I have chosen this subject simply because I was involved in it whilst in HMS Rothesay {F107/MXRY] in 1970.

Whilst I remember the Beira Bucket competitions [I played deck hockey on our flight deck and witnessed other trials and tribulations] I remember most,  the Beira Free Mails which each man stationed off Beira was allowed to send home per week.  Being the Radio Supervisor of the ship it was my job to make sure that this 'patrol perk' was executed [without favour]  and the task more than quadrupled my already busy workload whether on stations 'faith', 'hope' or 'charity'.

The story, or rather reason for the patrol, is well known and it is not my intention to re-tell it here. What I am going to do is to outline some of the subjects which may be of use in a quiz or when swinging the lamp, for inevitably there may be argument, one way or the other, as to who did this and who did that and when.

Above all else the Patrol was a miserable and embarrassing failure for the British Government originally [at the start of the trouble]  formed by the Labour Party under Harold Wilson, and after the General Election of 1970 the Tories under Ted Heath only to be replaced by Wilson again at the 1974 General Election [therefore at the finish also], so three Prime Minister periods during the Patrol period.  That this embarrassment for the Country and the Navy,  it has to be said,  was international, it didn't dramatically affect the popularity of the Government for within a couple of years Wilson handed over the reigns of a Labour Government to Jim Callaghan who stayed there in office until the "Winter of Discontent" when, in 1979 he was defeated by the Tories and Mrs Thatcher came to Number 10. The Patrol period was from the 4th March 1966 until the 25th June 1975, a nine year naval commitment for mainly frigates and destroyers with, at the beginning, a help from the FAA, and for the first five years [1966-71] continuous deployments by the RAF in close support.

The Patrol came in like a Lion and went out like a lamb, just as though it were the month of March. In actual fact [a coincidence to my analogy] the Patrol started in March 1966 and the very first ship on station off Beira from 20 to 40 miles distant,  was the frigate  HMS Lowestoft  {F103/GDBU}.  That was on the 4th March.  She was supported by air patrols from the carrier HMS Ark Royal {R09/GKXS} [operating some way off from Beira starting on the 6th March] using her Gannets to find the targets [oil tankers heading for Beira hell bent on off loading crude oil into the terminal there,  for pipeline pumping along 185 miles to the South Rhodesian oil refinery called FERUKA near the township of UMTALI] and when found, were over-flown by Ark Royals fighter aircraft for formal recognition. Ark Royal was replaced by HMS Eagle {R05/GKYV}  and the two together would have provided the early air support. Within a very short period Lowestoft had been joined by a sister-class frigate HMS RHYL {F129/GDCA} and an RFA. This group of two frigates and carrier[s] formed the very first Beira Patrol.

Whilst all this naval action was going on, the RAF, from the very onset of Rhodesia's UDI in 1965,  had been looking for a suitable airfield from which to launch their air patrols in direct support of the Beira Patrol [yet to come]. They had earmarked MAJUNGA in Madagascar but the French had different ideas and rebuffed the British. The only option was Mombasa but that was a long way from the Mozambique Channel, but when needs must, that is where the early Beira Patrol shore-based Shackleton air patrols came from. However, by the 16th March, just twelve days after the Lowestoft had commenced her duties, the French relented and agreed on the use of MAJUNGA.  Three days later, the Shackletons were flying from MAJUNGA and all was well.  However, the carrier support was very short lived and in under three months, on the 25th May 1966, all carrier support was withdrawn. In June 1971 with still four more years of Patrolling left,  the Madagascan Malagasy Republic had revoked the RAF's permission to use the MAJUNGA base and the Patrol air support link came to an end.  During this period, the good old crabfats had delivered everything imaginable to the navy on patrol, which routinely included mail, movies, special medications, special treats, urgent stores and machinery parts, and these 'drops' were made into the sea during a low altitude fly-past very close to the ship, which were retrieved by seaboat.  It was a very exciting rendezvous much enjoyed and looked forward to by all in the ships company.

