for nearly the whole time we were up there, which was about six to eight weeks as I recall. And certainly I can’t remember any days where wasn’t violently being thrown around on this ship, as I say this ship used to roll even on the calm waters but now – no stabilizers, quite top heavy. Now she was being thrown around all over the place, which made it really, really difficult just moving around the ship and because we used to eat in the mess, we used to have to collect from the galley and we used to have to walk over the upper deck to get to the galley, collect our food and bring it back into the ship. And sometimes the waves were coming right over the deck and you had to hang on so you dropped your food and just hang on to the lifelines. So it was either your lunch or yourself went over the side. And of course as we went more north, the colder it got. Really, really cold. And in those days it was normal for the watch on deck to all day and all night the watches would change and you would have the seamen and they would actually be literally on deck outside and sit underneath the seaboat in case there was an emergency. And similarly for lookout, if you did a lookout you were up on the gun direction platform above the bridge so you were totally exposed and it was getting colder and colder by the day and then the snow came. So violent winds, snow and then ice. So the vessel started taking on ice. We covered it with a sort of grease called Kill-frost which as far as I’m aware was supposed to make it difficult for ice to form on the vessel. And it seemed that that was correct because anywhere where it wasn’t would soon be covered in ice and we’d have to either hose it off with steam or knock it off with axes. And then we we covered it with Kill-frost. So that was a very unpleasant job. As we proceeded and we got on station we relieved the other ship that was up there. I think she’d had – I can’t remember if it was the…no I can’t remember it, I think it was the Brighton we… H.M.S. Brighton I think that we relieved, anyway, it was clear when we were on station that this was not going to be a pleasant few weeks. Within a day or two we had waves that were so hard hit the ship that they smashed our boats up till we had no boats onboard. All of them had been broken by the waves. One of benefits of that we no longer had to sit out on deck underneath the boat because there was no boat to go anywhere. We did however, still have to do the lookout up on the gun direction platform and I do remember thinking how bad this was because from the bridge I couldn’t see the bow through the snow so I wasn’t really serving any purpose but in those days that was not a consideration so we would do half hour about up on the bridge, up on the gun direction platform and that was pretty bad. We were actually issued with a really old fashioned Kapok clothing which turned out to be rather good, much better than the more modern stuff that we had later on. Just big padded jackets and trousers and we had these big boots with insoles in. It kept the worst of the weather out but nothing could take it all. It was really, really cold. Most of us grew beards and our beards were covered in ice when we came down. And indeed the mess deck was leaking because they had fixed ventilators on the foc‘sle[1] so  everytime the foc‘sle went underwater, the traps would fill up with water and eventually it would spill out into the mess. And at night when your hammock was in place, the water would come over the hammock and then freeze so your blanket that you were actually using was actually frozen. And you would lift it off like a car hood. It was totally frozen. Nobody got undressed to get into bed. You would get into bed with all of the clothing on. Not least because any evolution you still needed to get out and get out quickly as well so it was getting pretty unpleasant. We were having to do one in three watches instead of the normal one in four, which meant that you were doing very, very long days. Very long days indeed. There were one of the things that I did like all of the bullshit side of the discipline, polishing and scrubbing and painting. That wasn’t present, it was really just hard working the ship. Yes, so, and we continued this for awhile. No incidents with the Icelandic boats. We didn’t see any. I do remember the fishermen being quite surprised when they saw us, when we came on station. And it was…they had quite a laugh at our expence at the old warship that would been sent up to protect them and they really found it quite humorous. But these trawlermen, we could see these trawlers occationally, maybe just  half a mile away. But the weather was so bad and they would only appear  intermittently. It was an unfortunate thing for the fishermen and I’ve had respect for them ever since. It was so rough, they couldn’t shoot or recover their nets and in those days, they only got paid for the catch that they got so it was paid on results. If they couldn’t fish, they didn’t earn any money. The company would be paying their wives so that they could get their children fed and whatever,  back home but of course if the guys weren’t earning money, what would happen when they went home, they would have been working for weeks on end and gone back and found out that they far from making money, they were in debt. So these are a pretty hardy bunch, these fishermen. And on reflection, I am quite sure it was the same for the Icelandic fishermen too. What happened then is that we alluded to the weather that was just so bad. There couldn’t be any fishing done but more than this, what was happening, the trawlers were icing up. As I’ve already said we used the Kill-frost to try and reduce the problem. We had a lot of men to be able to do it, plus were a little larger than the average trawler that was out there. Some of these trawlers were suffering with the ice building up so you had maybe a stay for the mast being sprayed with ice…with water turning into ice. When that happens a hundred or thousand times and that ice, what started off with a half inch wire became three foot of solid ice. Now,  all this is top weight above the deck, making the vessels unstable. And eventually one of them capszised. I think in all there were certainly two, it may have been three over the time we were up there, capsized and at least one of them as I understand it was Icelandic because I remember this one…okay, we were having an altercation with the Icelandic but it’s the convention of the sea, any other sailor that’s in trouble, everybody helps. And this is what we did, we answered the Mayday. And it’s important to understand in the concept of today, that it was only a few years ago, there was none of the modern age such as the GMDSS, SART, EPIRBs, any