2018 concluded with the publication of my third book of the year on 3 December 2018. HMS Bulwark (VII) Second of class, Second to none follows in the long line of commission books that have been published by the Royal Navy’s warships for over a century and is intended to serve as a lasting record of Bulwark’s rich heritage during her first 12 years of active service. Drawing on official records and interviews with a cross section of those who have served in Bulwark, including all of the former Commanding Officers, this book is the first comprehensive account of the Royal Navy’s, amphibious assault ship HMS Bulwark from her origins in the wake of the Falklands War of 1982 to when she entered extended readiness in 2017.
Versatility has proved to be the unofficial motto of the Royal Navy’s seventh ship to bear the name Bulwark throughout the first 12 years of her action packed service. Conceived during the Cold War, as the second of two Amphibious Assault Command and Control ships, Bulwark has operated in the opposing extremes of the Arctic Circle and the Arabian Gulf. Generally referred to as a Landing Platform Dock (LPD), due to the ship’s floodable well-dock which is capable of accommodating four landing craft, Bulwark has successfully carried out a diverse range of roles over the years from counter piracy operations, to trade promotion and serving as the Fleet Flagship.
Bulwark’s origins date back to a series of studies that were commissioned in the wake of the Falklands War to establish the best options for replacing the Royal Navy’s amphibious fleet, including its first generation of LPDs, Fearless and Intrepid. The Government subsequently placed the order for Bulwark with the Barrow-in-Furness shipyard of VSEL, now owned by BAE Systems, on 18 July 1996. She was launched on 15 November 2001 by Lady Victoria Walker, wife of the then Chief of the General Staff, General Sir Michael Walker, and commissioned in her home port of Devonport on 28 April 2005. Two months later, Bulwark made her public debut at the International Fleet Review held at Spithead to commemorate the Battle of Trafalgar’s bicentenary.
Bulwark’s operational career began in January 2006 when she deployed to the Middle East without escorts or any RFA support to counter terrorist, smuggling and piracy activities in the region. On her way home, Bulwark was diverted in response to the Israel-Lebanon crisis and evacuated 1,302 civilians from the port of Beirut on 21 July 2006 under the auspices of Operation Highbrow. Following the completion of Bulwark’s first refit in Devonport, she participated in a series of amphibious exercises in home and European waters.
Bulwark has appeared within several TV programmes, including the second series of Channel 5’s Warship programme, which recorded her involvement in the six month Taurus ’09 deployment to the Mediterranean, Middle East and the Far East. A year later, the City of Durham formally recognised the strength of Bulwark’s association with the Durham area by conferring upon the ship, “the Freedom of Entry to the city and thereby the right, privilege and honour of marching through the streets of the City on ceremonial occasions with swords drawn, bayonets fixed, drums beating, bands playing and colours flying” – a privilege exercised by the Ship’s Company in June 2010 and July 2016
As the Royal Navy’s most advanced Command and Control platform, Bulwark played a central role within the security operation that protected the Olympic and Paralympic sailing events held in Portland Harbour and Weymouth Bay in 2012. On completion of these duties, she briefly returned to Devonport before sailing to the Mediterranean for exercises as part of the Royal Navy’s annual Cougar deployment.
Ceremonial duties have become an increasingly frequent part of Bulwark’s programme, in-between subsequent Cougar deployments, due to her involvement in a number of high profile commemorations. These have included events to mark the 70th anniversary of the Battle of the Atlantic, the 350th anniversary of the founding of the Royal Marines and the 70th anniversary of the D Day landings. In early 2015, Bulwark participated in the international commemorations of the Gallipoli Campaign’s centenary, in and around the Gallipoli peninsula, while hosting The Prince of Wales and The Duke of Sussex, as well as, several British political and military VIPs. As these events took place, the Prime Minister, David Cameron, announced that the assault ship would sail from Turkey to the central Mediterranean to join the international search and rescue operations, as part of the UK’s response to recent tragedies involving migrants trying to cross between Libya and Europe. In total, 4747 people were rescued by Bulwark during her 2 months on station as part of Operation Weald. In the autumn, the ship returned to the Mediterranean for two major exercises and to support the Maltese Government’s security operation during the European Union’s Migration Conference and the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting.
2016 proved to be equally busy with the ship’s involvement in the commemorations to mark the Battle of Jutland’s centenary in the Orkney Islands; supporting the 28th Sunderland International Air Show, and leading the inaugural Joint Expeditionary Force (Maritime) Task Group deployment to the Mediterranean and the Middle East, as the Flagship of Commodore A P Burns OBE RN, who was Bulwark’s Captain from 2012 to 2014. The Task Group took part in amphibious exercises off Albania and Egypt before heading through the Suez Canal and conducting further exercises in Oman. Bulwark then spent a short period training the Somaliland Coastguard, before returning home via Haifa in Israel to Devonport where she arrived on 14 December 2016 to enter extended readiness.
Painting a vivid picture of life on board one of the Royal Navy’s most important warships of the 21st Century, the author brings Bulwark’s story alive using interviews and first-hand accounts. As part of his research the author has interviewed a representative cross section of those involved in the ship’s rich heritage from junior sailors, Royal Marines and members of the embarked squadrons, to all of the former Commanding Officers, as well as, those involved in the events leading up to her construction, the development of her design and building by the Barrow-in-Furness shipyard of BAE Systems. The book is fully illustrated throughout with a rich selection of photographs, the majority of which have been reproduced in full colour, and as such it is sure to appeal to all with an interest in the Royal Navy and its warships.
Title: HMS Bulwark (VII) 2005-2017 – Second of class, Second to none
Publisher: Royal Navy Decommissioning / Commissioning Books
Author: Richard Johnstone-Bryden
Foreword: Commodore James Parkin RN – COMATG
No of images: 354
Available exclusively via Navy Books.