During these nine years, no fewer than seventy six ships [several many times]  had patrolled the Mozambique Channel off Beira costing the country an estimated £100M. As I said earlier, the whole of the nine years was a waste of time because the oil continued to reach Rhodesia albeit rendering her on petrol rationing throughout. Both the Government and the MOD were visibly embarrassed by the whole affair, but to keep face on the embargo [which wasn't] they had to maintain the Patrol.  However, within one year of Mr Heath in No 10 [i.e. in 1971], things started to change. In March 1971 the Patrol was reduced from two frigates to one frigate, this remember, also with the loss of the air patrol.  This reduced the number of ship-days from 717 as was in my time in Rothesay in 1970, to 354 ship-days in 1972. By 1973 the ship-days had been reduced to 161 and this was achieved by diverting ships to and from their East of Suez commitments to spend "a little time" off Beira. It was said that the refinery at FERUKA in Southern Rhodesia which hadn't been used for many a long year, couldn't now be used without a long re-commissioning period, so it was pointless in guarding the pipe line and the pumping station by stopping oil tankers from entering Beira.  On the 25th June 1975, the day Mozambique got its independence from Portugal with a promise made to the UK that she would not allow oil into Rhodesia, the very last ship on Beira Patrol was withdrawn.  This was the frigate HMS SALISBURY {F32/GSPX}.

It does seem strange that a white farmer, Mr Ian Smith, ultra pro British in all except his fear that the British Government would demand  majority rule for Southern Rhodesia [ruled by the minority whites and known the world over as THE success story of the African Continent] as the cost for full independence [as had been the case for other parts of  Rhodesia now split into two countries viz MALAWI {formerly NYASALAND} and ZAMBIA {formerly Northern Rhodesia} would put Britain to all this trouble.  It is even more incredible that I, as one of those thousand-odd RN sailors who 'patrolled' those waters so long ago, reflect upon what I was asked to do, full well knowing that I was on his side, then [I think] and now [I am certain].  I have to add with typical naval humour, that I was also involved, once upon a time, in the Suez War of 1956.  I ask myself why is it that I should be 'picked out' to represent my lovely country in such obvious failures....failures of policy and both incidences of ridicule from the international community? On the UDI issue, look ye well upon the alternative, a fact of life without parallel.  Harold, you lay in tranquillity in the Sicily Isles...what now of your policy in Zimbabwe ?  For the rest of you chief politicians, what of the next failure, Afghanistan.....when will this folly stop ?

Was the Beira Patrol either boring or fun, asked from the perspective of one ship was on watchful patrol whilst the other, close by and readily available should the case warrant, was on R&R having itself just been 'watchful' ?

Measured over a nine year period, the answer can only be YES....it was fun whilst being bloody boring...but what the hell, as long as they paid me.

On a webpage, it is difficult to portray the fun bits because in my time [that is before the gays were allowed a voice piece] one of the good parts of the navy was the ability of men to skylark to the extreme [the proverbial and fiercely competitive sods-opera] and yet remain men, where innuendo was no better and no worse that the well established British Music Hall. But equally, on a webpage, we can highlight incidents which history might forget were it not for bringing to the fore stories of a serious nature which nearly tipped the balance from a conflict into a major international crisis. Here are a couple of them and all to do with the Beira Patrol 1966-1975.

The vast majority of these seventy six ship patrols were uneventful.  However, there were a couple which were the very reverse.

First off is the frigate HMS PLYMOUTH {F126/GDFA}. On the 5th April 1966 the Plymouth was involved in a highly embarrassing incident played out in front of the international media. She had intercepted a Greek tanker called the Joanna V and under the then rules of engagement, had ordered the master to go to a port other than Beira.  The Greek Government refused to turn the ship and the Joanna V repeatedly ignored the Command of the British warship and sailed on with poor Plymouth unable to do anything but order a diversion.  She eventually escorted the Greek ship into Beira itself  to much embarrassment and ridicule. Thereafter, much frantic lobbying by the British in the UN occurred, resulting in a change of the rules of engagement for subsequent interceptions.  The new rules also empowered the British to arrest the Joanna V on leaving Beira if it could be proved that she had off loaded the crude oil cargo into the Rhodesian pipeline system. It couldn't and she wasn't !

