Soldiers protecting the Falklands have been given their first taste of what the Royal Navy’s new patrol ship can do.
More than 40 Grenadier Guards joined HMS Forth for their first exercise – demonstrating the improvements she brings to the islands’ defences over her predecessor.
HMS Clyde retired at the end of last year after a dozen years of patrolling Britain’s South Atlantic territories.
Her successor Forth – the first of five second-generation River-class ships which will be permanently stationed around the globe as part of the Navy’s new ‘forward presence’ initiative – represents not just technological improvements made since Clyde was built, but also changes in the way the Navy operates.
All five new patrol ships have a dedicated mess for up to 51 troops – bunks, galley, toilets and showers, plus space for their kit – something HMS Clyde never had, and can accommodate another 50 soldiers or Royal Marines on camp beds.
The Grenadier Guards made full use of those facilities when they filed aboard for Cape Bayonet – one of the regular exercises testing the ability of Falklands-based forces to work together to protect the islands or carry out coordinated relief and rescue missions.
As part of the air, land and sea forces assigned to defend the UK’s South Atlantic territories, the Army rotates an infantry company through the Falklands every few months.
For many of the young Guardsman on board, this was their first time on a working warship and represented a steep learning curve early in their military careers.
“These were some of our most junior Guardsman – for many this is the first time they have ever been so far from home or on a naval ship,” explained Lieutenant Mark Osmond.
“The exercise provided invaluable experience and training for the soldiers.”
After spending the night aboard, Nijmegen Company were ferried ashore the next by Forth’s boats to continue the exercise ashore, while the ship resumed her patrolling the nearly 800 islands in the territory and reassuring inhabitants of Britain’s ongoing commitment to their protection and liberty.
New is one of the most westerly islands, home to an abandoned whaling station from the beginning of the 20th Century, a nature reserve for albatrosses and Gentoo and Rockhopper penguins and a small community of Falklanders.
“It really was an eye-opener into how remote certain areas of the Falkland Islands can be and gives us a perspective of how big an impact we could have to areas that may be cut off for prolonged periods of time,” said logistics expert Able Seaman Siobhan Deakin, part of the landing party which visited New Island.
When the ship returned to her base at East Cove – about 25 miles southwest of the Falklands’ capital Stanley – she immersed herself in the islands’ recent history, hosting six Royal Marines who fought against overwhelming odds in 1982.
Naval Party 8901 was a small detachment of commandos assigned to defend the Falklands. After a short but determined fight, they were forced to surrender when Argentine forces invaded in April 1982.
The veterans shared their experiences with the ship’s company and outlined what Forth’s men and women could expect while carrying out their patrols.
“It was fascinating to hear the stories that we have all been reading about from the people who actually lived it and took part in the conflict,” said trainee officer Sub Lieutenant Jacob Mikurenda.
“It was extra special for me being able to get the book signed for my brother by the veterans who had taken part, which will be a motivator for him whilst going through commando training.”
Forth also hosted their senior officer, Commander Simon Pressdee, in charge of the Fishery Protection Squadron, who saw how the ship – named this year’s best patrol vessel in the Royal Navy – was settling in.
“It was fantastic to show him just how far we have come as a ship’s company – just 12 months ago we were in dry dock in Portsmouth,” said Lieutenant Commander Samuel Fields, Forth’s second-in-command.
“Operating around the Falklands is a unique experience, full of history and natural wonders that are we are all respectfully enjoying.”
The ship is undergoing a short period of maintenance before she resumes patrols – including a maiden visit to mountainous South Georgia, another of the UK’s South Atlantic territories.