YGTV’s article series continues - each month, David Sanchez will review military visits to the Rock. Drawing on his in-depth knowledge and photographic skills, the articles will provide readers with valuable background facts to the aircraft and vessels that pop into the Rock.
By David Michael Sanchez
Compared to recent years this March has been jam packed from beginning to end both at sea and in the air. This has been a shot in the arm to the local defence scene and has been long overdue in my opinion. I will temper this with a note of caution however; the operational tempo and commitments of the Armed Forces mean that although the peaks are high, the troughs can be equally as low.
Be this as it may, the month at sea began with our first RFA visit for some time. The now comparatively rare sight of one of their vessels visiting us kicked off proceedings with the fleet tanker RFA Wave Knight calling in on the 1st. Sadly these visits are not as frequent as previous decades when their forerunners the Leaf class tankers were a virtual permanent presence.
‘Gib’s own’ submarine HMS Ambush also gave us yet another very welcome visit on the 7th of the month leading many to start to believe that the infamous ‘black boat blackout’ of a few years ago shows signs of ending. She was followed up by the Type 23 frigate HMS Argyll entering port for a rapid refuel stop whilst heading homebound from the Far East. The oldest frigate in the fleet treated onlookers to a sovereignty patrol on her way in too. A friend of the Rock’s for over two decades now this was much appreciated locally.
Once again, although easy to mistake for some of the many interchangeable merchant vessels that call in for bunkers in the bay, the United States Department of Defence civilian charter vessels made a return to our waters. This was in the form of a hat-trick of visits by the vehicles carriers Green Cove on the 10th and Patriot on the 16th straddled by the Maritime Security Program tanker Overseas Mykonos once again calling for bunkers on the 12th.
The highlight of the month at sea occurred on the 14th when HMS Duncan arrived on her way to the Eastern Mediterranean. Transiting both the eastern side and the Bay itself she was accompanied by her embarked Wildcat helicopter ZZ414 giving us a visual circuit. The destroyer famous for attracting the ire of locals by opening to the public in Malaga last year despite the tensions and despite the fact that Gibraltar is still the only British naval base not to have a ship opened to the public for a number of years now, sent hearts soaring on her departure when she plotted the same course along the eastern side taken by incurring Spanish warships. I myself had the opportunity to watch England’s victory in the World Cup Quarter Finals last year with many of her crew at Ocean Village and suffice to say that with our views firmly put across (backed up by a letter signed by many enthusiasts) this situation has been remedied and Duncan is now a favourite on the Rock.
The month wound up with the MoD charter vessel SD Victoria calling in for a refuel stop on her way home on the 26th and the charter RoRo Eddystone arriving on the 31st.
Looking skywards, we have had a totally unprecedented month of visits by A400s, C17s and C130s. Although nothing out of the ordinary barring the Wildcat flypast, there was scarcely a day without the sound of large transports at RAF Gibraltar.
We had four A400 visits starting with ZM410 on the 3rd, ZM415 on the 9th, ZM407 on the 16th and ZM412 a day later. We were also treated to a first in my experience on the 7th when ZM410 gave the city a visual circuit before continuing on her flight to the Eastern Mediterranean. Our sole C130 Hercules visit took place on the 24th with our old friend ZH888 arriving.
The awesome C17 stole the show as always however, we were lucky to have five visits starting with ZZ175 on the 6th, ZZ173 a day later and parking unusually on the civilian apron coinciding with ZM410s flypast. ZZ175 returned on the 9th and was followed by ZZ173 on the 23rd which included yet another visual circuit. As previously mentioned ZH888 was on the Rock when she was joined by ZZ177 on the 24th. Lastly ZZ177 returned on the 29th of the month on the same day as ZZ176. I am confident that apart from their home base at RAF Brize Norton, there can’t have been another RAF airfield that handled so many transport movements in such a short time as we did this month.
Credit must be given to our excellent friends at RAF Gibraltar for a job well done on a busy month. Similarly Royal Navy Gibraltar is also to be commended for the magnificent handling of a wide variety of naval assets in a short space of time.
A final mention in this longer than usual article must be given to the Irish Guards who were on the Rock. They performed admirably with our own excellent Royal Gibraltar Regiment and their Band and Corps of Drums in the recent ‘Unconquered’ concert in St Michael’s Cave. I speak for many who were on the shuttle bus with me after Saturday’s event who said that this was by far the best military concert we have seen in many years. Well done to both Regiments, this was much missed.
As we head further into spring we hope for the continuance of this tempo of activity. With commitments like Exercise Joint Warrior taking the lead in Scottish waters I hold my breath but as always if anything does appear I will keep you all updated my friends!
David Sanchez is a local military enthusiast and photographer with a degree in International Relations and Strategic Studies.