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Return of the A-team as HMS Albion roars into Plymouth

ET(WE) Abigail Beirne on the flight deck as she spots her family on the jetty.
23 November 2018
The A-Team theme echoed around Devonport’s 16 Wharf this morning – the signature tune of Britain’s flagship to greet HMS Albion home after a ten-month deployment.

The assault ship received a tumultuous welcome from family and friends today as they stood in their hundreds on the jetty waiting to be reunited with loved ones some had not seen since February.

They heard the assault ship was coming before they saw her enter the Hamoaze, courtesy of an 11-gun salute as Albion sailed past The Hoe, before the RM Band Plymouth struck up the 1980s TV show theme.

“We couldn’t have asked for a better welcome back for the A-Team. We’ve had an absolutely fabulous ten months but now we can focus on home,” said the flagship’s Commanding Officer Captain Tim Neild, who leaves Albion in January for pastures new.

It has been daunting but exciting being away for so long.

Aircraft Handler Kane Grant

This was Albion’s first deployment since a two-year extensive modernisation programme and began with the flagship earmarked to lead a NATO task group in the Mediterranean.

Instead, she was dispatched to the Far East for a wide-ranging tour of duty which took her to Japan (for two months), South Korea, Singapore, Borneo and Oman among other places.

The last port of call was Gibraltar, where family members of some of the ship’s company joined for a week-long experience of life at sea.

Aircraft Handler Kane Grant was reunited with his brother Sam, who serves in the RAF, and dad Ian who made the pilgrimage from South Shields to the Rock to hop aboard Albion for the passage to Devonport – the final 1,000 or so miles of a 33,000-mile journey for the ship.

Albion is Kane’s first ship, so this has been his first taste of an operational deployment. “It has been daunting but exciting being away for so long,” said the 27-year-old.

“When I saw where we would be stopping it was, wow – Singapore, Japan, Borneo, Vietnam, South Korea – it’s an opportunity of a lifetime.”

His 30-year-old brother, a Flight Lieutenant based at RAF High Wycombe, added: “I thought it would be great to spend the week with Kane – it’s quite rare that we see each other because of our jobs. Our work has brought us together and what’s great is that we’ve also been able to bring along our dad.”

Highlights of Albion’s ten-month deployment have included a period of two months operating in and around Japan.

The Japanese consider the RN to be the “The Mother Navy”. On departure from Japan their assault ship Shimokita ploughed through the heavy seas alongside Albion saying goodbye with salutes of respect before breaking away, while Albion continued on her way to Vietnam.

The ship demonstrated her amphibious skills alongside His Majesty the Sultan of Brunei’s Forces in Exercise Setia Kawan.

That exercise proved to be the warm-up for the flagship’s participation in the largest military exercise staged in Oman in 17 years, Exercise Saif Sareea 3, involving 65,000 Omani and more than 5,000 British military personnel, including Royal Marines from 40 Commando.

As Albion entered her home port again, she received a message of gratitude from Britain’s senior sailor, First Sea Lord Admiral Sir Philip Jones, praising the ship’s “key role in demonstrating global Britain to our international partners in the Asia-Pacific region”, her sailors and marines for being “a credit to the naval service” and the support of families back home who “endured the strain of uncertainty” caused by the flagship’s changing programme.

And Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson also sent a personal message to the 500 sailors and Royal Marines and said their deployment epitomised “Britain’s global reach” as the UK looks to a world outside the EU.

“HMS Albion and her crew have led from the front over the past ten months. The nation’s flagship has exemplified what Britain stands for – promoting freedom of navigation, engaging with partners and allies around the world, and fulfilling our global defence commitments.”

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