Surge in demand for new tanker

Topic: Fighting armsRoyal Auxiliary Fleet

One minute you’re saluting your namesake in his ancestral home, the next you’re taking onboard 70 tonnes of fuel to keep you powering through the North Sea.

Refuelling in the North Sea is HMS Sutherland. Providing the black gold, new tanker RFA Tidesurge, supporting the work of the Royal Navy in home waters.

The 39,000-tonne auxiliary is the third of four Tide-class tankers built to support the UK’s new aircraft carriers and their task groups, delivering fuel to power both the warships and the jets and helicopters.

Using all her rigs and probes at maximum capacity, Tidesurge could pump 2,400 tonnes of fuel into the waiting tanks of HMS Queen Elizabeth in just an hour – enough to fill the tanks of 43,000 family cars.

The 70 tonnes shipped across to the Plymouth-based frigate, which has just paid her respects to the Duke of Sutherland, would only suffice to top up about 1,200 cars, but satiated the thirsty warship all the same.

Refuelling – aka a Replenishment At Sea or RAS – is among the most challenging manoeuvres ships perform due to the dynamics of two vessels ploughing along at 12 knots (15mph) just 25 metres apart.

To add to the challenge, this refuelling was conducted silently – without the use of radio, as is done in wartime to avoid giving your location away – solely using visual signalling (flashing light and flags).

Tidesurge’s communications experts Petty Officer Gareth Jones and Leading Hand Richie Coldwell fired up the Aldis signalling projector and flashed Morse code across to their counterparts on HMS Sutherland until the fuel had been successfully transferred and the frigate resumed her home waters patrol.

Tidesurge only entered service back in February, since when she’s been heavily engaged supporting Royal Navy operations in the Norwegian and North Seas and Atlantic, some of it inside the Arctic Circle, and much of it with a Merlin helicopter from 814 Naval Air Squadron embarked.

“The Tide class of fast tankers are perfect platforms for the Merlin to operate from, and my team and I are already looking forward to our next embarkation.”

All that support to operations has emptied Tidesurge’s tanks and storerooms, so she became the first ship in her class to pass under the Forth bridges to sail to the MOD’s depot at Crombie to stock up and allow a crew change.

“We’ve truly ‘surged’ into service as a much-updated tanker – but we’ve proved we are much more than that,” said Captain Gerry Patterson RFA, Tidesurge’s Commanding Officer.

“Tidesurge has shown that she can react quickly to operational contingencies and short-notice tasking and, having also been active within the Arctic Circle, we’ve returned to the UK with a ‘blue nose’ – an honour bestowed by King Neptune in the North.”

The facilities and operational support provided to our detachment by the crew of Tidesurge have been exceptional, allowing us to focus on being as effective as possible.

Lieutenant Tom Wallis, in charge of the Merlin team on board.