Tag Archives: River class patrol vessel

Western Approaches Scheme Sails Again

The early flight River-class offshore patrol vessel HMS Severn (P282) was decommissioned in 2017 after a planned 15-year career with the Fishery Protection Squadron in the UK’s home waters, but the Admiralty recently decided to return her to service post-Brexit and she was recommissioned into the Royal Navy on 28 August 2021 (although she was working with still listed “In Reserve” for the past 14 months) to perform her old role as a fish cop/EEZ sovereignty patrol with the fisheries squadron (now termed the Overseas Patrol Squadron) as well as provide a school ship for navigation training. 

Importantly, it is the first time that a British ship has been reactivated for the RN from mothballs since the Falklands. 

She is at least the ninth warship in the Royal Navy to carry the name, with the eighth being a Thames-class submarine (N57) who earned battle honors for Norway (1940), the Atlantic (1940–41), Sicily (1943), and the Aegean (1943). In an ode to the RN’s surface fleet in the Battle of the Atlantic, today’s Severn was recommissioned complete with a “Western Approaches” livery – as applied to U-boat killers through much of World War II.

HMS Severn departing Falmouth, 19th August 2021, on her way to London for recommissioning in her Western Approaches livery (RN photo)

Compare her modern new/old look to a vintage predecessor: 

Canadian destroyer HMCS Restigouche (H00), circa 1944-1945, in Western Approaches scheme. Canadian Navy Heritage photo CT-284

The combination of blue-grey and green-grey on a background of white and light grey was first applied to destroyer HMS Broke in 1940 and was subsequently ‘worn’ by ships operating in the namesake approaches – extending about 1,000 miles from the UK into the Atlantic – to make it difficult for German U-boat commanders to spot them, especially in heavy seas.

HMS Severn is the first vessel to receive the paint job since World War 2 and while radar makes the use of maritime camouflage largely irrelevant, it is a tribute to sailors of the Battle of the Atlantic who operated in the same waters Severn regularly ploughs.

She sailed into the Thames for her ceremony, tied up next to the old cruiser HMS Belfast, a D-Day veteran with a similar paint job. 

HMS Severn alongside HMS Belfast for her recommissioning ceremony

Of note, the scheme was applied in Falmouth Docks by the same team who gave later generation sisterships HMS Tamar and Spey their new/old North Atlantic “Dazzle” camo look in time for their deployment to the Indo-Pacific region later this month.

Royal Navy Headed Back ‘East of Suez’

In a reversal from the Admiralty’s policies since 1997, the British Ministry of Defense is planning on permanently stationing warships in the Pacific region.

During a two-day visit to Japan this week, the UK’s Secretary of State for Defence, Ben Wallace, met with Japan’s Prime Minister Suga and Defence Minister Kishi. The big news from that meeting, going past the upcoming visit by the HMS Queen Elizabeth Carrier Group’s historic cruise through the area:

Following on from the Carrier Strike Group’s inaugural deployment, the UK will permanently assign two offshore patrol vessels to the Indo-Pacific region from later this year. It will also contribute a Littoral Response Group (LRG) in the coming years, thereby demonstrating the UK’s commitment to collective defence and security in the region in the decades ahead.

The nuts and bolts of the announcement, the RN’s River-class offshore patrol vessels, are constabulary/coast guard style vessels, running in the 2,000-ton neighborhood and mounting a medium 20mm or 30mm gun. The British are increasingly using the Rivers in the old “station ship” roles in low-risk areas around the world, a task formerly fulfilled by light cruisers before WWII.

HMS Medway (P223), a Batch 2 River-class OPV. The most advanced version of the class, they mount a single 30mm gun forward and have a few stations for GPMGs and Mini-Guns. Slow (24 knot) vessels, they can operate a medium helicopter for a short period and carry a platoon-sized element of Royal Marines or SBS Commandos. They have an independent endurance of 35 days. (MoD image)

Currently, HMS Medway (P223), a Batch 2 River, is the West Indies guard ship (Atlantic Patrol Tasking North) while her sistership HMS Forth (P222) is the Falklands guard ship and a third River, HMS Trent (P224), is forward-deployed to Atlantic Patrol Tasking South out of Gibraltar, with an area of operations than spans along the West African coast.

The British Littoral Response Group concept recently stood up is basically a dialed-down version of a U.S. Navy Amphibious Ready Group. The LRG established earlier this year for a Baltic cruise was made up of the 20,000-ton amphibious assault ship HMS Albion (L14), the 16,000-ton landing dock RFA Mounts Bay (L3008), plus Type 23 frigate HMS Lancaster, with embarked Wildcat helicopters from 847 Naval Air Squadron and a light battalion-sized element of Royal Marines from 45 and 30 Commando.

However, the Brits are platform poor. They only have eight River-class OPVs (with just five of them being the more advanced Batch 2 ships), two Albion-class LPDs, and four Bay-class landing ships. With that, the likelihood of a pair of Rivers heading to the Far East to assume a long-term station alone is going to be a heavy lift and the prospect of an LRG more likely to be a passing cruise every other year or so.

Nonetheless, the move stands to return the RN to the Pacific, which has only been visited by the occasional transitory unit once the post of Commodore-in-Charge, Hong Kong, was disestablished in 1997. Permanently based at that treaty port was a trio of Peacock-class patrol corvettes, which were roughly the same size as today’s Rivers but were at least armed with a 76mm OTO Melara gun.

The Peacocks were sailed to Manila and sold to the Philippines, warm transferred in a bittersweet handover.

Prior to that, the Singapore-based British Far East Fleet disbanded in 1971 after the expiration of the bilateral Anglo-Malayan Defence Agreement, ending a station that was held since 1837.