RogerBW's Blog

HMS Bulwark 03 June 2014

The amphibious warfare ship HMS Bulwark is the current flagship of the Royal Navy. Last Sunday I had the chance to go aboard her at Greenwich, since she was open to the public as a PR exercise; tickets vanished quite fast. Images follow: cc-by-sa on everything.

While I'd normally expect "bull'ərk", everyone aboard was very careful to pronounce the name "bull-walk".

The day started interestingly, with a view of the memorial to Joseph René Bellot, lost while on a search for the Franklin expedition.

Bellot memorial

As we queued to get in, we shuffled past the inflatable Royal Marine. Clearly the neck is a vulnerable point, which is why they don't have them.

Inflatable Royal Marine

First sight of Bulwark, moored a little up the river from Greenwich Pier.

First sight

Starboard side looking forward.

Starboard 1

Starboard side looking aft, as we waited to go aboard.

The way in

Vehicle deck, looking forward from starboard entrance. This huge space really does take up the bulk of the ship's internal volume.

Vehicle deck

The ramp aft from the vehicle deck up to the flight deck.

Flight deck ramp

General view of flight deck, looking forward.

Flight deck 2 Flight deck centre Flight deck 1

Over the side of the flight deck; passenger boat, gun mount, and in the mid-ground Cutty Sark and the entrance to Greenwich Foot Tunnel.

Over the side

Flight deck port aft, with ship recognition letters.

Flight deck port aft

Flight deck port forward, the Chinook landing zone (starboard side is obstructed by the crane).

Flight deck port forward

The ship's bell.

Bell

A Sea King on the flight deck.

Sea King 1

Sea King decoy launcher.

Decoy launcher

Sea King with observation bubble.

Sea King 2

Pressurised nitrogen bottle under Sea King port strut.

Nitrogen bottle

Sea King nose.

Sea King nose

External hatch, port side, just forward of the flight deck. I'm slightly pleased to know that the term "citadel" is still in use for NBC sealing precautions; it's something I remember from the County-class destroyer HMS London) when I had the chance to go over her early in 1982, just before she was sold to Pakistan.

Hatch

Lifebelt forward of that hatch, and escape trunk.

Lifebelt

Man Overboard, or MOB, alarm. To summon mob, say something disparaging about the Marines.

MOB alarm

A random winch on the port side. Purpose not at all obvious.

Winch

Command centre. This is the section for "landed" troops; the commodore in charge of the overall operation, and the brigadier commanding Marines, would sit at these red desks.

Landed command

Off to starboard of that, this section is for managing the actual ship. Her captain would sit in the raised area at centre, while individual control stations are in the area to the left.

Ship command

Aft of the landed-command area, the amphibious command area deals with small craft moving near the ship.

Amphib command

Aft of ship command, next to amphibious command, this section was only roughly described to us but appears to be related to damage control and other internal activities.

Damage control

L7 (FN MAG) GPMG, laid out as part of the Royal Marine kit.

GPMG

Rations, including tiny bottles of Tabasco.

Rations

Various camouflaged cloths and draperies.

Camo gear

One of the gun mounts (note reminder to right of controls). I'm assuming that this is one of the 30mm cannon, though I thought the ship only carried two of those.

Gun mount

The possibilities for confusion are endless.

Marine evacuation

Vehicle deck, port side looking aft. The LCVPs are clearly a very tight fit; two more are squeezed in behind these two, taking advantage of the side-mounted bridge and aft gate on the new Mk 5.

It was suggested to me by our guide that the whole vehicle deck could be flooded, not just this lower area. (He actually claimed that the vehicle deck would be lowered to achieve this, but it looked pretty firmly fixed to the sides.)

Vehicle deck port aft

The other visible LCVP, on the starboard side. The guide was very proud that they could operate for fourteen days without support.

Vehicle deck starboard aft

Beach matting for getting vehicles ashore in soft sand. The ramp up to the flight deck is visible above.

Beach matting

IRC, Inflatable Raiding Craft, used by the Marines to ensure that the beach is safe for LCVPs to come ashore. Note caged propeller for shallow or debris-choked water.

IRCIRC propeller

Hippo BRV, Beach Recovery Vehicle, generally known as "Frank the Tank"; built on the chassis of a Leopard 1A5 tank and used to retrieve vehicles that bog down or are damaged during a landing.

Hippo BRV

BvS 10 Vikings, fully amphibious (5 knots) but lightly armoured transports for Marines. The usual gun is another L7 GPMG, which can then be used dismounted. Everyone we met was carefully enthusiastic about all the kit they used, but the chap talking about these particularly liked them.

Viking 1 Viking 2 Viking 3 Viking 4 Viking 5 Viking 6

L118 Light Gun, 105mm howitzer generally towed behind a Land Rover or Pinzgauer.

Light Gun 1 Light Gun 2

Vents from the carbon dioxide store. The vehicle deck is a huge open area, and seems to me a major vulnerability. Of course, in theory a command ship like Bulwark is not meant to be too much in harm's way.

CO₂ vent

Controls for the ramp to the flight deck.

Control panel

Lifebuoy cover.

Lifebuoy cover

Life rafts on the starboard side, and what I think may be a Seagnat decoy launcher.

Life rafts

Starboard side aft, flight deck and gun mount.

Starboard aft

Starboard midships gradually moving forward, a remarkable confusion of machinery.

Starboard mid 1Starboard mid 2Starboard mid 3Starboard mid 4Starboard bow

Another vehicle access hatch on the starboard side.

Vehicle access hatch

Forward Goalkeeper mount.

GoalkeeperGoalkeeper

Moving away. We didn't get to see the forward deck area at all; it's kept fairly clear around the box on which the Goalkeeper is mounted. One wonders why the superstructure wasn't moved forward a bit and a hangar squeezed in, rather than keeping helicopters on the open deck. The Dutch-Spanish Rotterdam LPD can do it…

Moving away

Bow on. We hadn't seen the "real" bridge either (though it seems clear that the ship's meant to be operated from the command centre most of the time), or any machinery spaces.

Bow on

The Old Brewery was conveniently nearby.

Meantime

There was less complexity visible than on Belfast or my dim memories of London; obviously some of that is because there were substantial areas we weren't allowed to see, but also because this isn't a particularly combatant ship, so there are no big guns or missile launchers (and ancillary equipment for either) that one would see aboard such. The payload of this ship, the reason she exists, is the big empty space in the middle.


  1. Posted by Michael Cule at 06:40pm on 03 June 2014

    Is it wrong that I feel odd that the flagship is a marine-landing vehicle rather than, say, a battleship or an aircraft carrier?

  2. Posted by RogerBW at 11:03pm on 03 June 2014

    I also find it faintly surprising. But the only other "big" ships the RN has in service at the moment are HMS Illustrious (now a helicopter-carrier only since all the Harriers are gone, and probably due to be decommissioned some time this year) and HMS Ocean, an LPH rather than an LPD (a similar role, but troops are expected to get off mostly by helicopter).

  3. Posted by Ashley at 01:48pm on 04 June 2014

    Nice selection of pictures that capture the feel of being aboard Bulwark. She's a nice ship.

    I thought the navy had launched a new Destroyer recently, and that was going to be the flag ship. Must have misread the news piece.

    PS: have you seen the HMS Enterprise, a pretty looking survey ship?

  4. Posted by RogerBW at 02:05pm on 04 June 2014

    I'm assuming one of the new CVFs will become the new flagship once they're in service. (Or it's in service, depending.)

    I'm not familiar with Enterprise; a fine rakish bow. I note the class is equipped with azimuth thrusters, something else the Rotterdam LPDs have over the Albions.

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