Military Movements Review - March

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 Sanchez

Although March once again proved a barren period for visits at sea, this was more than made up for by the sights on land and in the air making it a memorable month whereby we were treated to old friends and some very traditional sights.

Our only visitor at sea called in on the 2nd with the return of the United States Navy Ready Reserve Fleet crane ship Gopher State T-ACS-4 which anchored off Detached Mole to take bunkers whilst on her way back to the United States. For those like me who miss the ‘haze grey’ of the United States Navy it was a welcome reminder of better times for foreign naval visits to the Rock.

In contrast to the naval scene, RAF Gibraltar was once again literally buzzing with activity as the 3 different  types of Royal Air Force transport aircraft made a constant presence on the Rock on practically every day of March.

Starting on the first day of the month we had the first of three visits by the BAe 146s which have become a regular feature this year with ZE707 arriving and repeating the visit on the 3rd and ZE708 on the 16th. These aircraft were operating in support of Exercise Daring Rock which saw the Household Cavalry visit Gibraltar for a series of exercises around the town area and in the network of tunnels in the Upper Rock. Indeed, the sight of platoons of fully equipped troops all over Gibraltar was a regular feature of the month and really did remind me of days long gone by! The culmination of this was the mounting of the Convent Guard by this unit in their distinctive blue and red ceremonial uniforms. Reminiscent of the iconic Trooping the Colour parade in London, the Household Cavalry really did draw the crowds with many passers by stopping to take photographs. 

Our familiar friends the A400s were also a practically permanent feature at the South Dispersal of RAF Gibraltar, ZM406 arriving on the 4th with ZM413 making a ‘vaccine run’ (amongst other things) on the 11th. ZM403 followed the very next day, returning on the 15th. Yet another airframe, ZM404 called in on the 19th with ZM415 on the 23rd. The A400s left the best for last however with a relatively rare sight on the 27th, two arrived within hours of each other; ZM404 and ZM417 with both the South Dispersal and North Military Apron both hosting an A400 at the same time. One could be forgiven for confusing Gibraltar with RAF Brize Norton on that day!

Lastly our old faithful C130 graced our skies once more on the 14th  in the form of ZH867 to wrap up a most busy time for our good friends at RAF Gibraltar.

Perhaps the most exciting news for Gibraltar came in the form of the Integrated Review which for the first time in my living memory did not seem to announce savage defence cuts for Gibraltar but quite the opposite. The news that many military enthusiasts were waiting for was finally made official, HMS Trent a batch 2 River class Offshore Patrol Vessel will be based from Gibraltar on a long-term basis. She will be engaged in supporting Royal Navy and NATO operations in the Mediterranean and West African coasts. Whilst fully cognisant that this does not mean she is here ‘to deal with incursions’ as has often been claimed elsewhere, there is no doubt that the strategic relevance of Gibraltar as a Naval Base has taken a whole new and potentially exciting turn.

The fact that she is the first vessel to be based from here for any length of time since practically World War Two (bearing in mind that the Cold War Gibraltar Guard Ships operated on a less permanent basis and rotated ships frequently) is a very welcome development. Sadly, the same review announced the retirement of a few legacy platforms such as the BAe146 and the most legendary C130 Hercules after a hugely distinguished career. What that potentially means is that if the current lack of fast jets and rotorcraft at RAF Gibraltar continues, visits may become even more ‘samey’ as only the C17 and A400 will be retained as the backbone of the RAF’s transport fleet. 

As we take our first cautious steps into a new world with hopefully less restrictions and even less COVID cases it is hoped that the military visits continue apace, giving us plenty to see and photograph!