12 NAVY NEWS, SEPTEMBER 2010 650 Same procedure as every year
NOW if you were to try to fi nd tanker RFA Bayleaf, the Arabian Gulf would be a good place to start
looking. A very good place to start. In eight out of the past nine years, the fleet tanker has been in or around the Gulf region supporting Allied naval operations.
She broke off to return to her
birthplace in Birkenhead for a refit in 2008... ... and then it was back out to the Middle East once more to top up those thirsty battleship-grey messengers of death. Luckily, she carries nearly five million gallons of diesel – that’s enough to fi ll 400,000 Ford Focus (or is it Foci?)... or one Ford Focus 400,000 times... In the seven-year stint from 2001-08, vessels from 16 nations made use of the fl oating fuel depot during 767 replenishments at sea (over two every week). Not that the ship’s company spend all day RASing. They spend quite a lot of time shooting. So much so that they’ve just
been awarded the Jordan Trophy, connected neither with the country nor the ubiquitous glamour model, but presented every six months to the Royal Fleet Auxiliary which has contributed the most to above water warfare.
A specialist gunnery team from Flag Officer Sea Training tours the Fleet and assesses the ability of ship’s company to deal with a range of tests from weapon handling and marksmanship to ‘quick draw’ exercises (dealing with a fast attack craft).
Thanks to the skill of an oddly- named bunch – Hayes Heroes under 2/O(X) Nathan ‘No Shoes’ Hayes – a makeshift Jordan Trophy
(the original’s back in Blighty) sits in the cabinet of CO Capt Steve Donkersley RFA.
surviving Leaf-class tankers (the other,
Orangeleaf, is currently undergoing a refit on Merseyside) which trace their lineage back to the mid-1970s. Bayleaf joined the Fleet less than a week before Argentina
His ship is one of just two
invaded the Falklands. She was promptly sent south with the Operation Corporate task force (the QE2 was among the vessels to take advantage of the new tanker’s refuelling facilities), earning her first battle honour.
Within a decade a second honour had been added to the board courtesy of her support of Allied forces liberating Kuwait.
The Bayleaf story begins back in 1893 and the cattle ship Cevic, built by the legendary Harland and Wolff in Belfast. She plied the North Atlantic route for two decades until the outbreak of the Great War. The Admiralty took her over and turned her into a dummy battle-cruiser to mimic HMS Queen Mary for 12 months until
the Navy scrapped its dummy squadron. She was then turned into an oiler first as RFA Bayol then, from 1917, as RFA Bayleaf, before being restored to commercial use in 1920. She was broken up in Italy in the early 1930s. Bayleaf No.2 also began life in
the private sector: the London Integrity, as she was originally
Falkland Islands.........1982 Kuwait ........................1991
Class: Leaf-class support tanker
Pennant number: A109 Builder: Cammell Laird, Birkenhead Launched: October 27, 1981
Commissioned: March 26, 1982
Displacement: 37,747 tons Length: 170.7m (560ft) Beam: 25.9m (85ft) Draught: 5.8m (36.1ft) Speed: 16kts Complement: 56 Propulsion: 2 Pielstick PC2.V 400 diesels generating 14,000 HP Cargo: 22,000 cubic metres (4.8m gallons) diesel; 3,800 cubic metres (835,000 gallons) Avcat Armament: 2 x Oerlikon 20mm; 4 x 7.62 machine- guns
called, was launched on Teeside in 1954. Five years later she joined the
RFA as Bayleaf and served for 14 years before being returned to her original owners, London & Overseas Freighters, who promptly restored her first name. She sailed for three more years before being broken up in Spain in 1977.
