The British Royal Navy Type 23 frigate HMS Sutherland (F81) arrived in Adelaide on the second leg of her tour of Australia and will be spending the weekend in the city.
The frigate, based at HMNB Devonport, made a 12,000-mile dash from home, stopping briefly in Gibraltar, Crete and the Indian Ocean British territory of Diego Garcia, to reach Fremantle on the west coast of Australia – smashing the ship’s previous ‘miles sailed in a month’ record.
The crew used the long journey out to train intensively, with the ship’s Wildcat helicopter even firing her flares – decoys for heat-seeking missiles – as part of tests of its defensive aids suite. Equally prepared for the worst are the frigate’s emergency party who were put through their paces with a ‘crash on deck’ exercise should the Wildcat suffer an accident.
“It is vital that the Ship’s Company can react instinctively to any helicopter emergency,” said CPO(UWW) Peter ‘Bernie’ Manning, in charge of damage control training aboard the Fighting Clan. “The temperature on the upper deck was around 30˚C which added another element of challenge for the fire-fighting teams.”
And nine Royal Marines of Juliet Company, 42 Commando, have learned every inch of the frigate by day and night by ‘dry drilling’. The green berets from Bickleigh, near Plymouth, are aboard to provide force protection and to conduct board and search operations should Sutherland encounter suspicious vessels.
Every day on board the commandos conduct some form of training from ‘dry drills’ with no ammunition to live firing packages and operating in the dead of night so they can respond at a moment’s notice.
Despite the rapid journey to Australia, there has been some downtime for the crew such as the ‘row the Suez’ challenge where sailors and marines take it in turns to row two kilometres and beat the ship through the canal… which the rowers did in 10h 34m 26s; junior engineer ET(WE) Ben Northcott posted the fastest individual time: a mere 6m 39s.
Another mainstay of seafaring is the fun ‘crossing the line’ ceremony when a ship passes the Equator. Seven out of ten sailors and marines aboard Sutherland – 144 souls in all, including the Commanding Officer Commander Andy Canale – were ‘baptised’, before jumping into the Indian Ocean for ‘hands to bathe’ with the small matter of 3,700 metres of water (12,139ft) underneath them.
While in Fremantle, the ship hosted a dinner for Foreign Office Minister Mark Field and Menna Rawlings, British High Commissioner to Australia, joining other guests for a ceremonial sunset from the ship’s guard. The short visit to Fremantle was followed by a 1,500-mile journey east to Adelaide where Sutherland welcomed Australia’s defence industry minister Christopher Pyne on board.
A key part of the Antipodean leg of Sutherland’s Far East deployment is to promote British industry and the export opportunities presented by the RN’s next-generation frigates. The Royal Australian Navy is about to embark on a $35bn (£20bn) investment in it surface fleet, ordering nine anti-submarine frigates. Among the designs being considered is the Type 26, Sutherland’s successor.
The other key strand of the Fighting Clan’s time down under is the rare opportunity to train with the RAN in the latter’s backyard – our two navies work side-by-side in the Gulf region, but other link-ups are fairly rare. So Sutherland is going to join the Australian fleet on its largest war game of the year, Ocean Explorer – three-week workout for a dozen warships and submarines, plus aircraft, which has just begun off the country’s east coast.
“Having arrived in Australia, all the effort to prepare the ship for deployment two months ahead of time, the mountainous seas in the Bay of Biscay and the long sea transits have been worthwhile,” said Cdr Canale. “Each and every one of my sailors is serving his ship and the Royal Navy with distinction and I am extremely proud of how they are responding to the many challenges we face.”