Military Movements Review: July

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

To say that July has been a significant one in terms of military movements in Gibraltar would be a gross understatement, thanks in large part to the Grace 1 incident, the eyes of the world have been firmly fixed on our small city in a manner not seen for a good many years.

The month has been a relatively busy one at sea and a most active one in the air with plenty to keep observers busy.

At sea, once again the United States Department of Defense Maritime Security Program made its presence felt and kicked the month off with a visit by the chartered cargo vessel Ocean Grand calling in for bunkers on the 1st followed by another MSP vessel, M/V Mohawk conducting an off limits stores transfer off the Eastern Side on the 6th.

Straddling these two visits was our first of two maiden visitors to the Rock with the brand new RFA oiler Tidesurge conducting a boat transfer in the Bay on the 4th of July, following the Grace 1 incident. This large and impressive vessel made for a stirring sight as she is only the second of her class to visit the first being her sister ship Tidespring a few years ago in support of HMS Queen Elizabeth.

A long-term visitor which provided much reassurance for the whole month arrived on the 11th in the form of the Royal Navy Hydrographic Survey Vessel HMS Echo. After installing a tide measuring buoy off Sandy Bay, this vessel has been seen carrying out her work practically all over BGTW, both along the Eastern Side and in the Bay in conjunction with her smaller survey launch Sapphire.

Another RFA undertook a similar Boat Transfer on the 18th with the Wave-class oiler Wave Knight returning to the Rock for the second time this year on her way into the Mediterranean.

HMS Echo then ended the first part of her survey work and called at the Tower on the 22nd for a few days before continuing on her work which according to Local Notice to Mariners will extend into next month.

Our ‘second first’ then took place on the 26th with the seminal visit by the Batch 2 River-Class Offshore patrol Vessel HMS Forth calling in at the Tower and berthing astern of Echo. This sleek and very modern unit is the first of her class to call here and a rare treat it is as she is due to be deployed to our sister Overseas Territory of the Falkland Islands in the future meaning she will not be seen round these waters for a long time.

The month ended with the MoD charter Ro-Ro Hurst Point calling at South Mole on the 31st for a routine logistics stop.

The picture in the air was similarly active with rotorcraft and the United States Navy adding to the usual transport movements. Once again, like at sea the month started early with Royal Navy Wildcat HM2 ZZ381 calling in on the first.

Uncle Sam made his presence felt in the uniquely American way on the 5th with United States Navy C130T Hercules ‘164993’ making a routine logistics stop ensuring that the ‘stars and bars’ on her fuselage gave enthusiasts something else to see rather than the very familiar RAF roundel. This was a day to remember as yet another C130 Hercules called a short while later in the form of the RAF machine ZH889. Few times since the 1990s have we been treated to two of these venerable aircraft from two difference services calling at the same time. ZH889, an old friend with many sorties to the Rock in her log book returned on the 13th.

The other visits were taken up by the by now very frequent A400s with ZM417 calling in on the 11th and 14th, ZM419 calling in on the 12th, ZM417 on the 14th and ZM407 on the 28th. This steady drum beat of visits can be summarised as being 4 different airframes visiting in a short space of time with a transport movement taking place every day from the 11th to the 14th, the lack of variety being made up for by the level of activity at RAF Gibraltar.

As mentioned at the start of this article, there has been sufficient media attention regarding the detention of the tanker M/V Grace 1 to warrant volumes of writing but as this blog limits itself to reporting movements discernible to the public eye, I will refrain on commenting on this issue as a whole, not least because many elements surrounding it remain sub judice.

Suffice it to say that the month has yet again proven the value of Gibraltar as a forward mounting base and hopefully cements our relevance to United Kingdom defence planning in the years to come. It will be hard to see us as the forgotten corner of the defence realm that we have been for a good few years now. The survey by Echo is a sign that there is investment and interest in our area finally and I do recommend giving their friendly and informative Twitter handle, @HMS_Echo a follow.

As we head into an August that seems to be fraught with tensions in the Persian Gulf I will keep my lens sharp and see what, if anything ends up gracing our shores and skies as summer rolls on.

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