RFA Cardigan Bay’s winter in the Gulf

The 2020s have begun just as the 10s ended for the UK’s Gulf ‘workhorse’: heavily in demand from all the Royal Navy’s assets in the Middle East.

RFA Cardigan Bay serves as the command ship for all four of the Royal Navy’s minehunters operating in the region: HMS Blyth, Shoreham, Ledbury and Brocklesby.

A dedicated staff embarked on the auxiliary – originally built to support the Royal Marines’ amphibious operations – direct the day-to-day operations of the quartet, but the ship also provides supplies (food, fuel, fresh water, ammunition, spare parts) when minehunters come alongside and ‘raft up’, berthing as they would at a quay or jetty.

All four RN minehunters made use of their mid-sea ‘one-stop-shop’ during the first concerted exercise of 2020 as allied forces in the region practised their ability to work seamlessly together.

Its sensors alone can track scores of contacts simultaneously, while from a few hundred feet up – visibility allowing – its three-strong crew enjoy an unparalleled view of goings-on

That included working with some regular visitors, notably US Navy MH53-E Sea Dragons – the largest helicopter in the US military (99ft long, twice as heavy as a Merlin, able to carry 30 troops or haul minesweeping gear through the ocean) – served as airborne transporters, ferrying personnel and vital stores around the task group ships.

And providing cover against air and surface/underwater attack were, respectively, destroyer HMS Defender – coming to the end her stint in the Middle East theatre – and frigate HMS Montrose, stationed long-term in Bahrain to support RN operations in the region (principally the safe passage of UK shipping through the Strait of Hormuz since July).

Just for good measure, Montrose’s Wildcat helicopter has been used to provide the airborne eyes for the force.

Its sensors alone can track scores of contacts simultaneously, while from a few hundred feet up – visibility allowing – its three-strong crew enjoy an unparalleled view of goings-on across hundreds of square miles of ocean.

At the end of the exercise, Cardigan Bay was joined by the Royal Navy’s senior officer East of Suez, UK Maritime Component Commander Dean Bassett who commended the mixed RFA-Royal Navy crew for their recent endeavours.