Keel Laying Ceremony Held for the Future HMCS Robert Hampton Gray, 6th Arctic and Offshore Patrol Ship (AOPS)
During a ceremonial event held on August 21 at the Halifax Shipyard, Rear Admiral Josée Kurtz and Dirk Lesko, President of Irving Shipbuilding, commemorated the official keel laying of the sixth Arctic and Offshore Patrol Ship (AOPS), to be known as the future HMCS Robert Hampton Gray.
The keel laying ceremony, an age-old tradition with origins dating back to ancient Rome, signifies the formal commencement of a ship’s construction. In the contemporary context, this event includes the customary practice of welding a coin onto the ship’s hull, intended to bestow luck upon the vessel’s captain and crew throughout its service life. Rear Admiral Josée Kurtz, Commander of Maritime Forces Atlantic (MARLANT), personally selected the coin on behalf of the Royal Canadian Navy, and it was affixed to the hull by Ashley Angevine. A local welder and a graduate of the Women Unlimited program, Ashley Angevine has familial connections to the Royal Canadian Navy through her father, Patrick Britten, who dedicated almost three decades to naval service. At the culmination of the ceremony, Rear Admiral Kurtz formally declared the hull as “firmly and officially laid.”
The forthcoming HMCS Robert Hampton Gray will span 103.6 meters in length, boast a beam of 19 meters, displace 6,615 tonnes, and consist of a staggering 440,000 individual components.
As part of the National Shipbuilding Strategy (NSS), Irving Shipbuilding is currently engaged in the construction of six AOPS vessels for the Royal Canadian Navy, in addition to two AOPS units designated for the Canadian Coast Guard, and a further 15 Canadian Surface Combatants (CSC) intended for the Royal Canadian Navy.
“Every year, our workforce is growing and honing their skills, becoming more advanced shipbuilders. This increased efficiency is a result of the NSS allowing us to re-establish Canada’s shipbuilding industrial base right here in Halifax and Atlantic Canada. We take immense pride in that, with today’s keel laying for HMCS Robert Hampton Gray highlighting another milestone achieved on our mission to deliver ships for Canada,” said Dirk Lesko, President, Irving Shipbuilding Inc.
The historical significance of Lieutenant (Lt) Robert Hampton Gray, a distinguished Canadian naval figure from the Second World War, was also remembered during the proceedings. Lt Gray enlisted in the Royal Canadian Naval Volunteer Reserve in 1940 and served as a pilot within the Royal Navy Fleet Air Arm. He participated in Operation Iceberg, the invasion of Okinawa, Japan, in April 1945, embarking aboard His Majesty’s Ship (HMS) Formidable as a part of 1841 Squadron.
Renowned for his courage and determination, Lt Gray posthumously received the Victoria Cross for his audacious aerial assaults on the Japanese destroyer His Imperial Japanese Majesty’s Ship (HIJMS) Amakusa. On August 9, 1945, he led a squadron of Corsair aircraft in an attack on naval vessels in Onagawa Bay, Japan. Despite facing concentrated anti-aircraft fire and sustaining immediate hits upon approaching the target, Lt Gray valiantly pressed on. Despite his aircraft being ablaze and having lost one of his bombs, he continued the assault, ultimately releasing his remaining bomb on the escort vessel HIJMS Amakusa, causing its capsizing and sinking. Tragically, his aircraft crashed into the sea, and his remains were never recovered. Lt Gray’s fellow service members remembered him as an intrepid leader with an exceptional flying spirit, whose legacy continued to inspire and galvanize his crew even after his untimely demise. He remains the sole recipient of the Victoria Cross within the RCN during the Second World War.