The Royal Navy’s oldest frigate completes a memorable global deployment

Type 23 frigate, HMS Argyll returned home to a warm welcome today after 9 months in the Gulf and Far East, having sailed 37,329 nautical miles. Selected highlights are covered in this photo and video essay.

HMS Argyll was the first ship in the fleet to receive, and subsequently test-fire, the naval variant of the Common Anti Air Modular Missile (CAMM) known as Sea Ceptor. She is also the first RN vessel to deploy East of Suez with Sea Ceptor, a significant upgrade in capability and a system several navies may be interested in purchasing. The 29-year-old ship underwent Life-Extension refit between 2015-17 and is due to be replaced by the first Type 31e frigate in around four years’ time.

Until late September when Argyll sailed for the Pacific, we can assume she was mainly occupied with maritime security operations. For OPSEC reasons, the RN tends to provide limited media and coverage of taskings in the Eastern Mediterranean and the Red Sea. The ship’s company raised money in aid of the RNRMC using on-board rowing machines to complete the ‘row the Suez Canal’ challenge as she passed through the waterway in early August. The Red Sea remains tense as the conflict in Yemen continues and there is a particular threat to shipping in the Bab-el-Mandeb Straits.

Leaving Plymouth, 18th June 2018.

Officers fallen in for Procedure Alpha as she departs from Devonport.

Approaching Gibraltar for the first port of call on 22 June. (Photo: ©columbia107)

Argyll provided a ceremonial guard for a wreath-laying ceremony at the waterfront war memorial during a diplomatic visit to Alexandria, Egypt, July 22.

The Saudi Commander of CTF150, the counter-terrorism and maritime security task force for the Indian Ocean, visit the ship to discuss future tasking to interdict drug smuggling. 19 Aug.

The embarked Royal Marine detachment – September 2018.

Conducting boarding operations in the Indian Ocean – 6th September.

Sailors of the Pakistani Navy welcome the ship as she arrives in Karachi, 15th September.

Exercising with the Pakistani Navy – seen here with Type 21 frigate PNS Tariq (ex HMS Ambuscade).

HMS Albion completed her time in the Pacific and as she headed north for Exercise Saif Sareea, she conducted a ceremonial PASSEX with HMS Argyll in the Indian Ocean on 25th September.

HMS Sutherland completed a lengthy Pacific deployment in the first half of 2018 and Argyll’s trip followed a similar pattern. (At the time of writing, HMS Montrose is exercising off Japan with the US and Japanese Navy.) The RN is ‘showing the flag’ and working to enhance military and diplomatic ties with partners in Asia. In particular, there is increasing co-operation between the UK and Japan following the Prime Minister’s visit to Tokyo in 2017. An increased RN presence is also a chance to strengthen ties with Commonwealth nations; Malaysia, Singapore, Australia and New Zealand which co-operate with Britain under the Five Powers Defence Arrangement (FPDA). As the UK struggles with its future relationship with Europe, the RN can play a small part in enhancing connections with trading partners in other parts of the world.

Naval deployments in the Eastern Pacific are also designed for what is diplomatically called “promoting international security and stability while maintaining open access to the oceans”. Britain is showing a willingness to be a vigorous partner in confronting the Chinese flouting international law, especially in the South China Sea. The wisdom and strategic benefits to Britain of this stance divides opinion, even amongst fellow Cabinet Ministers. From a sailor’s perspective increasing opportunities to visit the Pacific region offer a range of exciting new runs ashore, operational variation and challenges beyond regular trips to the Gulf.

HMS-Argyll-JMSDF-Exercise-Pacific-2

HMS Argyll exercises with Japanese Ships Inazuma and Kaga off Sumatra Island, 26th September. In December 2018 Japan announced the JS Izumo and Kaga are set to be modified to operate up to a dozen F-35Bs. It will be interesting to see if they are fitted with ‘ski-jumps’ following RN practice.

Armed with Sting Ray torpedo, 208 Flight Wildcat HMA2, call sign ‘Highlander’ launches to hunt a US Navy submarine while on exercise with the Japanese Navy. This was the first time these three navies have combined like this to test their specialist anti-submarine warfare skills.

Arrival in Singapore prior to Exercise Bersama Lima 18 – a joint naval exercise between the UK, Malaysia, Singapore, Australia and New Zealand conducted every few years, 29 September.

PHOTEX during Exercise Bersama Lima, 2-19 October 2018.

HMS Argyll conducted a five-hour gunnery serial co-ordinated with Australian Ship HMAS Stuart involving single and multiple day time firings. After a short break waiting for night to fall, firing then continued into the evening with night time star shell illumination firings.

HMS Argyll Remembrance

10th October – a ceremony held on the flight deck to remember the 840 sailors lost on the battleships HMS Prince of Wales and HM Repulse during the Battle of Malaya, 10th December 1941. A lesson from history about the dangers of becoming over-extended while under-equipped.

November – mid-deployment stand-down period in Singapore at the British Defence Singapore Support Unit (BDSSU) in Sembawang Dockyard. Since the RN introduced 9-month deployments, this planned break allows for routine maintenance on the ship by local contractors while the every sailor is guaranteed two weeks leave and may opt to fly home to visit family.

On 11th November 2018, sailors from HMS Argyll took part in Armistice Day remembrance services at the Cenotaph in Downtown Singapore.

Christmas on board.

Alongside in Yokosuka, Japan for Christmas and New Year (photo: @AlsaceClass)

Exercising with USS McCampbell in the South China Sea, 15th January 2019. (Photo: US Navy)

Traditional welcome for sailors on stepping ashore at Sepanggar Navy Base, Sabah, Malaysia, 17 January.

A rare RN visitor to Diego Garcia in the British Indian Ocean Territories. 19 February.

HMS Argyll Malta

HMS Argyll alongside in Valetta, Malta, 3 March.

The final port of call before returning home – Arrival in Gibraltar, 9 March – HMS Ambush in the background. (Photo: Columbia107)

The lifeboat containing the 27 crew of the MV Grande America are towed to HMS Argyll in the early hours of Monday 11th March.

HMS Argyll and Argonaute

HMS Argyll transfers the rescued crew to the French rescue vessel Argonaute off Brest (Photo: Michel Floch)

With the crew having been rescued by the Royal Navy, in worsening weather and the flames out of control, the abandoned MV Grande America sank 180nm west of the French coast in the late afternoon of Tuesday 12th March. (Photo: Marine Nationale)

Wildcat and aircrew of 208 flight return home to RNAS Yeovilton after the deployment which involved flying 200 hours of operational sorties across the globe.

In Plymouth Sound on her way into Devonport

Band plays on the dockside as Argyll arrives home to a great welcome from friends and family, 15th March.

On the final leg of her journey home from Gibraltar to Plymouth, HMS Argyll hit the headlines by saving 27 merchant seamen from MV Grande America on fire in the Bay of Biscay. This rescue in dangerous conditions rounded off another highly successful deployment. Argyll has been rated as the best Seamanship and Above Water Warfare Ship in the Fleet Effectiveness Awards for 2018.

A warship like HMS Argyll that sails on operations represents a long logistic support line of naval personnel ashore, training establishments, naval bases, manufacturers, contractors, and Civil Servants. Ensuring this logistic tail is in good health is fundamental to frontline naval strength. HMS Argyll will now spend several weeks in Fleet Time in Devonport being maintained before regenerating, probably with a much-changed crew, as many of her current ship’s company move on to other jobs.

(Main image: @RFANostalgia – HMS Argyll passes Plymouth Breakwater as she returns home)