HMS Sutherland’s busy-ness at sea

Frigate HMS Sutherland has clocked up half of 2019 on patrol, away from her home of Plymouth, carrying out largely unglamorous – but key – duties in and around the UK.

The ship has been assigned numerous task: Fleet Ready Escort – the on-call frigate/destroyer needed for operations around the UK – training vessel for navigators/international warfare officers/RAF Chinooks, served as the test-bed for new missiles for fending off ‘swarm’ attacks, hunted submarines with NATO for ten days in the Arctic (including the ship’s only foreign port visit of 2019, Narvik in Norway), survived a battering from Storm Gareth (winds of 60mph), paid her respects in her namesake county, popped into Belfast, and hammered Cape Wrath with her guns during the Joint Warrior war game which ends later this week.

“On reflection it has been a busy 2019,” said Commander Tom Weaver, Sutherland’s Commanding Officer. “The Fighting Clan has sailed to every corner of our home waters and beyond to achieve UK maritime security operations.

I am hugely proud of my ship’s company for their professionalism and enthusiasm in delivering some of the Royal Navy’s highest priority tasking.

Commander Tom Weaver, Sutherland’s Commanding Officer

“I am hugely proud of my ship’s company for their professionalism and enthusiasm in delivering some of the Royal Navy’s highest priority tasking.”

Since January 1, his ship has been away from home for 149 days, steamed over 22,759 nautical miles during 2,285 hrs (95 days) at sea at an average speed of 11kts.

Throughout the frigate has been supported by her Merlin helicopter – callsign Highlander – from 814 Naval Air Squadron. It’s flown 77 sorties from Sutherland’s flight deck on missions lasting 135 hours.

The main gun has been called upon 180 times to fire 4.5in shells (with no stoppages/jams); the smaller Miniguns and machine-guns have spewed out just shy of 20,000 rounds and 460 from the automated 30mm weapons.

“Storm Gareth was probably the most challenging weather we’ve experienced,” said weapon engineer officer Lieutenant Commander George Blakeman.

“We had trainee navigators aboard – none of them had any previous experience of life onboard a frigate.

“With winds of up to 60 mph, sea states in excess of State 7. Each student had to adapt to ensure they were able to safely navigate the ship in the open seas and in confined waters.

“The weather was challenging for both the ship’s company and the students as we were battered by huge waves – over the foc’sle – and poor visibility.”

As an engineer, his highlight was helping turn the planned new anti-ship missile for Wildcat helicopters into a weapon which could be strapped on to Sutherland’s 30mm guns to blast swarm attacks out of the water. Three missiles were successfully fired at automated targets in Cardigan Bay.

The ships engines have guzzled 1,923,000 of F76 fuel… that’s one litre gone for roughly every 20 metres travelled. If your car was as thirsty… every mile you covered would cost you around £106. She’s made use of new tankers RFA Tidesurge and Tideforce to keep her tanks topped up.

Also requiring regular top-ups are the 190 crew who’ve gobbled their way through 8,304 rashers of bacon, 13,840 sausages, 722 loaves of bread, 884 large tins of baked beans, 84,750 potatoes, 14,834 pints of milk (enough to make 29,988 cups of tea).

All of which may make Sutherland the busiest ship in the Fleet in 2019. She’s certainly the most active on social media, tweeting her activities (some everyday, others not so) 575 times (averaging two a day) with the most successful reaching more than 140,000 Twitter uses.

It’s almost time for the crew to take a breather; there’s one more exercise to go – task force training – before the Fighting Clan returns to her native Plymouth for maintenance in November and December. She’s due to resume her national tasking in the New Year.