RFA Tidespring

They are the unsung heroes of naval warfare; the tankers that keep the warships supplied with fuel and other supplies. Without them global and even regional deployments would be impossible to accomplish. The Royal Fleet Auxiliary has for over one hundred years been putting themselves in harm's way to keep the Royal Navy at the forefront of naval power projection.

One of the most notable tankers of the last century played a crucial role in the recapture of the Falkland Islands in the war of 1982, despite having been declared surplus to requirements in the wake of the 1981 Defence Review, RFA TIDESPRING.

 The origins of the tanker can be traced back to 1952 when the order was placed for the construction of four Tide class tankers. These ships were a significant departure from previous RFA practice as they were designed from scratch to perform the role of replenishment at sea, previous vessels having been modified after construction: the lessons of World War Two having played a significant part in this decision. The four Tide class vessels each had a length overall of 583 ft 7 inches, a beam of 7 Ift 3 inches and a 32ft draught. Each was fitted with a pair of Pametrada steam boilers attached to a trio of Babcock and Wilcox water tube boilers. This arrangement drove a single propeller shaft and developed 15,000 shp for a top speed of 17 knots. The class were designed to provide up to 5 different grades of oil with a total capacity of 15,000 tons. Five beam rigs for alongside transfer were included (3 to port and 2 to starboard) together with an astem facility. The Tides could also transfer limited quantities of dry stores.

 The Tides had a gross tonnage of around 13,000 tons with each ship having a slightly different displacement and each had a complement of 155 officers and men. The four ships were given the names TIDE AUSTRAL, TIDEREACH, TIDE-RANGE (renamed TIDESURGE in June 1958) and TIDERACE (renamed TIDEFLOW).

 RFA TIDESPRING shortly after completion with her pennant number displayed on the bow. She had five rigs for refuelling on the beam (2 to starboard and 3 to port). She also benefitted from a large flightdeck and hangar for helicopter operations. In service the ships proved very successful and popular with their crews. Two new versions of the basic Tide class were then subsequently ordered. Both TIDEPOOL and TIDESPRING were built by Hawthorn Leslie Shipbuilders at Hebburn on Tyne. TIDESPRlNG's keel was laid down on 24 July 1961 and was launched by Lady Jarrett, wife of the Secretary of the Admiralty on 3 May 1962.

 The most obvious difference between the first four and the new pair was the addition of a flight deck and hangar facilities and the pair became the first RFA ships to be so fitted. Other differences included the continuation of the fo'c'sle plating aft to the bridge and a more streamlined funnel. The pair also benefitted from having higher performing Babcock and Wilcox boilers. Sea trials commenced on 8 January 1963 and on completion TIDESPRING entered service with the RFA and quickly established a reputation for reliability and service. As such she would become the backbone of the fleet train.

 Her first deployment started on 18 January 1963 when, after bunkering at Spithead, she sailed across the North Atlantic on her shake-down cruise that would take her to Trinidad. Nine days into her passage she received a signal ordering her to divert from her course and rendezvous with RFA PEARLEAF which had suffered a major mechanical breakdown in the mid Atlantic. On arrival she escorted PEARLEAF to Horta in the Azores for repairs. On completion the former, instead of continuing on to Trinidad, sailed for the United Kingdom on 6 February.

 On 7 March it was TIDESPRlNG's turn to suffer a similar mechanical defect during her first exercise with the Home Fleet. The nature of the fault meant that she was to be withdrawn from the exercises and returned to Hawthom Leslie's shipyard for full repairs which took until 11 April to be completed.

 She would spend late April and all of May operating in the Mediterranean as Station Tanker whilst in July she was one of four RFAs accompanying the aircraft carrier VICTORIOUS on her latest deployment to the Far East. The other ships were RELIANT, RESURGENT and WAVE RULER. Whilst in the Indian Ocean in March 1964 she towed RFA ORANGELEAF to Colombo following an engine room breakdown. The two ships arrived on Easter Saturday.