HEROES OF THE ROYAL NAVY No.77 – Boatswain’s Mate Henry Curtis VC
THE white, whiskery mutton chops in this rather stern portrait mean only one thing: this is the face of a Victorian hero.
be precise, only the 11th man in the Senior Service to be awarded Britain’s highest military honour at an investiture in Hyde Park. It was almost two years to the day of the deed which earned him that medal. The 40th anniversary of Waterloo saw British and
French troops fi ghting side-by-side to capture the most heavily-fortifi ed city in the world: Sevastopol. For ten months the Allied forces had invested
Russia’s great Crimean port. Their artillery had subjected it to frequent bombardments, but every attempt to carry the fortress had failed. Monday, June 18 1855, was no different. In the small hours, the French had launched their latest assault on Sevastopol and the infamous Redan fort. The Russians knew they were coming. They scythed down the advancing Frenchmen. The attack miscarried, yet the British felt duty- bound to support the assault. The 66-year-old British commander, Lord Raglan, had fought under Wellington at Waterloo four decades earlier, but possessed little, if any, of the great general’s fl air for battle. He dithered on the fi eld of battle, gave belated or garbled instructions. Procrastination was compounded by failing health – the exertions of 12 months of war in the Crimea had taken their toll – and growing despondency. Under such circumstances – and considerable
The face of one Boatswain’s Mate Henry Curtis to
Regiment, shot in both legs, looked forlornly towards British lines, calling for help.
Four sailors scrambled out of their trench: Lt Henry James Raby, Lt Henry D’Aeth, Captain of the Forecastle (roughly the equivalent of a petty offi cer) John Taylor, and Boatswain’s Mate Henry Curtis.
pressure from the French – Raglan ordered British forces to assault the Redan. Despite the French failure, the prospects were encouraging: the men – a mixture of red and blue jackets – were up for a fi ght. The assault had been thoroughly planned: infantrymen and engineers would lead the way, crossing 400 yards of open ground to reach the ditch in front of the fortifi cation. There 50 men carrying sacks would help to fi ll the gap so 120 soldiers and sailors could bring up scaling ladders for a 400-strong assault force to fi nally storm the Redan, whose guns had been silenced by a ferocious barrage from the British guns the preceding day.
Except that the Russian guns hadn’t been silenced. They opened fi re as soon as the fi rst infantry left the trenches.
They sought cover in craters and gullies which littered the landscape.
In one such foxhole a soldier of the 57th (Middlesex)
They stumbled over a corpse-strewn terrain for some 70 yards, constantly under fi re, while soldiers fell back for British lines. The four sailors fi nally reached the stricken soldier, picked him up and carried him back towards their trench. The Russian guns showed no mercy and continued to fi re – bullets reportedly passed between Curtis’ legs at one point. Somehow, none of the four were hit and the injured soldier safely reached the British lines. The sailors were mentioned in dispatches – an honour subsequently elevated to the Victoria Cross. The men had, in the terse words of the citation, “succeeded in conveying the wounded soldier to a place of safety, at the imminent risk of their own lives.” There was no VC for Henry D’Aeth, however; he died of cholera a few weeks later – posthumous awards were not made for another half a century. Dead much sooner was Lord Raglan; contemporary accounts say the failure of the June 18 attack broke his health. Dysentery fi nished him off. Not so Henry Curtis, who lived for another 40 years. He remained in Her Majesty’s service well into the 1860s, serving as an instructor and as the quartermaster on a cross-Channel ferry. He died aged 73 in Portsmouth in 1896 and is buried in the city’s Kingston Cemetery. A century later, his Victoria Cross appeared at a London Auction House, where it was bought for £35,000 by a private bidder... ... that ‘private bidder’ turned out to be Lord
feature alongside the 46 VC and 30 George Crosses from the IWM’s collection in the new Lord Ashcroft Gallery, due to open in November. ■ THIS image (VC 292) – and 9,999,999 others from a century of war and peace – can be viewed or purchased at www.iwmcollections.org.uk
, by emailing photos@IWM.org.uk
, or by phoning 0207 416 5333.
Ashcroft who, a decade on, is loaning Henry Curtis’ medal to the Imperial War Museum in London for its new medals’ gallery. The philanthropist owns 162 VCs, all of which will
With thanks to Ian Proctor
Facts and figures
Battle Honours tle Honours
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