Military Movements Review: January

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

The first month of the New Year made us wait till its second week for some military activity but our patience was fittingly rewarded with a number of first visits to Gibraltar.

January is traditionally a slow month militarily speaking with my records showing that some years have seen literally nothing visiting us for all sorts of reasons.

2020 kicked off in a routine manner on the 14th with the first of two visits by the ubiquitous MoD charter Ro-Ro vessel Anvil Point.

An interesting visitor called in on the 19th with the United States Department of Defence chartered vehicles carrier Integrity anchoring off the Eastern Side. She entered the Bay the next day to take on bunkers. Interestingly her previous port of call was Rota. This is significant as military vessels are not allowed to transit to or from Gibraltar from a Spanish port by our NATO allies. It is to be admitted that this vessel is technically a civilian asset but still it is a welcome occurrence.

Our first ‘first’ occurred on the 24th with the brand new Batch 2 River class Offshore Patrol Vessel HMS Medway calling in and berthing at the Tower. The sleek patrol boat with her clean lines gave Gibraltar a fair amount of good coverage on her Twitter feed with some fantastic images being posted by her crew. She is on her way to be forward deployed for a number of years in the Caribbean. She joins HMS Forth as she second such vessel to do so as she is now based at the Falkland Islands. Admittedly this caused a great many local observers to comment that there is one particular region that could do with a forward deployed asset, notwithstanding the ‘innocent’ albeit locally unwelcome militarisation of our sovereign space by our NATO allies and neighbours!

Anvil Point then made her second appearance of the month on the 29th wrapping up a slow but interesting 30 days at sea for HM Naval Base Gibraltar in terms of visits. I must also mention that the Royal Navy Gibraltar Squadron has been busy with crew training as per their social media posts with both HMS Sabre and Scimitar at sea at the same time, providing some badly needed presence and reassurance at a time when Spanish Navy and law enforcement incursions have continued despite the political change in Spain. Local Coast Watchers were kept busy tracking, logging and photographing these annoyances with increasing efficiency.

In the air it was a case of yet more A400s and nothing else. We are fast becoming a hotspot for those who are fans of these machines with at least one visit being a safe bet every month. The 16th saw twin visits by ZM402 and ZM404.

Our second ‘first’ then took place on the 21st with ZM416 calling in at RAF Gibraltar for the first time and completing a hat trick of visits by these transport aircraft with three different airframes visiting in 30 days.

2020 thus began with more of a whimper than a bang admittedly but January was interesting enough to raise hopes slightly. There is plenty of talk on defence sites both academic and official that we are seeing growth in the Royal Navy. Frankly this has yet to materialise in any way here but some things need time. In the air we are now fully resigned to being a transport hub with nothing barring the usual trio visiting for a good number of months, even the helicopters have gone! Still the first RAF P8 Poseidon Maritime Patrol Aircraft will arrive in the UK apparently so it only makes strategic sense to expect one of them to arrive here at some point, neighbours permitting some observe darkly!

On the down side the tired old sight of a Spanish patrol vessel off Europa Point continues. The difference being that they no longer are to blame for the anger displayed by many. They are largely treated with derision and rolled eyes, what angers people is any attempt to stick to legal niceties and label them as ‘innocent passages’ which comes across as grasping at legal specifics and lacking in an analysis of local sentiment and our own knowledge of the whys and wherefores of these incidents.

To end optimistically I look forward to what I hope will be a busy and varied year, 2019 did not match the hype of 2018 when HMS Queen Elizabeth visited but USS Florida rescued the year in injury time so to say so I will keep hopeful and keep a camera ready!

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