Military Movements Review - April

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

April 2021 will go down in local history as the month in which our relevance to British defence affairs took a quantum leap. It was a case of quality beating quantity as the only Royal Navy visit of a very quiet month served to change things for the better here in the long term. By contrast RAF Gibraltar was once again a very busy place during the past 30 days.

On the 4th of April a great number of enthusiasts and photographers once again lined our shores to wait expectantly for the arrival of the Batch 2 River class Offshore Patrol  Vessel HMS Trent. This was to be her first visit permanently deployed to the Mediterranean operating from Gibraltar. Securing at 41 berth (the Tower) after a sovereignty patrol, there was a palpable air of welcome change as for once the bright predictions of countless Strategic Defence Reviews had provided growth and not cuts for our naval base. 

A further spectacle was to be enjoyed on the 7th when HMS Trent carried out an exercise in the Bay upon departure with locally based civilian and MoD law enforcement craft as well as the units of the Gibraltar Squadron. Seeing the right shade of grey in BGTW was a strong tonic after having to put up with the unnecessary and regrettable actions of other fleets. 

Our friends the ‘Point’ class chartered Ro-Ro vessels also made an appearance in April with Hurst Point calling on the 9th and her sister ship Anvil Point similarly visiting on the 21st. 

Wrapping up a quite month at sea we had the United States Department of Defense vehicles carrier Alliance St Louis calling in for bunkers off South Mole on the last day of the month.

In the air it was once again a festival of A400 arrivals with one solitary C130 Hercules. In the case of RAF Gibraltar it was the inverse to the naval base, what the month lacked in variety it made up for in terms of quantity as shall be seen.

Our first A400 called in on the first day of the month with ZM404 kicking off proceedings. This was followed by ZM403 on the 8th. The 16th saw our venerable friend the C130 Hercules once again gracing the tarmac at South Dispersal in the form of ZH874 which joined ZM407 on the Rock giving aviation enthusiasts a chance to see two types of transport aircraft, one replacing the other in service! From here on in it was an exclusively A400 affair with ZM406 giving us a grand total of 5 consecutive visits! The first was on the 18th, followed by a repeat arrival the next day. Back to back visits were also to be had on the 22nd and 23rd when she delivered yet more life saving COVID-19 vaccines. Good old ‘406 made one final visit on the 29th to close a very busy period once again for our friends at RAF Gibraltar. Considering that the Royal Air Force has a tendency to name some of its aircraft after British cities, I submit via this article that ZM406 be named ‘City of Gibraltar’ not only for the sheer number of visits she gives us but also in honour of a city that has hosted RAF transport operations for over half a century and in gratitude for the delivery of so many COVID-19 vaccines. Such a move would have strong local support and protests by other nations would fall on gleefully deaf ears on the Rock!

In summary, April was once again concerningly light in terms of Royal Navy visits, which have all but dried up recently. However, the fact that HMS Trent will be based from (not ‘at’) Gibraltar means that for the foreseeable future we will have the security of relying on ‘our’ warship to provide relatively frequent visits and show some very much needed presence in the area. The fact that we now have a Royal Navy vessel operating from Gibraltar for the first time in many a decade means that we will cease to be the quiet, politically sensitive backwater we once were. Trent as I have often said is not here ‘to deal with incursions’ that would still be the remit of the excellent Royal Navy Gibraltar Squadron. Speaking of whom, we were pleased to finally hear the names of their new purpose built patrol vessels, Cutlass and Dagger. I am intrigued by these units as the CGI images surely do not do them justice. I look forward to seeing them on the water and at speed in the hopefully not too distant future.

With news of the deployment of HMS Queen Elizabeth May gives us a cautious cause for optimism without getting carried away. The only way is up now!