History of RFA Sir Tristram

The History of RFA Sir Tristram / TV Tristram


by Ashley Smith


TV Tristram, formerly RFA Sir Tristram (L3505), is a static training vessel and former landing ship logistics of the Round Table-class. Launched in 1966 and transferred to the Royal Fleet Auxiliary in 1970, she served in the Falklands War of 1982 and sustained major damage in an air attack at Fitroy. After a rebuild in 1984-85, Sir Tristram would go on to serve in further conflicts including the Gulf and Iraq Wars.


Taken out of RFA service in 2005, she was converted into the training ship TV Tristram and arrived at Portland Harbour, her new permanent home, in 2007. She is used for a range of military training purposes, including ordnance, helicopter and diving operations. Tristram is primarily used by the Special Boat Service and other elements of the Special Forces Group, while the Royal Naval Reserve Divers Branch have also used her for training in underwater search techniques. A 50 metre exclusion zone is in constant effect around the ship, and patrol boats are often active for safety purposes when training operations take place.


Launch of ship and active service (1965-2005)

Sir Tristram was ordered by the Ministry of Transport in April 1965 and was the fifth ship of the Round Table-class of landing ship logistics. The first of the new class, Sir Lancelot, had been ordered in December 1961 and prior to its launch in June 1963, the next two ships, Sir Galahad and Sir Geraint, were ordered in March that year. A further three, Sir Bedivere, Sir Tristram and Sir Percivale were all ordered in April 1965. Collectively, these five ships were launched during 1966-67, with Sir Tristram (LSL 05) being laid down on 14 March 1966, launched by Hawthorn Leslie and Company of Hebburn on 12 December 1966, and entered service on 14 September 1967. The six ships of the Round Table-class succeeded the existing Mark 8 Landing Craft Tanks that had been in service since World War II.

Sir Tristram Sep 1967

The class’s primary purpose was to provide a supporting role as landing ship logistics (LSL) to amphibious warfare ships. With their bow and stern doors, they were capable of handling quick roll-on/roll-off operations and could effectively beach themselves due to their shallow draught. The ships could accommodate up to 350 troops alongside tanks, vehicles, helicopters, equipment and supplies. Originally operated by the British-India Steam Navigation Company on behalf of the Royal Army Service Corps, the ships were transferred to the Royal Fleet Auxiliary in January 1970. Sir Tristram then received its pendant number L3505.

Sir Tristram was involved in the withdrawal of British Forces from Libya during January-March 1970. She made four journeys to Tobruk to collect troops, vehicles and equipment, and take them either to the UK, Malta or Cyprus. Alongside Sir Bedivere and Sir Geraint, she also formed part of a task force bound for the British Honduras in January 1972 after intelligence was received of an imminent Guatemalan invasion. In June 1977, she took part in the Queen’s Silver Jubilee Fleet Review at Spithead. Together with RFA’s Lyness and Sir Geriant, she embarked from Southampton Ocean Terminal to take official guests around the fleet.

Copy of Sir Tristram L3505 05

Sir Tristam played a role in the Falklands War of 1982. She and Sir Galahad suffered severe bomb damage at Fitzroy on 8 June while both were landing supplies and reinforcement troops. Sir Tristram was carrying 1,500 tons of supplies, including ammunition. During the operation, A-4 Skyhawks of the Argentine Air Force’s 5th Air Brigade launched two waves of attacks. Both ships suffered major damage, particularly Sir Galahad, which was quickly engulfed in smoke and flames with the aid of the on-board fuel and ammunition. Sir Tristram suffered a similar fate, though the fire took longer to spread. The two vessels were evacuated, with Sir Galahad, still carrying many troops waiting to land, suffering a loss of forty-eight men and many more seriously wounded, while Sir Tristam lost two crewmen.


Sir Tri

Ultimately, Sir Galahad had suffered such extensive damage that it was sunk on 25 June as a designated war grave. Sir Tristram, however, was not considered a total loss, and soon after the war, she was refloated and towed to Port Stanley to serve as an accommodation ship. It was later decided to have her rebuilt in the UK, and on 16 May 1983, she left Port Stanley and was transported home on the heavy-lift ship MV Dan Lifter.


Sir Tris piggy back


Arriving at Teeside on 13 June, she was refloated and then towed to the Tyne for a period of inspection. The fourteen month-long rebuilding programme commenced in August 1984 by Tyne Shiprepair Limited, and involved extending the ship’s length and replacing the aluminum superstructure with steel. She returned to service on 9 October 1985, and a week prior to that, had received a battle honour for her role in the Falklands.