 RFA TIDESPRING soon resumed her normal routine and having rejoined VICTORIOUS arrived at Singapore in company with the carrier and the Australian escort HMAS PARRAMATTA on 18 April for a brief port of call. She sailed for Hong Kong soon thereafter and joined the carrier for a Shop Window exercise with the submarines AMBUSH and ANCHORITE. In May the tanker had arrived off Japan and berthed at Yokusuka in company with VICTORIOUS.

 Next on the itinerary for the tanker were the Philippines and the US Navy base at Subic Bay. The arrival at the base was delayed slightly as the British Task Group 490.7 had to skirt around Typhoon Viola which was making its presence felt. The fleet eventually anchored on 27 May alongside a vast collection of warships from the USA, UK, Australia and New Zealand ahead of Exercise Ligtas, a large amphibious exercise.

 RFA TIDESPRING remained in the Far East and Indian Oceans throughout the rest of 1964 and berthed at Singapore Dockyard on 31 January 1965 ahead of a return voyage to the UK.

 In mid May 1965 she sailed for the Far East with stops at Malta and Singapore en route. By November she was in the Coral Sea operating with a mix of RAN, USN and other RN vessels in Operation Warrior, before berthing at Hobart in Tasmania on 9 December with the destroyer BARROSA and the Type 12 frigate WHITBY. Two days later a seaman from TIDESPRING appeared in Hobart's Magistrates' Court charged with deliberately immobilizing TIDESPRING's steering gear by damaging a telemotor pipe and four steering gear valves. He was sentenced to six months in jail and the ship sailed without him on 14 December.

 1965 and 1966 saw TIDESPRING operating in the Pacific and Indian Ocean's whilst on 14 July 1966 she berthed in the stunning surroundings of Malta's Grand Harbour.

 Later that year on 4 October the ship took part in Exercise Millsail together with RAN and RN units including RFA's RESURGENT, FORT DUQUESNE and FORT ROSALIE. The exercise was an advanced weapons exercise and was conducted in the Subic Bay training exercise areas.

 In November she was alongside Victoria Quay at Fremantle for seven days before sailing in company with the aircraft carrier VICTORIOUS on 25 November, which proved to be the aircraft carrier's final visit to Australia.

 A great deal of planning and co-ordination had been organised for TIDESPRlNG's next operational role, that of participating in the safe and timely withdrawal from the troubled region of Aden. TIDESPRING and nine other RFAs had been allocated to Operation Magister (part of Task Force 318) which, between 11 October 1967 and 25 January 1968, took the final British military units out of the country.

 One of the highlights of 1968, for the ship's company, was a chance to visit Auckland in New Zealand where the tanker arrived on 16 October.

On 3 August 1972 TIDESPRING called on Pitcairn Island, in the Pacific, to collect a party of Royal Engineers who had been left on the island by her sister ship TIDEPOOL in late June. The Engineers had been on the island to repair communications and build a number of projects for the islanders.

 RFA TIDESPRING spent the majority of her career out of the public eye but occasionally was in a position to render aid during political or humanitarian crises. One 18 such occurred in April 1972 when a hurricane smashed through the Indian Ocean and destroyed much of Rodrigues Island. TIDESPRING was soon on hand offering relief and supplies.

 On 8 June 1973 TIDESPRING sailed from Portsmouth in company with RFA REGENT as part of Task Group 317.1 which was led by the helicopter cruiser TIGER. The Task Group sailed to the South Atlantic and Caribbean on principally a training cruise, but one that would also involve a great deal of foreign visits to try to sell British military products and expertise to South American countries. As part of this deployment on 22 December and whilst in the Indian ocean TIDESPRING rendezvoused with a pair of American destroyers BRUMBY and KOELSH for a replenishment at sea.

 The following August TIDESPRING, with sister ship TIDEREACH and the stores ship TARBATNESS, sailed into cape Town on 29 August at the start of a series of exercises with the South African Navy.

