Royal Naval Museum

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Royal Fleet Auxiliary

The Royal Fleet Auxiliary (RFA) is a front-line support force for the Royal Navy supplying the ships of the Royal Navy at sea with fuel, weapons and stores. The service is unique in that all the major auxiliaries are civilian manned, employing some 2,500 officers and men. RFA personnel are trained in line with their counterparts in the Merchant Navy but with additional naval training to equip them to operate in partnership with the Royal Navy in an operational environment. 2005 marks the 100th anniversary of the formation of the RFA.

In this exhibition, we briefly explore their history, involvement in conflict zones, the replenishment at sea operations and their ships

Manning an Oerlikon gun en route to Falklands 1982British Tay refuelling a Type 21 Frigate        

History

In Nelson’s Navy, the ships of the Royal Navy, carried their own stores and provisions. They were expected to collect the stores direct from the Victualling Yards themselves rather than supplies being transported to the fleet as it was too difficult to find a fleet at sea. In exceptional circumstances ships would be hired to transport stores to the fleet in known locations such as during blockades. In 1799 there were major Victualling yards at Deptford, Chatham, Portsmouth and Plymouth but only one overseas yard at Gibraltar. By the end of the nineteenth-century, however, the Royal Navy was operating all over the World, supplied by an extensive network of bases, coaling stations and depots. Merchant Navy ships were owned or chartered by the Admiralty to provide coal, ammunition, and stores for the new steam ships. In 1905 the Lords Commissioners of the Admiralty issued an instruction that heralded the formation of the RFA:

 “Auxiliaries which belong to the Admiralty will be styled ‘Royal Fleet Auxiliaries’…those on charter will be styled ‘Merchant Fleet Auxiliaries’”.

As the navy converted to oil, a fleet of tankers was acquired prior to World War One. Today the RFA has developed into a complex multi-purpose flotilla with a broad range of capabilities from replenishment to repair.

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Collier coming alongside      Coaling the battleship HMS Iron Duke

Conflict

The RFA has seen service in every naval theatre of operations. In the Second World War, auxiliaries took part in Malta, Russian, and Atlantic convoys. The British Pacific Fleet was supplied by a fleet of ships nicknamed the ‘Fleet Train’, which included an amenity ship Menestheus. Later conflicts have included supporting naval and military operations in Korea, Suez, Cyprus, Beira, Kuwait, Borneo, Belize, Aden and the Cod Wars. During the Falklands conflict in 1982, twenty-two RFA ships provided essential frontline support to the Task Force with the loss of RFA Sir Galahad at Fitzroy on 8th June. The RFA provided frontline support during both Gulf Wars notably RFA Argus serving as a Casualty Receiving Ship in 1991 and Sir Galahad delivering much needed humanitarian aid to the liberated port of Umm Qasr in 2003, continuing the role of her namesake from the Falklands Campaign.

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    Refuelling a Merchant ship off Aden 1968    RFA and Assault Ship (LPD), Falklands 1982

Replenishment at Sea (RAS)

During the early part of the twentieth-century, despite having a network of refuelling and supply depots around the world, the Royal Navy wanted to be able to refuel and re-supply while at sea. Originally this was done using ropes and pulleys and passing stores from the stern of the stores ship to the bow of the warship, with oil being pumped through a flexible bronze hose. During the Second World War the German method of transferring oil through rubber hoses was adapted, with the ships side by side and stores passed from ship to ship using heavy jackstays. With ships operating so closely together in all weather conditions, the highest standards of seamanship are required during Replenishment at Sea operations.

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   Destroyer oiling bow to stern.      RFA Tidepool 'RAS' HMS Hermes, Barrosa and Achilles

                                        

Ships

The RFA fleet has evolved since it’s formation in 1905 to reflect the variety of tasks undertaken by the service. Tankers and stores ships have always made up the bulk of the fleet but in today’s fleet, most ships are now equipped with flight decks to receive helicopters.

RFA Fort George model

 

RFAs Fort George and Fort Victoria are combined fleet support tanker and stores ships, which can give ‘one-stop’ support to naval task groups. They can also operate with a Royal Naval Air Service helicopter squadron with all its air and ground crew on board. Landing Ships (Logistic) are specially designed to carry troops, and equipment and have bow and stern doors and ramps for loading and unloading rapidly.

      RFA Diligence¬†    RFA Argus

                                                          

RFA Diligence is a Forward Repair Ship originally requisitioned for the Falklands Campaign but proved so useful she was transferred permanently to the RFA. RFA Argus was also a former Merchant Navy vessel, the container ship MV Contender Bezant. Argus is an Aviation Training Ship, which can also be used as a Primary Casualty Receiving Ship and was used in this role during the Gulf War.

 

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