The Royal Navy’s most venerable warship, HMS Fearless, returns to Portsmouth for the last time on Monday, March 18. She is ending her career on a high point after taking part in one of the most notable deployments in her 36-year history.
Fearless sailed on August 20 last year to take part in Exercise Saif Sareea II – the Joint Service exercise in Oman, held in conjunction with the Oman Armed Forces.
Although originally due home in December, Fearless was one of four Royal Navy ships and seven Royal Fleet Auxiliary vessels tasked to remain in Middle Eastern waters in response to the tragic events of September 11. Troops from 40 Commando Royal Marines, and helicopters from 845 and 847 Naval Air Squadrons, were embarked.
The ship spent three weeks alongside in Dubai over Christmas and the New Year, her first visit to the United Arab Emirates port since September 1967. The stop-over was essentially to allow routine maintenance, but many of the ship’s company took the opportunity to fly out their partners and families.
In the New Year Fearless undertook maritime interdiction operations in the Arabian Gulf in support of United Nations Security Council resolutions. Working alongside naval ships from the USA, Australia and Canada, she monitored and boarded merchant vessels entering and leaving Iraq.
In early February the ship again embarked Royal Marines from 40 Commando before taking part in another amphibious exercise, this time with UAE forces. Exercise Sea Dagger II provided the UK with excellent training, and a further opportunity to demonstrate continuing support for its allies in the Gulf.
For much of the time the ship also had seven helicopters embarked – three Sea Kings, two Lynx and two Gazelles. After the exercise, Fearless made a final visit to Dubai to off-load the troops and their equipment before starting the passage home in mid-February.
The longest serving of the Navy’s active warships, and its last steam-powered vessel, HMS Fearless is older than most of the 550 members of her ship’s company. The amphibious assault ship that gained honours in the Falklands War and, on a lighter note, was on hand to rescue James Bond (in the film The Spy Who Loved Me), will be welcomed home by more than 1,000 family members and friends of her ship’s company.
It will be their chance, too, to say their farewells to a ship whose distinctive lines have, for a period spanning five decades, provided the Royal Navy with one of its most enduring images. She will decommission at Portsmouth, so on this occasion she will be wearing her paying-off pennant – the 158-metre length of which reflects her many years of service.