 1975 proved a articularly varied year for the ship with February spent conducting JMC 751 in the North Sea and JMC 753 in June. In July the tanker sailed in support of the County class destroyer GLAMORGAN as she headed up Task Group 317.3.

 On 15 January 1976 the tanker paid another port of call to Auckland, New Zealand, whilst for five days in June of 1977 she took pride of place in the Solent as part of the fleet assembled for the Silver Jubilee Review of Queen Elizabeth Il's reign. All too soon it was back to work for the tanker when, in July, she was one of the supply ships assigned to Exercise High Wood, one of the largest naval exercises staged in the North Sea and Atlantic up until that point.

In September 1977 she was in dockyard hands at Rosyth but in May the following year, together with GREEN ROVER and STROMNESS, she was one of the escorts to the helicopter cruiser BLAKE on her cruise to the Pacific Ocean as part of Task Group 317.7. During the cruise TIDESPRING visited the huge American naval base at San Diego on 28 August. By 13 December, however, she was back alongside at Portsmouth.

 The early years of the 1980's were mostly uneventful. In 1981 TIDESPRING was one of a large number of vessels declared surplus to requirements in the wake of the infamous 1981 Defence Review. For the time being, however, she had a role to play and in January 1982 she took passage from Rosyth Dockyard alongside the assault ship FEARLESS and other RN warships in support of exercises with the US Navy at Puerto Rico as well as visiting Virgin Gorda and Aruba. The deployment was not, however, without incident when on 18 January the West German frigate AUGSBURG collided with TIDESPRING during a replenishment at sea. The German ship impacted the tanker on the port side just aft of the forward superstructure and caused a significant amount of damage. TIDESPRING, once again, had to leave the exercise early and made for the UK for repairs to be made.

 The spring of 1982 saw Argentina launch an unprovoked invasion of the Falkland Islands. At the time TIDESPRING was en route to Gibraltar for Exercise Springtrain and was immediately ordered to sail for the South Atlantic as part of Task Group together with ANTRIM, 317.8/1 GLAMORGAN, COVENTRY, GLASGOW, SHEFFIELD, BRILLIANT, ARROW and PLYMOUTH.

 She arrived at Ascension Island on 10 April where a pair of Wessex helicopters from 845 NAS was embarked together with men from 42 RM Commando. The next day she continued her journey south with her destination being the isolated and desolate island of South Georgia in company with the destroyer ANTRIM, frigate PLYMOUTH and the ice patrol ship ENDURANCE. The ice patrol ship rendezvoused with TIDESPRING on 14 April and the two ships improvised a method of refueling at sea as ENDURANCE was not equipped for replenishment at sea at the time. The retaking of South Georgia had been given the codename of Operation Paraquat and special forces from the ship landed on Fortuna Glacier on 21 April. During the operation to recapture the island both of the Wessex helicopters were lost when they rashed on the glacier. Two days later the rendezvoused with BRAMBLELEAF bout 100 miles off South Georgia but the ump over of fuel was delayed by 24 hours Iue to the threat of Argentinean submarines. After offloading the Royal larines at Cumberland Bay she embarked 87 prisoners of war and took them to Island for repatriation in company with the destroyer ANTRIM. On 7 May her escort was exchanged for the frigate ANTELOPE and the pair arrived at Ascension on 12 May. She remained in the region for four days before starting back outh again in company with the ill fated In the following days she operated with MV BRITISH TRENT, MV RISHMAN and RFA RESOURCE.

 A pair of Wessex helicopters had been embarked as replacements for those lost on South Georgia, but sadly on 12 June one of hese was onboard GLAMORGAN when was hit by a land based Exocet anti ship nissile. The helicopter was completely destroyed in the explosion that ripped through the destroyer's hangar.

 Five days later TIDESPRING was in high demand with RASs conducted with BRILLIANT and ANDROMEDA as well as a vertical replenishment with the frigate BROADSWORD. The next day it was the turn of the patrol ship DUMBARTON CASTLE to receive stores and mail from TIDESPRlNG's sole Wessex helicopter. further RASs were conducted over the next days with RFA BAYLEAF and another with BROADSWORD.

