One in every 17 sailors and RM on duty over Christmas at home and abroad

Around 1,700 personnel are away from home over Christmas as the Royal Navy maintains a global presence.

From the Gulf and the fight against Daesh to the frozen Antarctic, 18 warships, Royal Fleet Auxiliary ships, Fleet Air Arm squadrons, submarines and Royal Marines units are deployed or on duty as 2015 draws to a close.

One in every 17 sailors and Royal Marines is on duty over the festive period – and not just aboard, for the search and rescuers of 771 Naval Air Squadron in Culdrose and HMS Gannet in Prestwick stand ready to respond to emergencies until they are formally stood down at 9am on New Year’s Day when civilians take over.

HMS Protector will be at sea on Christmas Day as the ice patrol ship heads for a rare deployment to the Ross Sea.

She left Plymouth in October and arrived in Tasmania to collect a number of Australian and New Zealand officers to the Australian end of the Antarctic for fishery patrols in the Southern Ocean.

Those of you away on operations will be in our thoughts and prayers.

First Sea Lord Admiral Sir George Zambellas

Protector will later return to her normal patrol area in the South Atlantic, where HMS Clyde is currently operating. Also spending the festive season in the Falklands is RN unit, Naval Engineer Falkland Islands.

More than 1,000 personnel will spend the festive period in the Gulf region, led by HMS Defender and HMS St Albans.

Survey ship HMS Scott is spending Christmas Day in the Mediterranean. Two thirds of the 78-strong ship’s company get to celebrate the big day twice; they’ve already had a visit from Santa, plus turkey dinner (carved by CO Cdr Karen Dalton-Fyfe, resplendent in her red festive jumper).

“We will have another dinner on Christmas Day for the two watches left onboard, but didn’t want the other watch to miss out,” said operations officer Lt Paul Lane.

AB(Sea) Chloe Ellis said: “It’s my first Christmas away from my fiancé and dog, so something like this brings a little Christmas cheer to the ship and makes being onboard a bit more festive”

Executive Officer Lt Cdr Simon Pink said: “We appreciate that this can be a difficult time to be away from friends and family so it is important we do something to make things a little bit easier.

“Our Christmas dinner served by the Officers is one of the ways that we try to do that and myself dressing up as Santa hopefully gives everyone a little chuckle and lets them know that we appreciate all of the hard work that they have put in over the last 12 months.”

Ships away over Christmas stocked up with many of the things they needed to celebrate before leaving the UK – crackers, cards, presents, decorations, frozen turkeys – while British Forces Post Office has delivered parcels and post to the four corners of the globe to bring some welcome cheer on the big day.

Christmas Day on deployment is a relaxed affair and typically involves some role reversals – from the youngest able seaman aboard playing captain for the day, to officers serving dinner (turkey with all the trimmings, naturally) to the rest of the ship’s company.

All Naval personnel end the year with a ‘thank-you from the country’s most senior sailor, First Sea Lord Admiral Sir George Zambellas, who said: “In the past year, we’ve helped reduced the number of Ebola cases in Sierra Leone down to zero.

“We’ve rescued thousands of lives in the Mediterranean, led the largest NATO exercise in a decade and we’ve stood alongside our two closest allies on operations against Daesh.

“We’ve done all these things, and more – above and below the waves – alongside our routine commitments. This is a testament to the ability, the dedication and resilience of everyone involved.

“So I wish you and your families a very happy Christmas. Thank you for what you’ve done over the past year. Those of you away on operations will be in our thoughts and prayers.” 

On duty over Christmas and new year are:

  • East of Suez: More than 1,000 personnel: minehunters Middleton, Chiddingfold, Shoreham and Penzance, plus their support ship RFA Cardigan Bay; on maritime security patrol: frigate HMS St Albans, plus 43 Commando Fleet Protection Group Royal Marines, Bagger Sea Kings of 849 NAS and the Merlin helicopters of 820 NAS; HMS Defender is supporting the Charles de Gaulle, while RFA Fort Victoria is supporting Defender; A Trafalgar-class Fleet submarine will be on duty; and overseeing operations, the staff in the UK Maritime Component Command HQ in Bahrain.
  • South Atlantic: Providing support and reassurance to British citizens: Clyde, supported by tanker RFA Gold Rover
  • Antarctica: Surveying: HMS Protector
  • Mediterranean: Gibraltar Squadron (Sabre and Scimitar) protecting the Rock and its waters and Enterprise conducting Operation Sophia; HMS Scott surveying
  • In the UK:  personnel are on duty or at short notice to react: search and rescue fliers of 771 Naval Air Squadron in Culdrose and HMS Gannet in Prestwick are on-call 24/7, while the Fleet Ready Escort stands ready to respond to events, as does an RFA tanker as well as bomb disposal teams in Plymouth, Portsmouth and Faslane; in addition, RN medics are working shifts in NHS hospitals around the UK and staff at the Northwood Maritime Operations Centre.
  • Submarine Service: One of four strategic deterrent Vanguard-class boats, conducting a mission the Silent Service has performed around the clock for more than 40 years.