Royal Navy continues global mission over Christmas – ending ‘an extraordinary year’

Hundreds of sailors and Royal Marines will keep Britain safe this Christmas, from the grey wastes of the Atlantic and Falklands to the heat of the Caribbean and Gulf.

Around 3,000 Royal Navy, Royal Fleet Auxiliary, Royal Marines and Fleet Air Arm personnel are either on duty or at short notice to respond to events at home and abroad over the festive period.

Some 500 men and women across half a dozen ships – frigate HMS Montrose, minehunters HMS Chiddingfold, HMS Penzance, HMS Shoreham and HMS Brocklesby, and RFA Cardigan Bay – plus the Royal Navy’s Bahrain headquarters are keeping shipping safe and ensuring the free flow of trade in the Gulf and Indian Ocean.

There are Royal Navy ships looking after the interests of Britain’s Atlantic territories. North of the Equator patrol ship HMS Medway is in the Caribbean, while half a world away her sister HMS Forth is enjoying her first Christmas in the Falkland Islands, where it is mid-summer with temperatures reaching a balmy 15°C.

Forth is hosting a Christmas Eve barbecue on her flight deck, supported by British Forces South Atlantic Islands’ acoustic band.

On December 25, the padre from the base will host a Christmas service on board before officers don their aprons and chef’s whites to cook and serve the junior and senior ratings a hearty Christmas dinner in the finest of Naval traditions. 

The annual Boxing Day horse racing in the capital Stanley always draws a crowd. This year HMS Forth’s crew will join locals and other military personnel at the races.

Those who don’t manage to get to Stanley won’t have to wait long as Forth is paying her second visit over the New Year period to showcase the ship to the locals and ring in the New Year with them.

It’s business as usual in Bahrain, but the welfare committee have organised traditional carols, mince pies and mulled wine, to reindeer racing, a 5k Christmas special park run (involving the senior RN officer in the Middle East, Commodore Dean Bassett), a Christmas movie programme and their very own slot as part of BFBS’ Radio 1 takeover on Christmas Day.

On the jetty, the ‘HMS Chiddingfold Grand National’ sees top hobby horse jockeys take on their CO (who’s odds-on favourite) and RFA Cardigan Bay is turning her hangar into a cinema for a movie and pizza night.

But a thought should be spared for the crews of minehunters HMS Brocklesby and Penzance who’ll be at sea on Christmas Day, keeping Gulf shipping lanes safe and secure – although there will be time to celebrate on board.

In home waters and on the far side of the world, you have been delivering – for the Royal Navy and for the nation.

First Sea Lord Admiral Tony Radakin

Royal Marines are deployed around the world providing force protection for RN vessels in the Gulf, as well as supporting small overseas training teams, while the two-dozen men and women of the Gibraltar Squadron are protecting waters around the Rock.

And for the 52nd consecutive Christmas, one submarine will be performing the nation’s ultimate military mission, a nuclear deterrent patrol, although December 25 is a day like any other for the 130 men and women aboard the Vanguard-class submarine, submerged and cut off from the world.

A Type 23 frigate stands ready to respond to any incident in home waters as the duty Fleet Ready Escort, her 180-strong ship’s company reconciled – like their colleagues in the South Atlantic, Gulf and Far East – to potentially being away from home over the coming days.

They are supported by nearly 100 sailors about the duty Royal Fleet Auxiliary tanker as well as naval personnel and civilians in Devonport and staff.

All these missions, as well as operations in home waters and the UK’s immediate sphere of interest, demand the support of hundreds of Naval personnel in Britain, plus on-call bomb disposal experts, and nurses, doctors and surgeons working in NHS hospitals such as Derriford in Plymouth and Queen Alexandra in Portsmouth.

2020 has seen the Royal Navy:

  • Complete training of HMS Queen Elizabeth ready to deploy her carrier group for the first time next year;
  • Lay the foundations for future amphibious forces and the Future Commando Force through widespread trials, exercises and embracing of new equipment;
  • Push technological boundaries with autonomous minehunters and sea boats;
  • Support the national effort against the coronavirus in hospitals, volunteering in communities and running test centres;
  • Re-assert its commitment to the security of the Arctic and High North;
  • Seize more than £450m illegal drugs in the Caribbean and Middle East;
  • Safeguard millions of tonnes of shipping passing through the Gulf and Indian Ocean;
  • Protect UK interests and home waters by repeatedly shadowing Russian warships.

The nation’s most senior sailor, First Sea Lord Admiral Tony Radakin, said 2020 had been “an extraordinary year” which had placed tremendous demands on the Naval family – and the Naval family had risen to them.

“I have been immensely proud of the way the entire Royal Navy has responded,” he told its men and women in his end-of-year message.

“In home waters and on the far side of the world, you have been delivering – for the Royal Navy and for the nation.

“And particular thanks to those of you deployed or on duty over Christmas.  I recognise that this year that may be even harder than usual, but we are all thinking of you. Stay strong and keep delivering for the nation.

“To all of you, wherever you may be, a very happy Christmas and I look forward to seeing what 2021 brings.”