Oldest frigate HMS Argyll celebrates 30th birthday

Commander Charlie Wheen and Engineering Technician (Marine Engineering) Hayden Jenkins cut the 30th birthday cake on the flight deck two. Photograph: Royal Navy.

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HMS Argyll, the Navy’s longest-serving frigate, marked her 30th birthday at sea last week.

The crew of the Plymouth-based type 23 ‘duke’ class warship enjoyed an afternoon of flight-deck celebrations in the Atlantic in celebration of the vessel’s three decades of service.

Like all of her class, the vessel is named after a British dukedom, in this case that of Argyll.

Commander Charlie Wheen, the frigate’s 18th commanding officer, gathered the bulk of his 200-strong ship’s company for a spot of cake and athletics to mark the milestone birthday.

And although his frigate is enjoying her autumn years, he says she remains at the forefront of naval technology and capability.

‘Argyll is a special ship, with a fantastic team and a well-deserved reputation for operational success,’ said Commander Wheen, who served as the frigate’s operations officer between 2013 and 2015.

‘She is hugely capable and has a great deal still to offer. I very much look forward to meeting whatever challenges the future brings.’

Commander Charlie Wheen in front of HMS Argyll. Photograph: Royal Navy.
Commander Charlie Wheen in front of HMS Argyll. Photograph: Royal Navy.

When HMS Argyll was commissioned into the fleet in the spring of 1991 singer Cher was at number one in the charts with The Shoop Shoop Song, John Major was Britain’s Prime Minister, the Berlin Wall had fallen but the Soviet Union still had seven months to live, and 105 members of Argyll’s current ship’s company – more than half the crew – hadn’t been born!

Over a long and successful career at sea, Argyll has steamed more than 685,000 nautical miles – enough to go around the world 32 times – under the command of 18 commanding officers, including one future First Sea Lord, Admiral Sir George Zambellas.

She has deployed operationally to the Asia-Pacific, the USA, Caribbean, Gulf – five times – West Africa and Sierra Leone.

On the way back from a nine-month deployment in 2019 she rescued 27 sailors from the burning MV Grande America, at night, in the Bay of Biscay.

This led to operational honours for two of her team, and the honour of a Sun Military award for ‘hero unit overseas’.

Despite being designed and laid down in the 1980s and 30 years old outwardly, the technology inside the frigate is said to remain cutting-edge – as demonstrated during NATO’s Formidable Shield exercise with Argyll tracking supersonic ballistic targets and developing future tactics for the Sea Ceptor missile system which protects not just her sisters, but also the new generation of type 26 frigates.

She was also the first Royal Navy warship to control an autonomous RIB through a live command system.

HMS Argyll turning at speed in 2014 before Sea Ceptor was installed. Photograph: Royal Navy.
HMS Argyll turning at speed in 2014 before Sea Ceptor was installed. Photograph: Royal Navy.

In honour of her big birthday, HMS Argyll’s chefs provided an impressive cake, cut by Commander Wheen along with the youngest member of the crew, Engineering Technician (Marine Engineering) Hayden Jenkins.

The calories were then burned off with an ‘Olympiad’ featuring various physical challenges.

The officers in the wardroom took the trophy, but the highlight was an impressive personal best from Engineering Technician (Weapon Engineering) Matt Scott from Plymouth who lifted 230kg in the deadlift.

After taking part in the Formidable Shield exercise – the world’s largest test of naval air and missile defences – Argyll is spending the rest of the year on operations around the UK before entering a period of maintenance in 2022.