Military Movements Review: November

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

Practically every military enthusiast in Gibraltar has a long-held desire for a return to the ‘good old days’ of the 1980s and 1990s, a time remembered with fond nostalgia as one where Gibraltar as a military base seemed to matter and buzzed with activity. Whether temporary or not, November surely brought about a return to that level of military movement in our city.

A jam-packed month in the air, on land and at sea, November practically had it all; first visits, American arrivals and a veritable air show of aircraft.

In terms of RAF Gibraltar, the now constant sight of RAF transport arrivals continued apace, A400s dominated the list with 10 visits in total by ZM401, ZM404 and ZM406. ZM404 calling on the 2nd, 9th and 15th with ZM401 making two stops on the 12th and 26th. ZM406 was our most frequent visitor arriving on the 4th, 16th, 17th 24th and 29th.

These were joined by C17 ZZ172 on the 2nd and twin visits by our venerable friend C130 ZH871 on the 15th and 18th of the month.

A familiar sight also called in on the 11th in the form of the radar calibrator Beech 200 G-FPLD which was seen buzzing around the Rock over the next few days.

Added to the very high level of RAF activity, the United States Navy made a very much welcome return to the skies around Gibraltar in November. Two C26D Metroliners called in, ‘900528’ on the 22nd and ‘910502’ on the 27th. These white twin turboprops can very easily be mistaken for another private aircraft, Uncle Sam left the best for last however with KC130-T Hercules ‘164958’ giving us a night time visit on the last day of the month.

The situation at sea was equally as interesting with ‘our’ Batch 2 River class Offshore Patrol Vessel HMS Trent calling in on the 7th. As she is forward based in the Mediterranean it is likely that we will see a lot more of her. The Type 23 frigate HMS Kent arrived on the 13th on the same day as the United States Department of Defense chartered vehicles carrier Liberty Passion which berthed at North Mole.

The rare sight of two Royal Navy surface ships in at the same time was to be enjoyed on the 16th with HMS Dragon joining Kent on the Rock. That same day HMS Kent departed and engaged in a surface warfare exercise with units of the Royal Navy Gibraltar Squadron in BGTW off Europa Point.

Perhaps the most interesting visitor of 2020 was to be seen on the 25th with the maiden visit of the impressively large United States Naval Ship Medgar Evers. This very capable support platform is usually seen (annoyingly) bypassing Gibraltar and calling in at Rota. This time however, it was our turn and she gave us a very rare day visit. It was been far too long since the ‘haze grey’ of the United States Navy was seen here!

The usual MoD charter RO-RO arrival took place on the 27th in the form of the ubiquitous Eddystone giving us one of her highly frequent and most welcome visits.

The next day, those lucky enough to be up early and with a camera in hand were treated to the sight of a United States Navy Seawolf class nuclear powered attack submarine conducting a boat transfer in the Bay of Gibraltar, the culmination of a month of increased US Navy activity here, once again, something which most annoyingly hasn’t been seen for far too long considering the ‘special relationship’!

The final two days of November were dominated by the always impressive HMS Albion. She ghosted in during a torrential downpour to conduct index berthing trials on the 29th and returned the next day to operate all morning between Europa Point and the limit of BGTW in the northern side of the Bay. The sight of this big, capable platform showing the flag around the Rock was the perfect way to end one of the most exciting months in recent times at sea.

Lastly on land 43 Commando, Royal Marines conducted exercises around Gibraltar during November with a number of interesting and highly publicised photos displayed on their social media accounts. The sight of fully kitted out Marines outside a pizza restaurant or Casemates late one night might raise eyebrows elsewhere but here in Gibraltar it is seen as a welcome and reassuring sight, business as usual for a city that boasts an RAF base and a Naval Base. Long may that continue!

If December proves half as good as November, what started off as a painfully average year might just go out with a bang! We shall see and I will do my best to guide you through it all as always.