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More than 6,500 sailors and marines stand guard this Christmas to keep us safe and secure

Destroyer HMS Diamond and her Wildcat helicopter will be protecting shipping in the Red Sea
22 December 2023
Royal Navy sailors and Royal Marines stand in harm’s way this Christmas to guarantee global security and prosperity.

Crew of destroyer HMS Diamond face the clear and present danger of drone attacks fired by Houthi rebels at shipping in the Red Sea – a danger now faced down by more than half a dozen navies on Operation Prosperity Guardian, whose vessels are watching over merchant ships like the shepherds of Christmas lore.

Diamond’s sailors are just 200 of some 6,500 Royal Navy, Royal Marines, Fleet Air Arm and Royal Fleet Auxiliary personnel – roughly one in five members of the Naval Service – either deployed or on standby to respond to incidents at home and abroad during Christmas 2023.

Of those, 4,700 are regular or reservist sailors, submariners and Fleet Air Arm personnel, plus nearly 1,150 Royal Marines and over 700 sailors in the Royal Fleet Auxiliary, the vital support arm of the fighting fleet.

Many of the latter are deployed in the eastern Mediterranean aboard aviation support vessel RFA Argus and amphibious support ship RFA Lyme Bay as part of the UK’s response to the crisis in Israel/Gaza.

The tense situation in the Middle East as the year ends has not only required a response from the Royal Navy but brings down the curtain on a year when the Service has, once again, been heavily engaged in all seven oceans. Other achievements of 2023 include:

  • Two new RFA ships delivered (Proteus and Stirling Castle) to help secure UK waters;
  • The fifth Astute-class submarine HMS Anson delivered and now undergoing operational training;
  • The capacity of Ukraine’s Navy continues to grow thanks to training from our sailors and Royal Marines;
  • The two Littoral Response Groups, central to future Commando Force operations, have been deployed to the Baltic and eastern Mediterranean;
  • The engine enhancements to the Type 45s are progressing well;
  • HMS Prince of Wales returned to the fleet and completed aviation trials;
  • HMS Queen Elizabeth provided NATO with the potential of fifth-generation carrier striking power for the first time.
For those who are holding the watch over the Christmas period and away from your loved ones, thank you for being there

First Sea Lord Admiral Sir Ben Key

And RN patrol ships continue to punch above their size and weight on operations at home and abroad, such as HMS Tamar – the British warship most distant from home (some 10,000 miles) this Christmas.

The patrol ship closes out 2023 around the islands of the South Pacific, having begun it in Malaysia and conducted visits, exercises and patrols from the eastern coast of India to Sydney in the intervening 11 months.

They are marking Christmas – dressed in T-shirts and shorts as it’s the height of summer in the Southern Hemisphere – with Cornish-themed gifts donated by their affiliates at Cornwall County Council as well as presents from families.

The ship – which was recently singled out by senior officers for its efforts both promoting the UK and Royal Navy across a vast area and extensive work with allied and partner navies in the Indo-Asia-Pacific region – has offered its sailors unique personal and professional opportunities, representing the nation at high-profile diplomatic and military events, through to hosting Trafalgar Night celebrations in Sydney Harbour, diving on the Great Barrier Reef and touring the tea plantations of Sri Lanka on tuk-tuks.

“We’ve been proud to fly the White Ensign in some extraordinary locations,” said her Executive Officer Lieutenant Commander Matt Millyard.

The patrol ship is one of five deployed around the globe on long-term missions, performing a role and asserting an influence far greater than one might expect from 45 or 50 sailors in a relatively small vessel.

All remain deployed over Christmas: HMS Spey in Singapore for her end of year maintenance; HMS Medway is in Gibraltar receiving the same TLC after nine months patrolling the Falklands, which are now patrolled once again by HMS Forth; and HMS Trent is in the Caribbean working with US authorities in the ongoing fight against drug trafficking.

Icebreaker and research ship HMS Protector is the next farthest flung vessel from home – about 8,500 miles – as she conducts her first work period of the austral summer around the Antarctic peninsula.

Elsewhere, aside from HMS Diamond, the Royal Navy maintains a sizeable presence in the Gulf: frigate HMS Lancaster, which is supporting wider efforts in the region to ensure the safe and free flow of trade by sea, plus minehunters HMS Chiddingfold, Middleton and Bangor, their command/support ship RFA Cardigan Bay and the RN’s headquarters east of Suez, UKMCC in Bahrain.

In the mid-Atlantic HMS Scott is gathering deep water oceanic data to update existing charts.

The couple of dozen personnel of the Gibraltar Squadron and fast patrol boats HMS Cutlass and Dagger are keeping an eye on the waters of the Rock and the western gateway to the Mediterranean.

And, as ever, since Christmas 1969, there is a Royal Navy submarine carrying the nation’s nuclear deterrent on patrol somewhere beneath the waves.

Thanking personnel for their efforts – and families and friends for the ongoing support – throughout 2023 First Sea Lord Admiral Sir Ben Key said everyone could reflect “with enormous pride” on their achievements and contributions to the Navy’s global mission this year.

“I don't think any one of us had quite predicted just how much and how busy we would be around the world,” he said.

“It has been a phenomenal year of delivery for the service, from the very highest to the lowest latitudes of the world and across all lines of longitude once again.”

He continued: “For those who are holding the watch over the Christmas period and away from your loved ones, thank you for being there.

“And for all, whether at home or away, on duty or on leave, please pass the thanks of me and the senior leadership team of the Service to your family and your friends.”

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