UNITED24 - Make a charitable donation in support of Ukraine!


British Royal Fleet Auxiliary

The Royal Fleet Auxiliary Service (RFA) is a civilian manned fleet, owned by the Ministry of Defence. Its main task is to supply warships of the Royal Navy at sea with fuel, food, stores and ammunition which they need to remain operational while away from base. It also provides aviation support for the Royal Navy, together with amphibious support and secure sea transport for Army units and their equipment. The RFA is managed by the Commodore RFA who is directly responsible to Commander in Chief Fleet, as a Fleet Type Commander, for the day to day administration and operation of the RFA Flotilla.

The primary role of the RFA is to supply the Royal Navy (RN) at sea, with the food, fuel, ammunition and spares that are required to maintain operations away from its home ports. In addition, the RFA provides the Royal Navy with sea going aviation training platforms as well as secure logistical support and amphibious operations capability for the Royal Marines (RM) and the British Army.

The Royal Fleet Auxiliary is a civilian-manned Flotilla owned and operated by the Ministry of Defence (MoD), comprising of aviation training ships, tankers, stores, and repair ships all used to support the Royal Navy. The RFA Flotilla is managed by the Commodore RFA who is directly responsible to the Commander in Chief Fleet (CinC Fleet) for day to day operations.

The RFA employs over 2,300 civilian officers and ratings, and is one of the biggest employers in British Shipping. Royal Fleet Auxiliary personnel have a certain amount of specialist training to meet the requirements of operating with the RN, NATO, and other world navies. UK personnel serve under RFA conditions of service which contain clauses that take account of the Service centred around replenishment at sea, and also provide that the crew stay with the ship in the event of its being directed to an area where warlike hazards may arise. Personnel follow the traditional training paths of their Merchant Navy counterparts to obtain professional qualifications, but with a substantial overlay of Navy training to develop the skills needed in an operational environment. Many RFA ships carry naval or military parties for tasks such as the operation and maintenance of helicopters.

Royal Fleet Auxiliary History

Supply of the Fleet has posed a logistic problem that is virtually as old as the Royal Navy itself. In the days of wooden warships the requirements were relatively simple - powder, shot, timber, canvas, victuals and, of course, rum. But as the Navy grew in size and complexity its logistical needs became evermore diverse. By the end of the 19th century, wooden hulls and sails had given way to ironclads and steam.

The Royal Navy's supply chain was spread across the world with a network of base ports, coaling stations and depots. These were serviced, in the main, by Merchant Navy ships, owned or chartered by the Admiralty. Then, in 1905 the Lords Commissioners issued an instruction that stated: "Auxiliaries which belong to the Admiralty will be styled Royal Fleet Auxiliaries'... those on charter will be styled Merchant Fleet Auxiliaries'." Thus the RFA came into being.

The Royal Fleet Auxiliary came into being on the 3rd of August 1905, before that all the RFA's ships started with HMS. It began by carrying coal bunkers and other stores, acquiring a tanker fleet as British warships became oil burning during World War I. The RFA saw service in every naval theatre of operations (from the Arctic to the Pacific) in the Second World War, including the Maltese, Russian and other convoys. Since then it has supported the Royal Navy and the Army in Korea, Suez, Cyprus, Beira, Kuwait, Borneo, Belize, Aden and in the Icelandic Wars. During the Falklands Conflict in 1982, the RFA spearheaded logistic support for the Task Force, losing RFA Sir Galahad to heavy air attack at Fitzroy.

The year 2005 celebrated the 100th year of the Royal Fleet Auxiliary Service. Throughout its history RFA officers and men have distinguished themselves, many being decorated for their gallantry and fortitude. For the past one hundred years the RFA has earned many battle honours. The Flotilla deployed in support of British forces during the Second World War (1939-45), the Korean War (1950-53),the Falklands War (1982) and both Gulf Wars (1990 and 2003).

