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Blue skies, blue seas, Black Duke as Monmouth patrols the Rock
13 March 2017

HMS Monmouth reinforced British sovereignty of UK waters around Gibraltar when she visited the Rock – her first port of call on a nine-month mission to the Middle East.

Accompanied by HMS Sabre and Scimitar from the RN Gibraltar Squadron, and with her Wildcat airborne to scour the skies, the Black Duke monitored activities on both sides of the Rock before putting into the naval base for a short break.

THERE are few more iconic sights in the Royal Navy than one of Her Majesty’s Ships set against the backdrop of the Rock.

Accompanied by Gibraltar’s permanent RN presence, patrol boats HMS Sabre and Scimitar, frigate HMS Monmouth conducted a high-speed ‘sovereignty patrol’ of territorial waters, while her Wildcat helicopter ‘Black Knight’ did the same in UK skies around the Rock, overflying the peninsula and the airport at the northern edge of the British Overseas Territory.

The sky was crystal clear – as you can see from Cpl Tim Hammond’s photographs – the waters a beautiful cobalt blue, but rather busy; there were more than 20 merchant ships in Gib’s eastern and western anchorages.

Patrol complete, the Type 23 frigate berthed next to The Tower and the ship’s company headed ashore to enjoy the delights of Gib (Rock race, Barbary apes, Casemates Square, wartime tunnels, Donkey’s Flip Flop, Mad Monk, chicken on a fist…).

As well as the first port visit of the deployment Gib was the first foreign visit for many of Monmouth’s junior sailors, including AB(Sea) Kristoffer Auld.

“Gibraltar has a certain mystique about it and everyone in the Navy has a good Gib story,” he said. “I’m really pleased to have visited this part of the UK and it will always be that little bit more special for me as it’s my first foreign stop.”

He and his shipmates used the 1,000-mile passage from their native Devonport to begin flexing their muscles for the core part of the deployment, which begins in earnest once leaving Gib.

The frigate has been equipped with heavy machine-guns – “50 cals” after their .5 calibre shells – to bolster her close-in defences when conducting counter trafficking and smuggling patrols in the Mediterranean and Indian Ocean.

Monmouth is the first Type 23 to be equipped with the guns, mounted on the bridge wing and unleashed in open waters off the Portuguese coast.

“It’s an impressive weapon. Powerful and rapid firing it offers my Gunners a lot of stopping power should we have to defend the Black Duke from attack. You wouldn’t want to be in its way that’s for sure!” said PO(AWW) Leighton ‘Jan’ Bartlett, who oversaw the first shoot.

On the trigger was AB Jordan ‘Taff’ Elliot, who has recently moved into the above-water warfare branch: “It was great fun to fire and set on a glorious afternoon like today’s it’s exactly the sort of thing I came into the branch to do.”

Also tested was her ScanEagle miniature eyes in the sky; the small drone has proved to be a crucial asset in monitoring shipping in the Gulf, beaming live camera footage directly into ship’s operations room.

On sailing from Gibraltar, Monmouth continues east. She’ll join HMS Echo on the international Operation Sophia, the response of Europe’s military to the migrant problem in North Africa and the central Mediterranean, before passing through Suez for the core of the deployment dealing with terrorism/piracy/drug trafficking/arms smuggling in the Indian Ocean and Gulf.