Daily Archives: 7 December, 2009

RFA privatisation ‘a done deal’ according to Union

The rumoured privatisation of the Royal Fleet Auxiliary is said to be a done deal, according to Union officials quoted in todays Independent.

The RFA employs 2,000 people and runs 16 ships, supporting the Royal Navy’s operations around the globe. The move could result in British sailors being replaced with cheap labour from countries such as the Phillipines, and even fears that new RFA ships could be built in India and China, hitting British shipbuilding hard.

Ministerial sources say that the MoD is struggling with severe cash-flow problems because of Afghanistan and has asked the head of every department to identify 10 per cent cuts – adding up to £200m – by Christmas. One sources spoke of “blind panic” in the MoD, such is the scale of the cash crisis. “Wherever they can save money, it’s forget about the long term.”

The RMT leader, Bob Crow, said a loophole in the minimum-wage legislation exempted shipping. “The RFA is mainly a British crew,” he said. “But this is purely a cost-saving exercise. The only way they could save large sums of money is by cutting the cost of the staff. So the people who supply the fleet with fuel and munitions would be casual labour, and it doesn’t take much imagination to see the inherent security risks in that. It could also mean that new ships are built in India or China, rather than British shipyards. We will use every tool in our possession to fight this.”

John McDonnell, the left-wing Labour MP for Hayes and Harlington, predicted there would be a backbench rebellion over plans to privatise the RFA. “There will be a lot of anger. It is lunatic in the extreme at this point in time – who in their right minds would make us vulnerable in this way? It’s extraordinary. There would be a rebellion of backbench MPs. It comes close to a general election and covers a lot of concerns – from security to the principle of privatisation,” he said.

An MoD spokeswoman said: “The ministry is looking at ways we can improve efficiency across defence. We are considering a number of options how we achieve this, and trade unions are fully engaged in the process. No decision has yet been made.”

Now, from my cynical point of view, when a Government spokesperson says ‘no decision has yet been made’, that lets the cat out of the bag. Improving efficiency? If it wasnt so serious it would be hilarious. Also, it merely confirms that the Ministry of Defence is run by accountants.

Sadly there are also bigger issues at hand. The Royal Navy simply has to get better at fighting its own corner. In many respects it is still the ‘silent service’ when it comes to standing up for itself. And where do we stand on future projects? Its all very well planning for new Aircraft Carriers, but if we are so hard-up we have to privatise our support services? Also, the Royal Air Force has to look at itself. How useful are those 200 odd Europfighters compared to 16 Auxiliary vessels?

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Pompey’s WW2 submariners

HM Submarine Triumph

HM Submarine Triumph

To serve onboard submarines has always taken a particular breed of man. Cramped, claustrophobic, dirty, smelly, a completely different kind of life and with a particularly nasty set of dangers, its difficult not to have admiration for the men who volunteered to serve in Submarines. Very few men were fortunate enough to survive their Submarine being attacked and sunk.

The submarine played a crucial part in the Second World War. Of course we all know how the Kriegsmarine’s U-boats almost brought Britain to her knees in the battle of the Atlantic, but British Submarines played an equally crucial role in disrupting Axis convoys in the Meditteranean, especially those sailing from Italy to North Africa.

Perhaps one of the most famous British submarines of the Second World War was HMS Triumph. Early in the war she completed the staggering feat of crossing the North Sea after having 18 foot of her bow blown off by a mine on Boxing Day 1939.

After being repaired she went on to give sterling service. Operating in the Mediterranean from early 1941, Triumph sank the Italian merchants Marzamemi, Colomba Lofaro, Ninfea, Monrosa, the Italian auxiliary patrol vessels V 136 / Tugnin F, Valoroso, V 190 / Frieda and V 137 / Trio Frassinetti, the Italian tugs Dante de Lutti and Hercules, the German merchant Luvsee, and the Greek sailing vessels Panagiotis and Aghia Paraskeva. She also damaged the Italian armed merchant cruiser Ramb III, the Italian tankers Ardor and Poseidone, the Italian merchant Sidamo and the German merchant Norburg.

In early 1941, she sank the Italian submarine Salpa off the port of Alexandria, Egypt. In August of that year, she torpedoed the Italian cruiser Bolzano, which suffered considerable damage but survived. Bolzano was later captured by the Germans after the surrender of Italy in 1943, while she was under repair from the damage she had received from Triumph. The cruiser was later sunk in 1944.

Interestingly, Triumph was also slated to play a part in Britain’s first ever airborne operation, Operation Colossus. She was due to evacuate the airborne men after they had attacked the Aqueduct at Tragino, but this had to be cancelled and they were captured and became Prisoners of War.

HMS Triumph left Alexandria on 26th December 1941 to land a party of commandos ashore and then patrol the Aegean. Four days later she signalled that the party had been successfully landed at Bireans. She was due to return to pick up the commandos on 9th January but failed to make the rendezvous. Nothing further was heard of the submarine. No axis power claimed her destruction and it is believed that she struck a mine.

Two Portsmouth men are known to have gone down on HMS Triumph: Electrical Artificer 1st Class Arthur Bigglestone, 36, and Petty Officer Frank Collison, 29 and from Cosham. Both had been awarded the Distinguished Service Medal for continued bravery on Submarine patrols, and both were also awarded a posthumous bar to their DSM, a second award of the same medal.

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