There are now two giant tankers ready to sustain the nation’s new aircraft carriers on their global missions after RFA Tiderace was dedicated in Portland.
In a half-hour ceremony, attended by the 39,000-tonne ship’s sponsor, Lady Anita Lister, the head of the Royal Fleet Auxiliary Commodore Duncan Lamb and crew, RFA Chaplain the Rev Mike Hills welcomed the new tanker to the naval service.
There were water jets of appreciation from a tug in harbour as the ceremony in Dorset was blessed with a fine summer’s day, while Lady Lister completed proceedings, cutting the dedication cake with the youngest sailor, Apprentice Chef Shania Burns – the apprentice chef of the year.
Shania’s Commanding Officer, Captain Sam Shattock RFA, said the efforts put in by the first ship’s company to get the tanker through her trials and training had laid solid foundations “for a long future in the RFA, supporting operations for the next 30 years.
“I am immensely proud to have command of this new ship and the responsibility for completing trials and bringing her into service.”
Cdre Lamb said the previous generation of Tide-class ships introduced into service 65 years ago had revolutionised the way the Royal Navy was supported around the world – and their namesakes would do likewise.
Each of the four vessels in the 21st-Century generation of Tides can deliver more than 1,500 cubic metres of fuel every hour – nearly 400,000 gallons, or 1½ million litres… enough to fill the tanks of more than 27,000 family run[abouts].
Four Tides have been built for the Royal Navy – Tidespring is already heavily engaged supporting operations and training around the UK; Tidesurge is being fitted out in Falmouth and Tideforce is on her delivery voyage from South Korea ready to receive British military communications kit and weaponry.
All four ships are designed to be at the heart of a carrier strike group, supporting HMS Queen Elizabeth or Prince of Wales, a Type 45 destroyer, Type 23 or 26 frigate and an Astute-class hunter-killer submarine.
“Today’s Tiderace is a most welcome and fitting addition to the modern Royal Fleet Auxiliary,” Cdre Lamb said.
“Bringing a new ship into service is a demanding endeavour which relies on a diverse, multi-skilled team, strong leadership and unflinching determination.
“Tiderace bears testimony to this and I pay tribute to the men and women in the UK and around the globe, military and civilian who have contributed to this project and made today possible.”
The dedication marks the end of a busy week for the tanker, which started off Plymouth with her maiden helicopter trials when a Merlin Mk2 from 814 Naval Air Squadron touched down on the flight deck for the first time.
Merlins – or the Fleet Air Arm’s smaller Wildcats – will be expected to ferry supplies to and from Tiderace (or one of her three sisters) in giant string sacks slung beneath the helicopters (known as VERTREP, or vertical replenishment).
And aside from being the mainstay of carrier operations, providing fuel for HMS Queen Elizabeth and the rest of her battle group, the Tides will also be expected to conduct operations in her own right, with Merlins or Wildcats and specialist boarding teams – RFA ships have been used to this end extensively in the Indian Ocean.
As well as Culdrose fliers, the flight deck team on Tiderace is drawn from the Cornish airbase, 1700 Naval Air Squadron provide handlers and other personnel required to safely operate naval helicopters.
“It is fitting that a Culdrose Merlin made the first deck landing onto RFA Tiderace,” said Commander Mike Currie, Commander of the Merlin Maritime Force.
“Our Merlins will routinely form a large part of the air group, working with surface ship s and F35s to protect the carrier task group above, on and below the waves.
“The Royal Navy is fast approaching a new era of carrier aviation, and the Merlin force at Culdrose is central to this – wherever the new aircraft carriers go, our helicopters and personnel will go too and play an essential role.
“The flight decks of both the aircraft carriers and the ships that support them, will become our second home.”
The name Tiderace was briefly used in the 1950s… but confusion with her sister Tiderange led to the wrong ship returning from deployment once… and prompted a name change to Tideflow for the majority of her 20-year career.
Tiderace has some final training to complete before pumping the first ‘amber gold’ from her cavernous tanks into waiting warships.