It is known in the Royal Navy and Royal Fleet Auxiliary as the ‘Del Boy Run’ – but it has nothing to do with the hit TV comedy Only Fools And Horses.
That said, the BBC sitcom’s Derek 'Del Boy' Trotter would no doubt be rubbing his hands and saying ‘lovely jubbly’ at the sheer volume of pukka supplies that have been unloaded, not off the back of a lorry, but off a ship – as RFA Tidespring picked up all the supplies for the nine-ship Royal Navy Carrier Strike Group.
This included 31 pallets of food, more than 3,500 litres of UHT milk and half a tonne of pasta.
The picking up of supplies to re-supply ships at sea and on operations has been called the Del Boy Run in the RFA long before the crafty Cockney wheeler-dealer Derek Trotter, played by David Jason, hit the airwaves in the 1980s and 1990s. A Royal Navy spokesman said:
“A 'Del Boy run' has nothing to do with Only Fools and Horses - it's actually short for ‘delivery boy’,” adding: “Although it proved particularly popular when Del Boy was at his peak in the 90s.”
This particular Del Boy Run delivery was enough to keep the crews in supplies for the for the next leg of their maiden deployment across some 3,000 miles of ocean from the Malay peninsula to the island of Guam.
RFA Tidespring is part of the Royal Fleet Auxiliary (RFA) fleet that delivers worldwide logistic and operational support to Royal Navy operations – the uniformed civilian branch of the naval service staffed by UK merchant sailors.
The RFA is an essential element of how the Royal Navy operates around the globe and supports a wide spectrum of operations including everything from counter-piracy, disaster relief and counter-narcotics to law enforcement and evacuation operations, as well as supply operations during conflict.
HMS Queen Elizabeth dispatched the tanker RFA Tidespring on a rapid ‘Del Boy Run’ into Singapore to pick up all the supplies for needed for the latest stretch of the deployment.
The tanker sailed into the naval base at Sembawang in Singapore for a whistle-stop stock-up, before rejoining the task group to pass those supplies around the force – and everyone on board the ships soon got to hear that the Del Boy Run had been made, especially as the delivery included 240 sacks of mail from back home.
While much of the public gaze has tended to focus on the warships, F-35 Lightning jets and air power at the heart of the task group, the two unsung Royal Fleet Auxiliary Ships in the group are Fort Victoria and Tidespring – considered a crucial part of the seven-month deployment.
The former is a one-stop-shop providing most of the group’s needs – fuel, food, ammunition, spare parts, replacement engines and the like – while fleet tanker Tidespring focuses on supplying the warships with fuel, although she also carries fresh water, food and stores.
There were 31 pallets of food for the flagship alone including 3,500 litres, or 6,160 pints, of UHT milk and half a tonne of pasta ready to be loaded aboard Tidespring.
There were a further four pallets of food for RFA Fort Victoria, three for HMS Kent, five for HMS Richmond, and six for the Dutch ship HNLMS Evertsen, plus six for Tidespring herself.
Even more stocks were delivered for the ships’ NAAFI shop to boot.
Also awaiting collection for the delivery included 240 sacks of mail – a mainstay of morale across the task group with letters and parcels from home – 20 pallets of spare parts to fix items and machinery throughout the force and 55 pallets of general stores and supplies for Fort Victoria, which is the group’s ‘floating warehouse’.
Everyone aboard the tanker – from her Commanding Officer, Captain ‘Dickie’ Davies through to the entire ‘deck department’ and Royal Navy personnel from 1700 Naval Air Squadron, normally responsible for helicopter operations – chipped in with the loading effort.
Once Tidespring had caught up with the task group, it took two days to distribute the deliveries around the group.
It took three hours for Merlin helicopters to ferry 52 loads of supplies to HMS Queen Elizabeth – slung in huge netted bags beneath the aircraft, as the carrier and HNLMS Evertsen were simultaneously refuelled, all while F-35B Lightnings were being launched.
It took another two-and-a-half hours to deliver supplies to HMS Kent and the Dutch frigate. Capt Davies said:
“The difficulty here was moving the fresh produce from the containers on the main deck to the flight deck but with a lot of joint effort, they were brought via the stores ramps and the lift into the hangar where they were ‘netted up’ and covered in freezer covers to keep them cool in very hot and humid temperatures.”
The final replenishment was a more traditional line transfer of 80 nets of supplies passed to RFA Fort Victoria, which was replenishing HMS Defender at the time.
The loads were shifted in just 102 minutes after dark – and with the entire formation turning in company to remain clear of a squid fishing vessel plying its trade.
Although such operations are bread and butter for both the Royal Navy and Royal Fleet Auxiliary, they require a huge logistical effort stretching all the way back to the UK, underlining the national effort supporting the Carrier Strike Group 21 deployment.
The Merlin transfer – known as a Vertical Replenishment or VERTREP – proved to be particularly impressive. Commander Jenny Curwood, the task group’s logistics commander, said:
“This was the first time in serving memory a UK Strike Group had vertically replenished 25 tonnes of fresh provisions, essential stores, F-35B spares and two tonnes of mail from a Royal Fleet Auxiliary vessel to multiple Royal Navy and partner ships.
“The fact we achieved such a feat of self-sustainment while operating 8,000 miles from home, concurrently launching F-35B jets on blue water operations, is all the more remarkable, but just another day’s work to continue sustaining this Strike Group at sea and at reach from the UK.”
The bulk of the task group is now in Guam in the Pacific enjoying a few days break from operations.