The Navy of the Colombian Republic (ARC) had few oceanic forces, these were only 2 destroyers built in Portugal, but of English design, the ARC Caldas and ARC Antioquia, which had been transferred to Colombia in 1934 to help with their conflict with Peru (1932-1934). By the end of 1953 Colombia had 2 new frigates on loan from the US government thanks to the country’s active participation in the war against Korea, the ARC Almirante Padilla (Ex USS Groton PF-29) and the ARC Capitán Tono (Ex USS Bisbee PF-46) which would be replaced by the ARC Almirante Brión (Ex USS Burlington PF-51). With this in mind, the ARC had 4 ocean combat ships.
Strengthening of the Arc
After the end of the Korean War on July 27, 1953, and with brief Colombian participation in it, General Gustavo Rojas Pinilla (former president of the Colombian Republic during the period 1953-1957) decides to initiate a plan to strengthen the nation’s armed forces. Pinilla appoints Commander of the National Navy to Frigate Captain (CF) Jaime Erazo Annexi on May 20, 1954. Consequently, the commander Erazo starts the modernization of the Navy, resuming the construction of the “marginal dock of the Naval Base of Cartagena” that had been suspended by the lack of budget; the construction of 3 fluvial gunboats, in the Industrial Union of Barranquilla, and the necessity to acquire 1 destroyer. Colombia had 3 bids under study at the Navy level, submitted by the following interested suppliers:
– U.S. Navy, with 1 “Fletcher” class destroyer, second hand.
– The British Royal Navy, with 1 “Daring” class destroyer, second hand.
– The Swedish shipyards Kockums and Götaverken, allies, for the construction of 2 new destroyers of the “Halland” class.
In June 1954 the president Pinilla decides to stop buying or assigning used ships to the ARC and on the contrary to acquire new ships, therefore, the offers of the USN and the Royal Navy were discarded and the Swedish offer was contemplated. On August 12, 1954, the corresponding contracts were signed in Bogota for the construction of the 2 Halland class destroyers that would be named ARC 20 de Julio and ARC 13 de Junio (later renamed ARC 7 de Agosto).
The Arrival of the New Destroyers and the Political Crisis
The start of the construction of the new destroyers took place in the Swedish ports. The ARC 20 de Julio was placed on the construction ramp in mid-October 1955 at the Kockums shipyard in the city of Malmö, Sweden. The ARC 13 de Junio only one month later is put on its construction ramp at the Götaverken shipyard in Göteborg, Sweden.
On June 19, 1956, at the Götaverken shipyard the destroyer ARC 13 de Junio is baptized, with the name of ARC 7 de Agosto, launched in the waters of the Göta River, and passes to the piers of armament and general equipment. Its construction time on the ramp was 7 months and 19 days. The name change was ordered by the commander of the Navy CF Erazo Annexi, 11 months before General Rojas Pinilla was overthrown as president of the Nation (May 10, 1957), which belies any suggestion regarding changing the name of the destroyer ” 13 de Junio ” to avoid political problems in future governments and the people’s view on the Navy’s procedures (on June 13, 1953, General Gustavo Rojas Pinilla takes to power through a coup d’état in Colombia).
On June 26, 1956, at the Kockums shipyard, the destroyer ARC 20 de Julio was baptized and launched. Floating for the first time, it passes to the docks of armament and general equipment. Its construction time on the ramp was 8 months and 26 days. It was 1 month and 7 days longer than the ARC 13 de Junio.
As a curiosity, the ship was baptized on the starboard side, departing from the traditional rule of being bathed with Champagne on the port side.
On May 10, 1957, the government of General President Rojas Pinilla fell and was replaced by a Military Government Junta. The fortuitous changes of government paralyzed all the works initiated by General Rojas, which was highly detrimental to the military forces. Among the projects and works of the Navy most affected were the construction of the Naval School, and of the destroyers contracted in Sweden, due to the disturbance of the part that sustained the credits and guarantees of its financing. Consequently, in connection with the destroyers, some of the work in progress, already well advanced in their enlistment, suffered unexpected delays.
In mid-June 1957 the commander of the Navy CF Erazo Annexi retires, only one month after the fall of Rojas Pinilla.
On July 20, 1958 in the port of Malmö, Sweden, in the presence of the Minister of Finance of Colombia, José Antonio Mayobre, the Ambassador of Colombia in Sweden, Rear Admiral Ayala, and the Comptroller of the Navy, Captain Hernando Berón, the ceremony of the “Affirmed of the National Pavilion” took place on board the destroyer ARC 20 de Julio. The delicate issue related to the financing of the debt acquired with the Swedish shipyards had been happily resolved through the intervention of the three mentioned gentlemen. CN (Naval Commander) Jorge Berrio Posada was the first commander of the unit.
