Just two days after HMS Albion made her final entry to Plymouth for three years, and three days after she herself completed her last major training exercise, Bulwark is ready to assume the lead role.
For the next four years the Devonport-based warship should be at the heart of every major maritime endeavour that the UK carries out.
Right now, HMS Bulwark is on standby, ready to move anywhere in the world to deal with global events as the most important ship of the UK’s Response Force Task Group, formed under last year’s defence review.
The last hurdle for Bulwark to overcome after emerging from an 11-month, £30m refit at the beginning of the year was the two-week Exercise Joint Warrior, the largest war games staged in the UK:
I know I speak on behalf of my ship’s company in saying that we are tremendously proud and excited to take over the mantle of the Royal Navy’s flagship,” said Bulwark’s Commanding Officer, Captain Alex Burton.
Joint Warrior was the final piece of the jigsaw puzzle in our long and demanding regeneration. We are now ready, and able, to deploy globally as directed.
With 3 Commando Brigade either engaged in Afghanistan or training in the Californian desert, the amphibious sword of Bulwark was provided by 130 troops from France’s 2nd Marine Infantry Regiment (2RIMa) under the latest link-up between the respective Corps since British and French Marines were ‘twinned’ back in 1995:
Overall it has been a great exercise,” said Caporal (French rank of corporal) Font, a section commander in 3 Company, 2RIMa.
Working with the Rosbifs [French term for the English, based on their stereotypical penchant for ‘roast beef’] over the past couple of weeks has been a fantastic experience. Some of it was back to basics, but there is always so much to learn and relearn.
We were also impressed by the English breakfast - most of us agree it is actually better than the French croissant and a coffee.
Exercise Joint Warrior - which also witnessed participation from minehunters HMS Ledbury, Cattistock and Hurworth, plus the RAF, Army and forces from the USA, France, Netherlands, Denmark, Belgium, Germany, Norway, Turkey and Poland - ended on Friday, but there is little respite for the new flagship.
Next week HMS Bulwark will be in the Solent for maritime combat power visits - demonstrating to officers from the Army and RAF, as well as some interested VIPs, what the Navy can do. She will be joined by frigate HMS Sutherland, tanker RFA Black Rover, auxiliary landing ship RFA Mounts Bay, patrol boat HMS Raider and Royal Navy Hawk training jets.
HMS Albion, meanwhile, will be put into extended readiness for three years, followed by a refit before working up and taking over from Bulwark as the fleet flagship once more in 2016.
Before that lengthy lay-up, however, the ship’s company will be engaged in five months of ‘destoring’ - removing equipment and stores.
The period of extended readiness - announced under last year’s defence review - comes at the end of a hectic year for Albion which saw her lead the Cougar task group deployment, support operations in Libya (notably the first Apache gunship strikes from HMS Ocean), host two Royal visits and take a whistlestop trip to the Baltic in support of the British defence industry.
She also visited Liverpool, allowing her ship’s company to exercise the Freedom of Chester, Albion’s affiliated city:
Although it’s a sad day to see such a modern ship placed alongside for such a long time, we all look forward to welcoming Albion back into the fleet in 2016,” said the ship’s Commanding Officer, Captain James Morley.
Everyone onboard is tremendously proud to have served in such a capable and versatile ship.