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Lovely Jubbly. Del Boy keeps Navy’s carrier strike group going in the Pacific

An F-35B is launched by HMS Queen Elizabeth as she and the Evertsen take on supplies from RFA Tidespring
13 August 2021
The nation’s flagship turned to Del Boy to support its mission to the western Pacific Rim.

HMS Queen Elizabeth dispatched tanker RFA Tidespring on a rapid ‘Del Boy Run’ into Singapore to pick up all the supplies for the nine-ship task group the carrier leads for the next leg of its maiden deployment across some 3,000 miles of ocean from the Malay peninsula to the island of Guam.

The tanker sailed into the naval base at Sembawang in Singapore for a whistle-stop stock-up, before rejoining the task group to pass those supplies around the force – known in the Royal Fleet Auxiliary as a Del Boy Run (short for ‘delivery boy run’ rather than any connections with David Jason and his crafty Cockney wheeler-dealer).

Although most media focus is on the warships, F-35 Lightning jets and air power at the heart of the task group, crucial to the seven-month deployment are two unsung Royal Fleet Auxiliary ships: Fort Victoria and Tidespring.

The former is a one-stop-shop providing most of the group’s needs – fuel, food, ammunition, spare parts, replacement engines and the like – while fleet tanker Tidespring focuses on supplying the warships with fuel, although she also carries fresh water, food and stores.

There were 31 pallets of food for the flagship alone including 3,500 litres (61,60 pints) of UHT milk and half a tonne of pasta ready to be loaded aboard Tidespring.

And there were further pallets of food for RFA Fort Victoria (four), HMS Kent (three), HMS Richmond (five) and the Dutch ship HNLMS Evertsen (six)… plus six for Tidespring herself, and stocks for the ship’s NAAFI shop to boot.

Also awaiting collecting: 240 sacks of mail – a mainstay of morale across the task group with letters and parcels from home – 20 pallets of spare parts to fix items and machinery throughout the force and 55 pallets of general stores/supplies for Fort Victoria, which is the group’s ‘floating warehouse’.

Everyone aboard the tanker – from her Commanding Officer Captain ‘Dickie’ Davies through to the entire ‘deck department’ and Royal Navy personnel from 1700 Naval Air Squadron, normally responsible for helicopter operations – chipped in with the loading effort.

Once Tidespring had caught up with the task group, it took two days to distribute the deliveries around the group.

... Just another day's work to continue sustaining this Strike Group at sea and at reach from the UK...

Commander Jenny Curwood, Logistics Commander CSG21

It took three hours for Merlin helicopters to ferry 52 loads of supplies to HMS Queen Elizabeth – slung in huge netted bags beneath the aircraft…while simultaneously refuelling both the carrier and the HNLMS Evertsen…while F-35B Lightnings were being launched…and another two-and-a-half hours to deliver supplies to HMS Kent and the Dutch frigate.

“The difficulty here was moving the fresh produce from the containers on the main deck to the flight deck but with a lot of joint effort, they were brought via the stores ramps and the lift into the hangar where they were ‘netted up’ and covered in freezer covers to keep them cool in very hot and humid temperatures,” explained Capt Davies.

The final replenishment was a more traditional line transfer of 80 nets of supplies passed to RFA Fort Victoria… which was replenishing HMS Defender at the time.

The loads were shifted in just 102 minutes after dark – and with the entire formation turning in company to remain clear of a squid fishing vessel plying its trade.

Although such operations are bread and butter for both the Royal Navy and Royal Fleet Auxiliary, they require a huge logistical effort stretching all the way back to the UK, underlining the national effort supporting the Carrier Strike Group 21 deployment.

The Merlin transfer – known as a Vertical Replenishment or VERTREP – proved to be particularly impressive.

“This was the first time in serving memory a UK Strike Group had vertically replenished 25 tonnes of fresh provisions, essential stores, F-35B spares and two tonnes of mail from a Royal Fleet Auxiliary vessel to multiple Royal Navy and partner ships,” said Commander Jenny Curwood, the task group’s logistics commander.

“The fact we achieved such a feat of self-sustainment while operating 8,000 miles from home, concurrently launching F-35B jets on blue water operations, is all the more remarkable, but just another day’s work to continue sustaining this Strike Group at sea and at reach from the UK.”

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