In 1969 Fairmile Construction won orders from the Ministry of
Defence to build two Long Range Recovery and Support Craft
for the Royal Air Force. RAF Marine Craft Historian, Donald
Smith takes a look back at two of the biggest vessels to be built
at the Berwick shipyard.
Initial Ministry of Defence estimates saw a requirement for ten Long Range Recovery and Support Craft (LRRSC), capable of sustaining the RAF Marine Branch’s Long Range commitment for the foreseeable future. In the event only three were ever constructed, two of them at Berwick. The lead vessel (which gave the class their name) was built by Brooke Marine at Lowestoft under a ‘Design and Build’ contract and was launched in 1967. A contract for two additional vessels was put out to tender and was won by Fairmile Construction Ltd, Berwick-upon-Tweed.Although they proved to be both excellent sea boats and ideally suited for their work, no further vessels of the class were ordered. The Ministry of Defence issued a directive on the 4th May 1984 commencing the winding-up of the RAF Marine Branch. As a result RAFV Sea Otter (5002) was transferred to the Royal Navy on the 30th October 1984. The craft was towed to the yard of Brooke Marine at Lowestoft on the 2nd February 1985 for a refit which included arming the craft and conversion to naval standards. In March 1985 the former LRRSC was renamed HMS Redpolewith a new pennant number P259 and emerged in overall light grey livery flying the white ensign. She had been given an enclosed wheelhouse and extended bridge wings and the rather distinctive raised exhaust stacks. She joined her four half sisters of the Royal Navy Kingfisher class in RN patrol craft duties. For the most part of her Royal Naval service, the HMS Redpole operated with HMS Kingfisher in Northern Ireland waters and over the following years was progressively modified for the role. The modifications included removal of the 40mm gun, the addition of a hydraulically operated davit aft for use with Gemini craft. Brackets were added to the hull sides for operation of the small tenders and additions were fitted on her transom.As part of the continuing cut in defence costs, the HMS Redpole was replaced in her Northern Ireland role in 1994 by a River class minesweeper and was subsequently earmarked for disposal. HMS Redpole arrived at Portsmouth flying her paying off pennant on the 13th July 1994 and after destoring was laid up in No 3 Basin at the Dockyard awaiting further sale or disposal. A sale to a foreign navy fell through and after many months in lay up, the Redpole was sold and towed from Portsmouth on the 28th February 1996. Her new home for four years was Southampton, (American Wharf on the River Itchen). Her buyers eventually sold the craft on for further use in 2000 and the Redpole left the Solent on the 11th May 2000 under a new name of Badtzmaru and registered in Kingstown. Based in Baltimore, the former Sea Otter was re-named Badtz Maru after a popular Japanese cartoon character. In 2012 the vessel returned to 'active service' as Seaman Guard Virginia and was undertaking anti-piracy duties in the Gulf of Aden having been sold to the United States-based private security company AdvanFort.On closure of the RAF Marine Branch on 31st March 1986, the other two Seal class vessels, Seal and Seagull were transferred to a civilian management company, James Fisher and Son, but remained under RAF control as AFV’s (Air Force Vessels). Later in 1991 the control of the vessels passed to the Directorate of Marine Services (Navy), the craft at that time changed to Black & buff livery. Subsequently repainted in RAF colours but without the roundel etc, Seal and Seagull in 2000 both operated from Invergordon, under the management of V.T. (Vosper Thorneycroft) Marine services. When V.T. lost the contract to Smit towing in 2003 both vessels were sold off and replaced by purpose built civilian craft. After a lengthy lay-up at Southampton, Seal and Seagull were delivered to Nigeria at the end of 2006 by the Dutch delivery company Redwise.CONSTRUCTIONThe hull of the LRRSC was of all-welded steel construction, longitudinally framed, and flush decked with a soft nosed raked stem and transom stern. Five transverse bulkheads divided the hull into six watertight compartments, forward of the engine, a double bottom was worked into the forward half length. The superstructure, funnel, and mast were of aluminium with huck bolt connection to the steel