Royal Fleet Auxiliary

Royal Fleet Auxiliary

The Royal Fleet Auxiliary (RFA) is a component of the Naval Service that keeps the Royal Navy of the United Kingdom running around the world. Its main function is to supply the Royal Navy with fuel and supplies. It also counts a repair ship, and amphibious assault vessels amongst its assets. RFA personnel are civilians of the Ministry of Defence civil service who wear Merchant Navy-style rank insignia with naval uniforms and are under naval discipline when the vessel is engaged on warlike operations. RFA vessels are manned primarily by these civilians, augmented with regular and reserve Royal Navy personnel to perform specialised military functions such as operating and maintaining helicopters or manning hospital facilities. The RFA is funded out of the UK defence budget, the Commodore commanding the RFA is directly responsible to the Royal Navy Commander-in-Chief Fleet (CINCFLEET).


The RFA was first established in 1905 to provide coaling ships for the Navy in an era when the change from sail to coal-fired steam engines as the main means of propulsion meant that a network of bases around the world with coaling facilities or a fleet of ships able to supply coal were necessary for a fleet to operate away from its home country. Since the Royal Navy of that era possessed the largest network of bases around the world of any fleet, the RFA at first took a relatively minor role.

The RFA really came into its own in World War II when the British fleet was often far from available bases, either due to the enemy capturing available bases, or, in the Pacific, the sheer distances involved. WWII also saw naval ships staying at sea for much longer periods than had been the case since the days of sail. Techniques of underway replenishment, or Replenishment At Sea (RAS), were developed particularly by the United States Navy. The auxiliary fleet was a polyglot collection with not only RFA ships, but commissioned warships and merchantmen as well. However, the need for such a fleet was unambiguously demonstrated by WWII.

After 1945, the RFA assumed centre stage in supporting the operations of the Royal Navy in the many conflicts that the Navy was involved in. The RFA performed important service to the Far East Fleet off Korea from 1950 until 1953, when sustained carrier operations were again mounted in Pacific waters. During the extended operations of the Konfrontasi in the 1960s, the RFA was also heavily involved. As the network of British bases overseas shrank during the end of the Empire, the Navy increasingly relied on the RFA to supply its ships during routine deployments.

The RFA played an important role in the largest naval war since 1945, the Falklands War in 1982 (where one vessel was lost and another badly damaged), and also the Gulf War, Kosovo War, Afghanistan Campaign and the 2003 invasion of Iraq. With the end of the Cold War, and the resumption of the worldwide role for the Royal Navy, the RFA will be called on a great deal in the next few decades.


Ships in RFA service carry the prefix RFA, standing for Royal Fleet Auxiliary, and wear the Blue Ensign defaced with an upright gold killick anchor. All Royal Fleet Auxiliaries are built and maintained to Lloyd's Register and Department for Transport standards. Most RFA ships are armed, typically with at least two 20 mm GAM-B01 anti-aircraft guns and a number of 7.62 mm L7 GPMGs.

The most important role provided by the RFA is replenishment at sea (RAS),"Britain's Modern Royal Navy", Paul Beaver, Patrick Stephens Limited, 1996, ISBN 1-85260-442-5] therefore the mainstay of the current RFA fleet are the tankers and replenishment ships. There are three classes of tankers (oilers), one of combined oiler / replenisher and one class of replenisher in service. The new fast fleet tankers of the Wave class, the small fleet tankers of the Rover class and the support tankers of the Leaf class provide under way refuelling facilities to the RN. The Leaf class are occasionally tasked with the bulk movement of oil between terminals and MoD facilities. The Rover and Leaf classes are nearing the end of their active lives and will soon be due for replacement. The "Fort Victoria" class are "one-stop" replenishment oilers, capable of supplying refuelling, rearming and victualling services while the older "Fort Rosalie" class provide only rearming and victualling of "dry" cargoes.