of this. It was basically doing a search over the water with binoculars and searchlights. So the Mayday that had been given, and as I understand, as I recollect and I may be inaccurate here – I think there were ten people onboard this trawler, do recall that the captain’s wife was one of them. And we spent all day and all night looking, we went through the scene of the incident and I think it was the Ægir that was also on the scene as well, so we were working with Ægir, looking for the survivors. And I remember I was manning one of the big, twenty-inch signal lamps used as a searchlight. They ran with carbon rods in and you could sweep the sea with these but it was absolutely bitterly, bitterly cold. And really I knew and no-one would be able to survive in a liferaft in this, and it had been some hours since the Mayday had been given. And I don’t recall how or when or what time the liferaft was found, I don’t even recall who found it, whether it was us or Ægir but anyway, the liferaft was found and there was just one body in it and I think what had happened is the others had…now I think about it, there were two liferafts, one was not found, the other one was found with one body in it, it was assumed that the others had been put out through the door when they’d died. Yes and that was a very sad incident. And as I recall I’m pretty sure there was another one or two that capsized. What I do know is the whole time we were up there, the weather was so bad that nobody was fishing and there were no incidents of ramming, cutting trawls or anything like that. We didn’t even get any fresh cod from the fishermen for that reason. So, yeah, and I recall that we were running low on fuel, we didn’t have an auxiliary tanker that we could fuel with up there and we couldn’t have done it in any case, so we actually went to the Faroe Islands to get into the lee of the Faroe Islands where it was a steady force nine if I remember so that we could actually replenish at sea and refuel to go back up there. The weather must have been as bad or even worse because it was shortly after this that we got relieved and I think it was H.M.S. Blackpool that relieved us. She’s a type twelve frigate, about the same size as us. And I do recall we were exchanging messages with them and we were about half a mile apart. And I recall looking at the ship and seeing the entire keel of the ship from bow down to the A-brackets out of the water. Which was quite impressive, with the state of the sea. So she relieved us and we were quite happy by that time to be heading home. Our captain was a bit of a maverick, I don’t recall his name. I was only onboard for a couple of months but he was quite a character. As I recall a bit piratical himself. And we took off and one of the things about the ship, she was very old…oh I forgot to mention…while we were up there the weather was so bad that the ship split in two places so across the iron deck in the centre of the ship we had a split that went from one side to the other, letting water into the ship. And the squid[2] deck back aft split open and the Chief Petty Officer‘s mess  flooded, And also up for‘d[3] because of these ventilators which would go underwater all the time, we had to permanently bail out in the mess the water that was coming in there. And if we were doing an evolution of any kind and no-one was in the mess, the time we finished and we got back to the mess, there was a lot of water in the mess and this would have been swishing backwards and forwards with the roll of the ship. Free surface. Really, really making the entire environment unpleasant, especially if someone had been sick or the rubbish bin with all the food had tipped over into it  into it. So yeah, not a good environment. So we were very happy to leave station and our old ship, which was very old, and falling apart but she was still at the time the fastest ship in the Navy. Her sistership actually, H.M.S. Cavalier, won the prize but we were still operating and we believed we were faster than Cavalier, she was supposedly in a race determined to be the fastest ship with another vessel but anyway we actually put our fast revolutions on and we headed straight down the Irish sea. Like a greyhound it really was pretty impressive. Our stern…it was so fast, that our stern was under the water sometimes and we were actually surfing, if you like. In fact we made such an impressive speed that we ended up getting back to Plymouth a day before we should have done. Which was a bit unfortunate for a couple of guys in the mess ’cause they went back and found that someone else had been keeping their bed warm. While we’d been away and in those days there were no phone calls or transmissions from sea to shore so…yeah…they had no notice of when we were getting back so…well not funny really I suppose for the people concerned but…as a consequence of getting back, I have always wondered how often that happens. Yes, so in those days I was paid in cash so I came back with two months of pay in cash, that we hadn’t spent onboard. And in the true tradition of the sailor I went ashore that night and…with the guys and we had a good drink and I ended up in the casino…and lost every penny. So for two months work I ended up with nothing. Which my new girlfriend, my now wife, constantly reminds me about. And I think I’d made it worse by actually writing to her saying that when I got back we’d have a real slap-up meal and I’d treat her to various things, and I ended up borrowing money off of her but it has taught me not to gamble – more than you can afford. So, yes I left the Caprice and went back to my own ship after that but…yeah…I still have fond memories of the experience if you like. I think even bad experiences are worth having. To be able to weigh against the good. And who’d have thought that all these years later I’d be talking to an Icelandic person for an interview into the Icelandic museum. Strange how life turns out. Yes, so I think that really concludes my career up to the Cod war, had many adventures afterwards, including the invasion of Cyprus and the Falklands war, was actively involved in Bomb Alley as it were. And onto the crisis in Lebanon and the Gulf, Kosovo and Bosnia. But I have to say, really the Cod war as it was for me, was a war against the sea, and war against the elements, and a war against the weather. I never really felt that I was battling against the Icelandic gunboats but, yeah we had a lot of respect for the guys and it’s the fellowship of the sea I suppose.“

[1] RH: Short for Forecastle, this is the naval term for forward deck where the anchor capstans and hawse pipes are.

[2] RH: A type of anti submarine depth charge mortar in use at the time.

[3] RH: Naval term, short for Forward.