After more than four years away from the UK, Royal Navy frigate HMS Montrose today returned to Plymouth – the last major warship which is returning home in time for Christmas.
Around 800 family members and friends – many holding banners– lined the jetty at Devonport Naval Base to welcome home the ship, which hasn’t been in the UK since October 2018.
Since leaving home, Montrose has spent the bulk of her time deployed in the Gulf region; more than three-and-a-half years conducting patrols to safeguard merchant shipping, tackle criminal and terrorist activity, including arms and drugs smuggling, and working with allies as part of the international security effort.
During her deployment, the ship has:
• Achieved more than ten drugs busts, seizing 16 tonnes of illegal narcotics worth at least £80m
• Seized illegal shipments of surface-to-air missiles and cruise missile engines in the first bust of its kind by the Royal Navy in the region
• Guided more than 130 merchant vessels – cargo carriers, tankers, and container ships – through choke points
• Spent 1,509 days away from the UK, more than 1,350 of them in the Gulf
• Sailed more than 140,000 nautical miles (two-thirds of the distance to the moon)
Some of those activities – including a succession of drugs busts, plus the arms seizure in early 2022 – earned the frigate’s Commanding Officer Claire Thompson an OBE in the King’s first operational honors list, announced last month.
Bringing Montrose home to a rapturous welcome, Commander Thompson said: “Returning after four years away, in time for Christmas, and with 800 of our families and friends waiting for us on the jetty, mean the ship’s been excited and alive with expectation all week.
“The homecoming is a huge occasion and one that we have been looking forward to, over the past six months. Some of our younger sailors have never experienced the thrill of bringing a ship home and having their families on the jetty to meet them – it’s something I’m sure they will never forget.
“I’m enormously proud of what my team and the ship have achieved over those four years. It is fantastic to get them all home for the festive period, especially given we were away last year – we were actually conducting boarding operations on Christmas Day in 2021.”
Although the ship herself has been away from the UK for more than four years, her sailors and Royal Marines have not.
Her crew changes every four months, with the rotations planned so that the personnel spend at least one Christmas in two at home with loved ones.The 11 rotations of crew also spared the ship the month-long voyage to and from the Middle East at the beginning and end of a regular six or seven-month deployment, making the ship available for more operations, and allowing personnel to plan their lives with much greater certainty.
Principal Warfare Officer Lieutenant Commander Shaun Dodd has completed three tours of duty aboard Montrose in the Gulf and is “hugely proud of the work my team and I have achieved”.
“Having worked on the ship’s homecoming, I knew it would be a poignant, memorable and happy occasion for all involved,” he said.
Seaman Specialist Able Seaman Charlie Grant said: “The ship has done some rewarding work and I am proud to have been a part of that.” And from weapons engineering officer Lieutenant Commander Ellis Pearson: “We’re also really grateful we are the crew who’ve brought HMS Montrose home to the UK after four years.
“The ship is 30 years old now and her final homecoming has been very emotional for us all.”
After a short period of maintenance, Montrose will return to sea early in 2023 for operational duties and a ‘farewell tour’ – including a visit to her namesake Scottish town – before the ship is formally decommissioned in the spring.