HMS Bulwark & HMS Albion

As reports emerge that the Royal Navy could see amphibious assault ships HMS Albion and HMS Bulwark taken out of service, Forces Network has been looking at their accomplishments.

It's said the move, which the Ministry of Defence (MoD) has described as "pure speculation", could strip the Senior Service of its ability to attack enemy-held beaches.

But what operations have the two Albion-class warships been used for in the past?

HMS Bulwark

 

HMS Bulwark

Entering service in 2005, Bulwark left Britain early the next year for her first deployment, a six-month tasking East of Suez.

She was involved in counter-terror and counter-piracy operations off the Horn of Africa, before heading for the Persian Gulf to provide security for Iraqi oil platforms.

In summer the next year she was diverted from near Spain to support operations evacuating British citizens from the conflict area of the 2006 Lebanon War.

On July 20, she evacuated approximately 1,300 British nationals from Beirut - the largest evacuation conducted by the UK.

2006 Lebanon War
Bulwark helped evacuate British nationals after the outbreak of the 2006 Lebanon War. Picture: M Asser

Bulwark underwent her first refit in 2010 before rejoining the fleet the following year, when she took over from Albion as fleet flagship.

She carried out this role until June 2015, when it was assumed by HMS Ocean, which is to be decommissioned in spring next year.

One of her most prominent operations came about that year though, in response to the European migrant crisis.

Assisted by three Merlin helicopters from 814 Naval Air Squadron, she played a key part in the search and rescue operation off the Italian coast for migrants crossing from Libya, rescuing over 2,900 migrants from the sea.

It was a busy year for Bulwark. Between November and December, she helped to provide security for the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting held in Malta.

Earlier this year, meanwhile, she was mothballed, at the same time Albion emerged from refit to take on the 'high readiness' role.

As part of cost-cutting measures, it was decided during the 2010 Strategic Defence and Security Review that Albion and Bulwark would alternate between high and 'extended' readiness throughout their service lives.

This led to Albion being placed into a state of 'extended readiness' - or mothballed - in 2011.

It's been estimated that it costs £300,000 per year to keep one of the ships at extended readiness, while high readiness costs from £18-£39 million.

HMS Albion

 

HMS Albion, Exercise Joint Winter (2004)
Albion on exercise in Norway in 2004

The ninth ship to carry the name Albion (an ancient name for Great Britain), stretching back to a 74-gun 1763 warship, this modern warship was deployed on a multinational exercise for the first time in 2004.

She was declared fully operational after taking part in Exercise Joint Winter off Norway (see above), during which time she completed her cold weather sea trials.

It wasn't long before she was sent on operations for real.

Albion assisted in the 50-hour evacuation of British citizens from Ivory Coast later that year after the outbreak of civil war in the country, alongside a company of the Royal Gurkha Rifles, RAF Hercules aircraft and troops from 2nd Battalion, The Parachute Regiment.

Ivory Coast vs Serbia-Montenegro World Cup 2006
The Ivory Coast football team was ultimately credited with helping to secure a temporary truce when it qualified for the 2006 FIFA World Cup, bringing warring parties together. Picture: Bjorn Laczay

In 2010, Albion was sent to Santander, Spain during the air travel disruption after the volcanic eruptions in Iceland.

As part of Operation Cunningham she rescued 450 stranded forces personnel and around 280 British nationals, before heading to Portsmouth.

The following year she was deployed to waters off Libya to provide assistance to NATO's military intervention in the country, which was ultimately to lead to the death of its long-time leader Muammar Gaddafi.

She then continued on to the Indian Ocean to help with anti-piracy operations off the Horn of Africa, before being mothaballed as her and Bulwark swapped roles.

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