Skip to content
Recruiting now.Explore navy careers

Clan-tastic voyage over for now as HMS Sutherland begins two-year revamp

A gunmetal HMS Sutherland on a gunmetal day in Plymouth with the Hoe in the background
23 October 2020
After five years of near constant duties and patrols at home and abroad HMS Sutherland today sailed home to Plymouth – and won’t reappear until 2023.

Over the coming weeks her 200 crew will begin offloading ammunition, stores, equipment and personal effects as the frigate – known affectionately as The Fighting Clan – becomes the last of 13 ships in her class to undergo a massive overhaul.

Since her last major overhaul, the ship has spent 650 days on the move, from escorting HMS Queen Elizabeth during her maiden sea trials to a deployment to the Asia-Pacific region and visits to Japan and Australia among 17 nations she’s called at.

Sutherland has frequently been called on to keep an eye on activities in home waters above and below the waves (anti-submarine warfare is her speciality).

She’s helped test new weapons: the Martlet anti-surface missile and the RN’s upgraded heavyweight torpedo Spearfish used by all Britain’s submarines.

And she’s put would-be submarine skippers on the Royal Navy’s demanding ‘Perisher’ course through their paces – acting as both hunter and hunted.

Her final two months at sea before refit, during which time she sailed more than 12,000 miles, took her inside the Arctic Circle, past the North Cape to the Barents Sea with NATO allies – the first time the RN has led a task force to the region in over two decades – anti-submarine warfare training in the North Atlantic and finally training with HMS Queen Elizabeth’s carrier task group in Scottish waters before it deploys for the first time in the new year.

Sutherland helped the carrier develop her defences against an onslaught from major surface ships – attacking the future flagship (“an intimidating sight”) in this month’s Joint Warrior war games.

We have travelled far and wide, from the Far East deployment in 2018 to national tasking operations in 2019 and 2020, but the ship's company have always been what has made Sutherland a pleasure to serve in.

CPO(WE(ET)) Craig Woodward, HMS Sutherland

“Having served in Sutherland for over three years now, there have been many ups and downs,” said weapon engineer Chief Petty Officer Craig Woodward, the ship’s longest serving crew member.

“We have travelled far and wide, from the Far East deployment in 2018 to national tasking operations in 2019 and 2020, but the ship's company have always been what has made Sutherland a pleasure to serve in.”

As she’s been heavily in demand this year, her 200 sailors have spent much of 2020 isolated together in a Covid 19 bubble which has meant separation from loved ones and friends.

From Monday, they will begin preparing the ship for refit which will be carried out by Babcock in its frigate complex in Devonport Naval Base.

“Our final entry to our home port in five years marks the end of an incredibly busy period in the ship's life,” said Commander Tom Weaver, Sutherland’s Commanding Officer who, like many shipmates, will be leaving the Fighting Clan shortly.

“I'm particularly proud of our achievements in the High North in September, providing an RN-led presence in the Southern Barents Sea for the first time in many years.

“We could not have achieved all that we have without the most capable and professional sailors onboard, and as we all go our separate ways we will of course proudly remember serving in Sutherland, and will remain members of the Fighting Clan.”

Sutherland’s engines, combat systems and sensors will all be overhauled, improved or replaced, and living quarters given a makeover to meet the expectations of sailors serving in the 2020s.

“The upgrades to the ship will see her gain world-class capabilities that will keep her at the forefront of maritime technology for years to come and until she is replaced by the Type 26 frigates,” said Weapon Engineer Officer Lieutenant Commander David Tinsley.

“From the engines to the mission system, missiles and sonar, Sutherland will leave upkeep future-proofed and ready to continue delivering on operations as she has done so ably to this point.”

When she re-emerges in more than two years’ time, she’ll be the Fleet’s most potent submarine hunter, equipped with Sea Ceptor missiles to fend off air attack – Sutherland is the last ship in the Fleet to carry Seawolf, now 40 years old – and be set for front-line duties until 2032.

By then the under-construction Type 26 and planned Type 31 frigates will be increasingly bearing the burden of the missions currently carried out by Sutherland and her 12 sisters. 

Related articles

Navy News Magazine

We bring you the latest news, features and award-winning photographs from the front-line. Navy News has been reporting on all that happens in the Royal Navy and its wider community since 1954.