Cdr Wheen addresses his ship's company as they move onboard

There is life and laughter in the mess decks and cabins of HMS Iron Duke for the first time in over three years as the frigate becomes the latest to near the end of a massive overhaul.

Upwards of 160 sailors from the youngest able seamen to experienced senior ratings and Commanding Officer Charlie Wheen have moved on board the frigate for the final phase of a huge refit which ensures the ship keeps pace with the latest developments in naval warfare and operations – as well as ensuring her engineering systems are ready for the rigours of global operations, and her living spaces match the expectations and requirements of sailors in 2022.

The ship, currently in the basin by the frigate refit complex in Devonport, is the first to benefit from Operation Baton (T23) – the crew of a ship entering refit transfer to one coming to the end of a maintenance period to help regenerate it.

In this instance, the crew of HMS Argyll filed off their frigate back in May, since when they’ve been working with defence industry partner Babcock to ready Iron Duke for renewed front-line duties.

Having seen extensive service around the world in an active career going back to 1993 as one of the older ships in her class, Iron Duke received the most comprehensive engineering job on her hull of all the Type 23 frigates to undergo the LIFEX (Life Extension) revamp.

To ensure she remains at the cutting edge of naval operations, a string of warfare and system upgrades have been carried out, including installing the Sea Ceptor air defence missile system, preparation to carry the Future Anti-Ship Guided Weapons – Martlet and Sea Venom anti-ship missiles carried by Wildcat helicopters – as well as numerous communication and navigation upgrades.

The crew will work with Babcock and contractors to prepare and calibrate those systems before the Portsmouth-based warship returns to sea, currently planned for February next year.

To mark moving back on board, the ship’s company mustered for a ceremonial raising of the Colours.

“I am extremely proud of the work that has been completed by my ship’s company and all supporting partners to get us to this point,” said Commander Wheen. “This is an exciting milestone; the first step on our journey back to sea and the moment we start breathing life back into the ship.”

“We are itching to get into the next phase of the project, preparing the ship and crew for the highly-anticipated ‘ready for sea date’. We are reminded today of HMS Iron Duke’s proud heritage, and it is a great privilege to be the custodians of her future.”

Gary Simpson, Managing Director of Babcock’s Marine Support business, said: “It has been a real team effort during the ship’s restoration and upgrade. During her time in dry dock HMS Iron Duke has had more than 1700 structural inserts fitted to the vessel, two times more than any other previous refit we’ve undertaken during the Type 23 Life Extension Programme.

“We’re delighted to see the crew return to the frigate and we’re looking forward to working with them as we support the final phase of her upkeep and commissioning before she heads out for sea trials.”