From September 1990, Sir Tristram served in the Gulf War and returned to the UK in April 1991. She was one of ten ships of the Royal Fleet Auxiliary to receive the battle honour for “Kuwait 1991”. After the devastation caused by Hurricane Mitch, she was deployed to the coasts of Honduras and Nicaragua in November 1998 as part of Operation Tellar, the British humanitarian relief effort. Task Group 326.02, of which she was part of, received the Wilkinson Sword of Peace for their efforts.

In May-June 2000, Sir Tristram played a supporting role in Operation Palliser, the British military intervention in the Sierra Leone Civil War. She returned there in November as part of an Amphibious Ready Group under Operation Silkman, and again in May 2001 to succeed Sir Percivale as support ship of the British forces. From December, she was part of the first rotation of forces under Operation Veritas, which supported the American Operation Enduring Freedom against the Taliban government of Afghanistan. She returned to the UK in August 2002, and in January 2003, while undergoing maintenance and repairs at Portland Port (who have a contract to support the RFA), was called upon to serve with other RFA vessels in supporting British troops during the Iraq War. She returned to the UK that August. Having suffered an engine room fire while at Norway in March 2004, she immediately underwent repairs at Harstad, and saw further refits and maintenance in 2005 at Greenock.

Taken out of RFA service and new role as training ship at Portland (2006 – )

Sir Tristram was taken out of service on 17 December 2005, having arrived at Portsmouth from Marchwood Military Port the previous day. However, rather than be sold for scrapping, it was announced that she would undergo conversion work to become a static training ship for use of Special Maritime Forces. As her overall condition remained good, it was felt she was well-suited for such a role. Once converted, she was set to replace the 1945-built former maintenance and repair ship HMS Rame Head, which had been used by the Special Boat Service for training at Portsmouth since the 1970s.

With interest from a number of companies within the UK industry, A&P Group won the conversion contract, which was worth over £1.75 million. Sir Tristram was then towed by the tug Red Wolf to A&P’s facility at Falmouth, arriving there on 2 May 2007. The project took four months to complete and required the work of approximately eighty staff. Initially, the ship was placed at No. 3 Dry Dock before being relocated to Queen’s Wharf in late June. Conversion work was completed a week ahead of schedule in August. Some of the work included installing training aids such as classrooms, viewing galleries and CCTV systems, along with new power supplies. All redundant equipment was removed, the ventilation system upgraded, while the ship’s structure was given ballistic protection and watertight integrity for its new role.

Meanwhile, Rame Head had been moved to Portsmouth’s dockyard on 23 May to allow work to begin on new moorings for Sir Tristram. The work was carried out by RMAS Salmaid, a mooring and salvage vessel of HMNB Portsmouth, and completed on 9 June. However, by the time Sir Tristram‘s conversion was complete, a decision had been made to transfer the training facility from Portsmouth to Portland under Project Newman. As a result, Red Wolf towed her to Portland, where she arrived on 23 August. Renamed TV Tristram, she was anchored at a four-point mooring system in Portland Harbour, close to the southern ship channel. Rame Head ceased service in her training role in March 2008, and was subsequently sold for recycling and towed to Belgium in February 2009.

Tristram underwent a month-and-a-half refit at Queen’s Pier, Portland Port, in March-April 2013. The work was carried out by over thirty staff of UK Docks Marine Services of Sunderland, under a contract worth over £1 million, which had been put out to tender by Defence Equipment and Support (DE&S) in August 2012. It was originally intended for the work to be undertaken at Tristram’s mooring. However, negotiations between the contractor and Portland Port Ltd allowed the ship to be moved to Queen’s Pier instead. The work was undertaken to maintain safety standards and make minor modifications as deemed fit by the Ministry of Defence. It included preservation of the hull, a major repainting of the vessel and refurbishment of training areas, while various features were replaced, including the port landing platform, the generators and switchboard, and the sewage collection tank.  Tristram returned to her mooring on 25 April.



TV Tristram at her morrings in Portland Harbour

In 2016,  Tristram was due a dry dock inspection and associated remedial work. Following underwater surveying of the hull, the contract went out in March that year and was again won by UK Docks Marine Services. She was towed out of Portland Harbour on 24 October, bound for No. 3 Dock at UK Docks’ Teesside facility in Middlesborough. The project involved shot blasting of the hull, paint preparation repairs and repainting, and anode system renewals. Mechanical works were also undertaken and new boarding platforms installed. A survey of the hull’s thickness resulted in repairs being made to the steel work. Tristram was then towed back to Portland, arriving on 12 December to continue her training role. She is due to be finally taken out of service in 2020


© Ashley Smith 2017

original article can be found at http://portlandhistory.co.uk/