Bright future for RFA history

Naval historians have pledged to tell the long, proud – and occasionally tragic – story of the Royal Fleet Auxiliary more comprehensively in future.

Despite supporting the Royal Navy for 114 years through war and peace – playing a key front-line role with the British Pacific Fleet and re-taking the Falklands (losing RFA Sir Galahad and nearly losing her sister Sir Tristram to Argentine bombs) especially – there is no museum dedicated to the auxiliary service.

The service supports Royal Navy ships wherever they go, delivering food, fuel, fresh water, spare parts, ammunition and other supplies – which means British warships are not reliant on ports and naval bases.

In addition, RFA vessels support amphibious operations – three Bay-class ships carry Royal Marines and their equipment – serve as mother ships to minehunters in the Gulf, and provide humanitarian aid and act as bases for counter-drugs team in the Caribbean.

Museums float on collections, we need to ensure we build up our collection of RFA material and to ensure we continue to build on our links with the Royal Fleet Auxiliary

Professor Dominic Tweddle

More than 60 RFA vessels have been sunk or damaged in time of war; others, such as tanker Ennerdale, foundered when she struck an uncharted rock off the Seychelles while supporting regular RN operations.

Chris White of the RFA Historical Society has created a ‘virtual museum’ in the form of an extremely comprehensive and detailed website which documents the history of the auxiliary service from its official inception to the present day.

There is a small section of the National Museum of the Royal Navy in Portsmouth dedicated to the RFA’s mission and sacrifices – a section which will now expand after Mr White and the RN’s umbrella museum agreed to work more closely together to showcase the auxiliary.

They used the second visit of the RFA’s newest operational tanker to Portsmouth – Tidesurge – to announce the link-up during an official reception on board the Tide-class ship also attended by sponsor, Joanna, Lady Woodcock, and the head of the service, Commodore Duncan Lamb RFA.

“Whilst we do represent and do collect items from the Royal Fleet Auxiliary, it is important that we build a better relationship. Museums float on collections, we need to ensure we build up our collection of RFA material and to ensure we continue to build on our links with the Royal Fleet Auxiliary,” said Professor Dominic Tweddle, Director General of the NMRN.

Now back at sea, Tidesurge is conducting training in Scotland before she takes over duties as the tanker used by the RN’s premier training organisation FOST to prepare British and foreign warships for operational duties off the Devon and Cornish coasts.