hull. Working aft along the hull, aft of the fore peak and chain locker was the toilet and messing facilities for the crew, galley, mess for 14 airmen, and a 4-berth cabin for NCO’s. Aft of the accommodation was the main engine room, aft of which was the weapon recovery compartment with a screened-off weapon store at its fore end. Located in the superstructure was the wheelhouse, chart room, and W/T office - all partially raised - followed by two single cabins for officers, the wardroom, toilet facilities, and a workshop and store. The remainder of the superstructure formed a casing over the engine room and weapons store. All accommodation was mechanically ventilated by a system supplied by Norris Warming Co of Newcastle.On the port side of the superstructure was a wide access to a broad alleyway to allow the free passage of stretcher cases down to the crew’s mess, and a secondary means of access was by a large hatch forward of the wheelhouse plumbed by a short hinged derrick arm. The wheelhouse was equipped with Mathway power assisted steering and Bloctube hydraulic controls for the main engines, all controls duplicated on the open upper bridge. Navaids included gyro and magnetic compasses, Walker log, Offshore echo sounder, Kelvin Hughes radar, Decca, an aircraft type radio compass and search and rescue beacon equipment. The W/T office, arranged on open style aircraft style was used for keying operations, whilst all UHF and VHF was conducted using handsets in the wheelhouse.Main propulsion was by twin 16-cylinder Davey Paxman Ventura type YJCM diesels, each rated at 2,000 BHP at 1,485 rpm, coupled two twin shafts through ZF 1.25:1 reverse/reduction gearboxes. Electric power at 440V 3-phase and 115V single-phase ( for lighting ) a.c. Was supplied by two 55kW / 75kVA Rootes alternators each powered by a 3-cylinder Lister Blackstone type TS3MA diesel developing 90 BHP at 1,800 rpm. Main and auxiliary machinery was remotely operated from a control position at the fore end of the engine room. (The Rootes/Lister Blackstone equipment were later replaced with Foden motors, as it was fond that the power wasn't sufficient at times when everything was running. It was also found that the noise levels in the crew accommodation from the generators exceeded the then Health and Safety levels).*Weapons and training aids were originally recovered through a hydraulically operated stern ramp, hinged at its foot, fitted in the transom. (In 1977 however the hydraulic stern ramps were sealed and torpedo recovery was thereafter carried out by using the HIAB after the recovery craft had brought it back alongside*). The weapons were hauled up at a recovery speed of up to 600ft/min by an electric/hydraulic winch with 4,000 ft of ¼” FSWR. As an alternative there was a 1-ton Welin single arm davit with a working radius of 16ft plumbing a hatch on the after deck and two small hatches on the casing roof. To assist with recovery from the sea, an RFD inflatable Z-boat with an outboard motor was provided. Lifesaving requirements were met by two 10-man life rafts stowed abaft the funnel. Stowage space was provided in the recovery compartment for nine short and four long torpedoes.Weapons and training aids were recovered through a hydraulically operated stern ramp, hinged at its foot, fitted in the transom. The weapons were hauled up at a recovery speed of up to 600ft/min by an electric/hydraulic winch with 4,000 ft of ¼” FSWR. As an alternative there was a 1-ton Welin single arm davit with a working radius of 16ft plumbing a hatch on the after deck and two small hatches on the casing roof. To assist with recovery from the sea, an RFD inflatable Z-boat with an outboard motor was provided. Lifesaving requirements were met by two 10-man life rafts stowed abaft the funnel. Stowage space was provided in the recovery compartment for nine short and four long torpedoes.CREW*The crew consisted of 18 men. Skipper, 1st Officer, F/Sgt Master Coxswain, Sgt Master Coxswain, Cpl Coxswain, 6 M.B.Cs, Cook, W/Op, Radio/Radar Fitter, either a W/O Marine Engineer, a F/Sgt Marine Fitter or a Chief Technician Marine Fitter in charge of the engine-room, plus a Cpl and a Junior Technician Marine Fitter. On patrols around Northern Ireland during the Troubles the vessels also carried an Army Boarding Party of 6 along with an explosives dog.*Additional indicated by asterisk provided by Former LRRSC Seagull Crew Member David L. Wilkinson (RAF Marine Branch, 1969-1981).