On August 7, 1958, Dr. Alberto Lleras Camargo was elected President of Colombia for a period of 4 years (1958-1962). In September of the same year, the ARC 20 de Julio arrives at the port of Cartagena. In December, in Gothenburg, the ceremony of “Affirmed of the National Pavilion” takes place on board the destroyer ARC 7 de Agosto, presided over by the Minister of Finance, the Ambassador, and the Comptroller of the Navy mentioned above. CF Orlando Lemaitre Torres is its first Commander; that same month, the ARC 7 de Agosto sails from Gothenburg to Cartagena.
On January 19, 1959, the destroyer arrives at Cartagena, being received by the President of the Republic, to whom honours were paid on the march in the entrance channel. The President toured the unity and in the Visitors Book, he wrote these words:
“…I visited on the 7 de Agosto and I want to leave the testimony of the gratitude of the people and of the Government with the Naval Force, which has the mission of turning the spirit and the eyes of the Colombians, towards a sea forgotten for centuries…”.
In general, the ships took much longer than expected to reach Colombian port, the ARC 20 de Julio took 3 years, 11 months and 8 days to arrive in Cartagena; the ARC 7 de Agosto took 4 years, 3 months and 25 days.
The Secret Agreements and the Modification of the Halland Class
At the beginning of the cold war, Sweden wanted to avoid problems because it appeared to be creating a large fleet, so something unexpected happened, the construction of the 2 Colombian destroyers was ceded as a “concession” to the Colombian Navy during the middle period of its development, this means that the first half of the destroyers were made by the Swedes, and the other half was completed by the Colombians. This whole process was always carried out in the Swedish shipyards, under ultra-secrecy. The agreements made benefited Sweden more than anything else since Colombia was not recognized for its part in the creation of the destroyers.
It is during this misalignment of plans that a series of last-minute modifications to developing ships occur. These modifications, which were catalogued as “insignificant”, resulted in real design problems, turning powerful multifunction ships into impractical and flawed ships.
The specifications of the original Halland Class and the modified version will then be given in detail in order to establish their differences:
Main artillery: 2 double (2*2) 120mm M/55 turrets
Secondary artillery: 1 double turret (1*2) 57 mm M/50
Anti-aircraft artillery: 6 pieces (6*1) of 40 mm M/48E. 6 steel protection cabins
Torpedoes: Tubes M/30, Torpedo M/61 (1*5 – 1*3)
Missiles: Double ramps for Robot 08 Saab/Nord Aviation (1*2)
Anti-submarine weapons: 2 mortars for 4 pumps of 37.5 cm M/50 – 100 kg. 2 floodgates in the transom plus rails under the deck. 58 depth charges. 2 lines of rails on deck aft. 58 sea mines.
Aircraft: 1 wide platform aft for helicopter with protection grating around it.
Displacement: 2790 standard ton – 3400 ton at capacity
Propulsion: 2 “Penhoet” boilers – 2 “Laval” turbines of 58000 hp.
Speed: 35 knots
Radius of action: 3000 nautical miles at 20 knots.
ARC 20 de Julio
Main artillery: 3 double (3*2) 120mm M/55 turrets
Secondary artillery: None
Anti-aircraft artillery: 4 pieces (4*1) of 40 mm M/48E. Without protection.
Torpedoes: Tubes M/30, Torpedo M/61 (1*4)
Anti-submarine weapons: 1 mortar for 4 pumps of 37.5 cm M/50 – 100 kg.
Aircraft: 1 lower platform aft for helicopter without protection.
Displacement: 2650 standard ton – 3300 ton at capacity
Propulsion: 2 “Penhoet” boilers – 2 “Laval” turbines of 55000 hp.
Speed: 32 knots
Radius of action: 3000 nautical miles at 20 knots.
With the data established, it has to be said that both ships are really very different, making it clear that the modified version is extremely precarious compared to the original. This represented a great loss for Colombia, since, at the same price as an original Halland, they were sold a regular copy and all because of the Colombian inexperience and the change of plans at the last moment.
Both ships patrolled Colombian waters for more than 25 years, maintaining national sovereignty in the event of a conflict with Venezuela, Ecuador or Peru.
The ARC 20 de Julio was decommissioned and scrapped in 1984, after 26 years of active service.
The ARC 7 de Agosto was decommissioned and scrapped in 1986, after 28 years of active service.
None of the two ships had any notable record of conflict during active duty.