 When the Argentine's surrendered to the British forces, it allowed for TIDESPRING to enter San Carlos Water on 26 June along with the other members of the fleet. She dropped anchor for the next two days and conducted a series of flying operations across the Falkland Islands. She sailed for the UK on 28 June, via Ascension Island, Oerlikons on the hangar roof. and arrived home on 22 July. Five days later she discharged 2,303 tons of furnace fuel oil, 7.519 tons of diesel and 2,548 tons of Avcat. She remained at Gosport until 5 August when she sailed for Devonport where she offloaded a further 2,900 tons of furnace fuel oil.

Tidespring Gibraltar
A slightly 'fuzzy' image of Tidespring in the Bay of Gibraltar during her return voyage to the UK post Falklands war operations. Showing the ravages of continuous operations in the South Atlantic , the damage to the port side, caused prior to deployment when in collision with the German frigate Augsburg, is still evident.

 RFA TIDESPRING was in urgent need of maintenance and repair and No. 1 dry dock at Gibraltar was made available for the tanker. She arrived at the colony on 15 August and the next day was cold moved into the dock. By October the repairs had been completed and TIDESPRING had returned to operational status.

 In the South Atlantic there were a number of pressing needs and one of these was the little known Operation Matchstick which commenced on 1 February 1983. TIDESPRING together with the frigate ARIADNE arrived off the isolated island of South Thule where an old whaling station had been used as an Argentine base. Sailors from both ships took part in the operation to destroy the facilities on the island. By mid April she was back at Rosyth Dockyard.

 In 1985 she was refitted at Humber Ship Repairers at Immingham and received a new bridge. The original planned new bridge structure did, however, have to be revised after it was discovered it would have adversely affected the ship's stability. A lighter version was subsequently installed. The ship also received Corvus chaff launchers, a pair of Mk7 20mm Oerlikons and two 7.62mm general purpose machine guns.

  The following year she returned to the Persian Gulf where she operated with the American aircraft carrier USS ENTERPRISE as well as the frigate BROADSWORD and destroyer CARDIFF. She would spend much of the latter end of her career in support of RN warships in the Gulf and on 3 June 1988 made a port visit to Dubai. Six months later she arrived back at Rosyth Dockyard on 20th November. Further repars and modifications were made to the ship in February 1989 whilst at Immingham. 1989 saw the ship being awarded an award in recognition of her achievements on the Armilla Patrol by the General Council of British Shipping. The organisation presented the tanker with an inscribed plaque to commemorate her service between November 1986 and 20 August 1988. The council similarly presented plaques to APPLELEAF, RAMBLELEAF, DILIGENCE, OLNA and' ORANGELEAF.

Tidespring Gulf 1988

 Two years later in May 1990 the ship's flexibility was, once again, demonstrated when she took part in Operation Eldorado off the coastline of Monrovia. As the civil war in the country raged TIDESPRING and the frigate BROADSWORD stood by to assist in any evacuation that was deemed necessary.

 Politics also played a hand in the ship's history when in August 1991 together with the frigate LONDON, TIDESPRING was scheduled to make a historic visit to Soviet Arctic ports to commemorate the 50th anniversary of Operation Dervish, the supply convoys to Murmansk and Archangel during the Second World War. The visits, however, were cancelled as the Soviet Union fell apart following a political coup in the country. One of the most high profile visits TIDESPRING made in her last full year of operation with the RFA was to London when in December 1991 she passed through the Thames Barrier.

 RFA TIDESPRING continued in service with the Royal Fleet Auxiliary until 1991, arriving at Portsmouth on 6 December to de-store prior to disposal.

 She was laid up at Portsmouth until 20 March 1992 when she was towed out of the naval base enroute to Alang, India, to be broken up by Incom Shiptrade. She arrived at the shipbreaking yard on 2 July and breaking commenced some eighteen days later.