Military Movements Review: June

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

As hoped for in my last instalment, the pace of military movements rose with the thermometer this June. Despite once again nothing out of the ordinary visiting us, we did have a few occurrences which served to raise small, tentative hopes for the future of our military base, most notably at sea.

It was a month that took its time to get going and it wasn’t until the 9th that our first visitor turned up. Once again the United States Department of Defense Maritime Security Program vessels graced our anchorage with M/V Ocean Giant calling in for bunkers that day. The 12th saw their rough equivalents in the MoD conduct a boat transfer off Europa Point as M/V Anvil Point closed on the Rock.

Mid month saw the return of our old friend the Trafalgar-class submarine HMS Talent once again. By now the last 18 months have broken all records for submarine visits, something which has definitely proved to be a shot in the arm to the local military enthusiast. 

The next day we were treated to the first example of what will undoubtedly be a most common sight around our waters if the Local Notice to Mariners are to be read; the hydrographic survey ship HMS Echo transited the East Side and then sailed into the Bay providing me with a rare opportunity to photograph both her and Talent in the same frame. Two days later she placed a buoy off the Eastern Side as per her tweet which includes some fantastic images of the Rock taken from aboard her. On the 18th she called in to the Naval Base and launched her survey boat Sapphire which conducted work along the inner harbour and was a common sight plotting her course up and down for most of the day. It is well worth the while for the naval enthusiast to give Echo’s fantastic Twitter profile a follow on @HMS _Echo for updates on this most capable and friendly vessel’s work.

The US DoD MSP made a return on the 23rd in the form of our friend the tanker Overseas Mykonos which called for bunkers as is her habit these days.

Lastly Echo departed on the 28th for more surveys and has been treating beach goers from Eastern Beach to Sandy Bay with views of the right shade of grey along our shores, a sight for incursion-weary eyes indeed!

Things in the air took half the month to get off the ground but more than made up for it. We began with a visit by A400 ZM413 on the 14th. Uncle Sam then sent us yet another most welcome old friend on the 21st in the form of Gates C21 Learjet ’84-0085’ once more which treated onlookers to two thrilling visual circuits of the Rock before coming in to land.

Our C17 bonanza then opened up on the 22nd with ZZ171 making numerous approaches to the Rock on a very misty easterly day before giving up the attempt to land and returning to RAF Brize Norton. Still, the sight and sound of the massive jet ghosting through the haze kept many looking up in wonder and amazement.

Not ones to give up so easily, ZZ171 returned the next day as did her sister airframe ZZ173, this time both aircraft landing with no problems from the weather at all. Still more was to come with ZZ177 arriving on the 29th and finally ZZ171 once again on the last day of the month along with A400 ZM414 closing our rather healthy transport movements account for June. Suffice to say that we have had more C17s during the past 30 days than we often have in 6 months and this is something that was gratefully observed by many aviation enthusiasts locally. Still starved of the thrills brought by fast jets, whether for operational reasons or the strongly suspected political caution, the next best thing is the roar of a C17 and for that many here are grateful.

There have been plenty of US Naval movements around us in June with the amphibious assault ship USS Kearsarge transiting the strait westbound to Rota as the month due to a close. Similarly the fast transport ship USNS Trenton has been at nearby Malaga for some time, a port lacking in any military facilities or force protection, features so ably offered by HM Naval Base Gibraltar, who had more than enough space available for her. Considering Spain’s refuelling of the Russian corvette Vasiliy Bykov in Ceuta during the last weeks of June, many were left chagrined and wondered ‘why not bring Trenton here?’ still I venture to suggest that realpolitik trumps our indignation if you excuse the pun and the United States Navy still seems to avoid our shores in any numbers unless it be for the odd submarine that requires our Z-berth. There was a time when our city felt that we meant more than a berth of convenience to our closest allies but we can keep our consciences clean that as yet, we have not refuelled any Russian warships!

The holiday summer holiday season is now upon us and it is my hope that visits will not take a break from our shores, the weather may be warm but rest assured my lens will not take a vacation!

David Sanchez is a local military enthusiast and photographer with a degree in International Relations and Strategic Studies.