Britain’s newest warship is ready for front-line duties – just five months after the first sailors stepped aboard HMS Tamar.
In what is thought to be the fastest generation of a warship in peacetime, the Portsmouth-based ship has gone from incomplete lifeless hulk at the beginning of 2020 into a vessel ready to deploy around the globe by August.
Bringing Tamar to life has been made all the more challenging by the pandemic – and the fact that most of the 61 crew are new to River class ships. Most have come from frigates and destroyers, even carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth.
The ship has spent 13 of the 17 weeks since she sailed from Govan at the end of March – with the yard going into lockdown as the ship headed down the Clyde – at sea.
At 60 one of the oldest sailors still at sea, and also one of the few Falklands veterans still serving, Warrant Officer 1st Class Trevor Ross witnessed the decommissioning of the previous Tamar – the base in Hong Kong which closed in 1997 when the territory was returned to China.
“We have lived in a ‘Tamar bubble’ throughout the pandemic. Eighteen-hour days, it’s been hard work and very tiring, but the spirit is really, really good, one of the best ships I’ve been on for morale,” said the ship’s deputy head of marine engineering, who joined the Royal Navy in 1977.
He is more than twice the average age of the ship’s company – far more sailors are in their 20s, like Able Seaman Mollie Sunshine Stokes, who joined Tamar from Britain’s biggest warship, HMS Queen Elizabeth.
“We’re like a massive family on board Tamar – because everyone has been in the same situation with getting the ship ready and lockdown, it’s been easier to get through the past few months. There’s always someone around to pick you back up,” said the 22-year-old seaman specialist from Exeter.
“We have a really good work ethic – we smashed FOST out of the park.”
She’s referring to Fleet Operational Sea Training, the last act of turning Tamar into an active warship, staged off the west coast of Scotland – fire/flood/navigational training and manoeuvres in the confined waters of numerous lochs – before switching to the South Coast for specific military training, such as gunnery, practising offensive tactics with her sister HMS Trent against destroyer HMS Defender, and working with the Royal Marines of 47 Commando, who were impressed with Tamar and her facilities.
The ship has a dedicated mess for more than 50 troops/marines/additional personnel – ideal for the wide range of maritime security roles that Tamar is designed to undertake.
The extra mess also makes the ship useful for evacuation operations, while the 16-tonne crane and space for up to five shipping containers will be vital in disaster relief operations, both of which were tested by the FOST assessors.
The class is at the vanguard of the RN’s Forward Presence programme, stationing ships around the globe in regions key to UK interests/security as well as in home waters.