Military Movements Review: August

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

With the heat of midsummer came a steady rise in the amount of military visits to the Rock. In the air some old friends returned and at sea some new faces were seen including one long-expected visit which might, just, be a game changer for our future as a naval base.

Proceedings in the air began on the 3rd with the ‘A400 air show’ continuing where it left off last month. ZM417 was our first such machine arriving on that day. She returned on the 5th and  treated the city to a thrilling visual circuit (flypast to most of us!) of the rock, something not seen here for some months if not years. Our second visual circuit occurred the very next day with ZM413 doing the same and thrilling all and sundry who saw it. I was standing relatively close when she came roaring in and can personally vouch that it is a stirring sight and sound not to be missed!

The 13th and 14th of the month saw twin visits by ZM413 and ZM403 respectively with ZM411 calling in on the 17th and 18th. 

The highlight of the air picture was to be seen on the 20th however when a United States Navy MH60R Seahawk ‘168117’ of HSM-70 serving aboard the Arleigh Burke class destroyer USS Winston S Churchill treated us to two flypasts. These once-familiar helicopters hardly call here anymore as the United States Navy seems to have completely vanished from the Rock in most ways sadly but many agreed that it was good of them to close on the City and remind us that we have not been entirely forsaken by our closest ally. Many thanks to John Sanchez for getting a better image of her than I did and allowing me to run it with this article!

Closing the month was our venerable old pal RAF C130 Hercules ZH889 once again gracing the South Dispersal before A400 ZM406 closed the August account on the 22nd.

In contrast to the many familiar faces in the air, at sea we were treated to a few new faces. Our old friends the United States Department of Defence Maritime Security Program tankers Overseas Mykonos and Overseas Santorini called on the 3rd and 5th respectively with the MoD charter Ro-Ro Anvil Point arriving on the 4th.

On the 9th we were finally treated to the first visit of the Royal Navy Batch 2 River-Class Offshore Patrol Vessel HMS Trent. She is being forward based in the Mediterranean and was the subject of the now infamously pulled MoD press release saying that she will be based from Gibraltar. Be this as it may, her presence in the Med and our capability as a base means that we have risen a notch in importance, news that can only be viewed as most welcome locally. Many observers were thrilled to see Trent arrive and the city was quick to christen her ‘our’ warship! She was a familiar sight during the second half of the month, calling in on the 13th and 25th, securing alongside the Tower as a beacon of reassurance which Gibraltar has long needed, especially at sea.

Another new but somewhat larger face arrived on the 27th in the form of the Royal Fleet Auxiliary replenishment tanker RFA Tiderace giving us a maiden visit. It has been quite some time since our firm friends the RFA have visited and her massive size and graceful lines more than made up for the hiatus. 

Finally the very last day of the month was one of those rare occasions when a twin arrival takes place. We welcomed back two minehunters making their way back to the United Kingdom from a Gulf deployment. The Sandown class vessel HMS Blyth joined by the veteran Hunt class ship HMS Ledbury. These very hard working little ships have been providing sterling service in a very challenging environment for maritime security and I bid their crews a most hearty welcome and a big Bravo-Zulu (naval speak for ‘well done!’) from the pages of this article.

As I mentioned earlier, the highlight of the month was most certainly the MH60 flypast but perhaps speaking more locally it is to be reasonably expected that, being forward based in the Mediterranean HMS Trent will be no stranger to Gibraltar. 

Being based ‘from’ as opposed to ‘at’ Gibraltar may seem a linguistic semantic but it makes all the difference. An increased Royal Navy presence is what many here have been crying out for and this may just be it. That does not mean that we can reasonably expect such a large vessel to be lying in wait to deal with any incurring warship at the speed of smaller more agile craft. For that we have the extremely capable and professional Royal Navy Gibraltar Squadron who carry out their various taskings with consummate skill and ability. In that respect ‘the fortress is secure!’

As the weather cools for autumn, it is hoped that the tempo does not cool too but come what may, I will be here as always to talk you through it!