More recently, the RFA played a fundamental role in the Gulf War supporting the British task Force, and in the Adriatic supporting the UN Task Force. The RFA's also formed part of the British contribution to operations in former Yugoslavia and are often deployed in support of Britain's contribution to Nato and United Nations peace-keeping operations around the world. Most Royal Fleet Auxiliary ships carry, or are capable of carrying, Royal Navy helicopters and the RN personnel required to operate and maintain them away from the UK.

Royal Fleet Auxiliary Fleet

RFAs are distinguished by their grey color and their flag, the blue ensign defaced by an upright gold anchor. There are 16 ships in the RFA fleet; 6 Fleet and Support tankers, 2 Dry Cargo Fleet Replenishment Ships, 2 combined fuel and stores replenishment ship, 4 Landing ship's Dock, 1 Aviation Training Ship and 1 Forward Repair Ship. RFA Argus was converted to an Aviation Training Ship at Harland and Wolff and entered service in 1989.

The RFA is a mixture of old and new vessels. The Wave class tankers are new vessels, only coming into service in 2003. However, the other tankers are a great deal older, and are scheduled to be replaced with new double hulled vessels over the next few years. The stores ships are relatively modern, and so will not need replacing until the second decade of the 21st century. The Bay Class boats are the replacements for the old Sir boats, the last of which was the RFA Sir Bedivere, and she was placed on the disposal list in April of 2008.

The mainstay of the current Royal Fleet Auxiliary flotilla are the tankers. There are three classes of tankers in service, the fast fleet tankers of the Wave class, the small fleet tankers of the Rover class and the slower support tankers of the Leaf class. The new Bay boats are the replacements for the old Sir boats. The Stores vessels in the fleet are the four Fort class ships RFA Austin, George, Rosalie, and Victoria.

Two of the most unique ships in the fleet are the repair vessel RFA Diligence and the aviation training ship RFA Argus. RFA Argus also doubles as the Primary Casualty Receiving Ship. Essentially the ship functions as a kind of hospital ship. The final ships in the fleet are the ones that are most likely to expose themselves directly to enemy fire. The Round Table class LSLs (Landing Ship Logistics) supplement the amphibious assault ships that are commissioned warships in the Royal Navy. One of the class, RFA Sir Galahad, was sunk in the Falklands War, and the current ship of that name is a replacement for the sunk vessel built after the war.

RFA Argus's primary role is to provide operational flying training for Royal Navy aircrews. More than two-thirds of her length is given over to a five-spot flight deck, enabling her to operate all types of helicopters. The ship is effectively a small aircraft carrier, with a flying control position, and her two lifts built into the flight deck serve four hangar spaces below, where embarked aircraft are serviced and maintained. She can also function as an operational helicopter carrier, particularly in the amphibious warfare role, and as a logistic ship, able to transport cargo and vehicles in the hangars and on the deck. This flexible ship has one other important secondary role - that of primary casualty reception ship. Equipped with a hospital complex comprising two operating theatres and 95 beds, she can accept casualties flown straight out to the ship by helicopter.

Forward repair is the final element of the RFA's capability. This is provided by RFA Diligence, a complex ship fitted with workshops and equipment to cater for a wide range of repair and maintenance requirements at the front line of maritime operations. While battle damage repair is her wartime role, the ship is used extensively in her forward support role, acting as mother ship in support of Royal Navy units - usually minehunters or submarines - on distant deployments. Besides her heavy repair facilities, she is equipped to provide auxiliary electrical power, fuel, fresh water, sullage and crew accommodation.

Over the years the RFA has developed into a complex multi-purpose Flotilla, providing the Royal Navy with replenishment, training and forward repair capabilities, and the Army and Royal Marines with secure sea-borne logistical support. Despite all the changes one thing remains constant. The RFA continues to be manned by British seafarers who are part of Merchant Navy.

Join the GlobalSecurity.org mailing list

Page last modified: 11-07-2011 03:04:57 ZULU