Falkands-bound Forth heralds new era for patrol ships

If you were not one of the few souls on the Portsmouth’s waterfront watching HMS Forth sail this morning… you’ve probably missed her for a decade or more.

The first of the Royal Navy’s five next-generation patrol ships sailed from the Solent to begin her new mission: guardian of the Falkland Islands and Britain’s South Atlantic territories.

The skirl of bagpipes – from the Royal Navy Pipe Band Association’s Pipe Major Tom Smith, standing proudly on Forth’s bow – accompanied the River-class warship as she glided out of Portsmouth Harbour on a gunmetal November day.

As well as the 40-strong ship’s company and the sole piper, a number of soldiers from affiliated regiments joined Forth for her departure.

She will replace HMS Clyde – one of four first-generation River-class ships in service – which has provided a reassuring presence to islanders in the Falklands and nearby South Georgia for the past dozen years.

She’s currently on a ‘farewell tour’ of her stomping grounds in the Southern Hemisphere before making the 9,000-mile voyage back to Portsmouth, where she was built.

Today is a momentous day for the River-class. I am extremely proud of my ship’s company for their efforts over the past two years in getting us to this point and grateful to the entire enterprise for their support and perseverance throughout our generation as a first of class warship.

HMS Forth’s Commanding Officer, Commander Bob Laverty

As well as being nearly a generation ahead of their forebears, the five new Rivers (Medway is in service, Trent is about to be handed over, Tamar and Spey are nearing completion) are bigger, faster, more heavily armed, able to land and refuel Wildcat and Merlin helicopters, carry more than 50 troops on missions if needed, and can stay at sea a fortnight longer than the original quartet.

Bidding farewell to Forth was the head of the Fishery Protection Squadron, Commander Simon Pressdee.

“Forth continues to pave the way for the class,” he said. “We fully expect her to spend most of her time at sea on operations with only a fraction of the time spent in maintenance, while her crew will rotate to and from the UK.

“The ability to deploy these ships while maintaining a vital work-life balance is what proves so popular with both those who task them – and those who serve on them.”

As with Clyde before her, Forth will operate from East Cove Military Port – there’s a small, specialist team of Royal Navy engineers on site to support her – with one third of the ship’s company changing every few weeks to keep her on station as long as possible.