The Wave and both the Fort classes have generous aviation facilities, providing aviation support and training facilities and significant VERTREP (vertical replenishment) capabilities. The Fort class ships are capable of operating and supporting up to four helicopters such as the Royal Navy's Merlin and Lynx. Modern naval helicopters are significant weapons platforms, the presence of aviation facilities on RFA ships allows for them to be used as 'force multipliers' for the task groups they support in line with Royal Navy doctrine.

The RFA is also tasked with a role supporting British amphibious operations and so contains the four Bay class Landing Ship Dock (LSD).

Two unique support ships in the fleet are the repair vessel "Diligence" and the aviation training ship "Argus". Both of these ships are converted former merchantmen. "Diligence" is a former North Sea oil industry support ship tasked with fleet repairs and maintenance. "Argus", a converted roll-on/roll-off (RoRo) container ship, is tasked with peacetime aviation training and support. On active operations, she becomes the Primary Casualty Receiving Ship (PCRS); essentially a hospital ship. She cannot be described as such - and is not afforded such protection under the Geneva Convention - as she is armed. She can, however, venture into waters too dangerous for a normal hospital ship. "Argus" completed a refit in May 2007 intended to extend her operational life to 2020. [ BBC News | England | Cornwall | Refit of navy ship RFA Argus ends]

Recently, two fast sealift ships were also in the fleet, "Sea Crusader" and "Sea Centurion". They were merchant Ro-Ro ships chartered as a stopgap measure to increase the strategic lift of the RFA, enabling faster deployment of British forces. "Sea Centurion" was returned to its owners in 2002 and "Sea Crusader" in 2003, after performing cargo hauling duties for the campaign in Iraq. They have been replaced by newly built Point class vessels operated under a Private Finance Initiative; these vessels will be ordinary merchant ships leased to the Ministry of Defence as and when needed, and not in the RFA.

Active ships

*Wave-class fast fleet tankers
** "Wave Knight"
** "Wave Ruler"

* Rover-class small fleet tankers
** "Gold Rover"
** "Black Rover"

* Leaf-class support tankers
** "Bayleaf"
** "Orangeleaf"

* "Fort Rosalie" or Fort (i) class replenishment ships
** "Fort Rosalie" (ex-"Fort Grange")
** "Fort Austin"
* "Fort Victoria" or Fort (ii) class replenishment oilers
** "Fort Victoria"
** "Fort George"

* Aviation training / Primary Casualty Receiving Ship
** "Argus"

* Forward repair ship
** "Diligence"

* Bay-class Landing Ships Dock (Auxiliary)
** "Largs Bay"
** "Lyme Bay"
** "Mounts Bay"
** "Cardigan Bay"

* Point class sealift ships
** MV "Hurst Point"
** MV "Eddystone"
** MV "Longstone"
** MV "Beachy Head"
** MV "Hartland Point"
** MV "Anvil Point":"n.b. these ships are not RFA vessels, but it is pertinent to include them here"

ee also

* List of Royal Fleet Auxiliary ship names
* Royal Maritime Auxiliary Service
*Aircraft Handler


The Royal Fleet Auxiliary - A Century of Service. Adams/Smith. London 2005. Chatham Publishing. ISBN 1 86176 259 3.

External links

* [] The Official RFA site.
* [ WebShip] - The Marine Society has a list of vessels that are regularly returning weblogs. At least one is an RFA vessel - currently RFA Wave Ruler.
* [ The Marine Society College of the Sea] provides libraries and education services to RFA personnel.Unofficial RFA Sites
* [ Royal Fleet Auxiliary - Unofficially!] - Unofficial RFA web site run by T. Sands, a communications officer in the RFA.
* [ Graphical RFA] - A graphical look at life in the RFA.
* [ Toys Out Of The Pram] - Unofficial RFA web site with photo gallery and unofficial RFA forum.
* [] Petition to award RFA personnel the MSN
* [] Petition to amend the qualifying criteria for the RFA long service medal

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