Then came the frigate HMS MINERVA {F45/GMZU} saga.  On 19th December 1967,  Minerva challenged the French-flag tanker Artois as it made for Beira. Artois was not on the "innocent list," so Minerva requested the ministry to clarify its status. Meanwhile, the tanker continued to approach Beira. Minerva signalled "Stop or I will open fire"; Artois refused. By the time London finally notified the frigate that Artois could legitimately enter Beira, "because it was not carrying oil destined for Rhodesia," Minerva had already fired warning shots; the tanker had ignored them and entered Mozambican territorial waters, where British warships could not enter.  As a consequence the rules of engagement were changed yet again [in fact several times such was the plight of the Royal Navy] but this time, 'they' were given teeth. If the tanker did not stop, the frigate or destroyer was to take a series of escalating measures: firing across the bow with small-arms tracers, 20 or 40 mm shells, or a 4.5-inch (for a few ships, four-inch) round; then, approaching to point-blank range and warning that it would open fire; and finally, firing surface-practice (that is, not high-explosive) ammunition at the ship's funnel. If these successive measures did not stop the tanker, the frigate was to fire a series of antisubmarine "mortar bombs set shallow about one cable [some two hundred yards] astern of the ship:" Finally, if all that failed, the unit was to "open fire with 4.5/4'' service ammunition at either the bridge or the engine room or both and continue until the ship does stop."  Dramatic stuff !  The British Delegation at UN warned all nations of the instructions given to its warships.  The new rules of engagement were apparently sufficient. After the Artois incident there were no more attempts to disregard the Royal Navy blockade of Beira and no further major revisions to the rules of engagement.

So, during nine long years - literal mathematics 9 x 24 x 365 = 78840 hours [ignoring leap years] -  [of which I had exactly thirty three days on Patrol = 792 hours] the Royal Navy had just twelve hours approx [Plymouth 7 Minerva 5] of real action:  12 divided by 78840 = 1 divided by 6570 or put another way, 0.015% of the nine years.  Not exactly action packed stuff !

When we in Rothesay left the Beira Patrol, we drove on south heading for Simons Town naval base in Capetown South Africa, there to take part in a Type 12 frigate modification exercise, with the SAN type 12's, three in number {the SAN Navy stopped using the prefix HMSAS and used instead SAS on the 6th April 1952}. At that time Apollo 13 had been launched and was destined for a moon landing. Due to many defects it didn't make the lunar area and under dire straits 'fell back' to mother earth to an unknown earth landing at best. It could have been the Indian Ocean or the South Atlantic and we, as a Brit ship, the only one near to the scene of action, was to be assigned to one or the other.  We got the other, the South Atlantic and it was recovered from a splash-down in the Indian Ocean....can't win them all...and our fame was denied us!  Not a boast but a fact, for I was left with an unpublished COMPLAN [Communications Plan] and for very obvious reasons was not familiar with the NASA search and rescue frequencies and RCC'S [Rescue Coordination Centres]  many of them controlled by the USN, and when not they, the US Coast Guard. Nothing of substance came from the Admiralty and Northwood,  I recall,   kept emergency silence throughout.  Given what might happen and our involvement in it communications-wise, I beavered away trawling through documents and international publications until finally I found what might have been the RESCUE FREQUENCY.  In the event [for us] it wasn't for we were many hundreds of miles away from splash down, but later, it was confirmed that I had everything ready to help save these men's lives. For that I received a Captains Commendation  [Commander D.N. O'sullivan RN] for efficiency. We stopped for fuel at Freetown Sierra Leone and for one and a half days in Gibraltar before arriving home in Portsmouth at the end of our nine months East of Suez leg of a GSC [General Service Commission].

Post Script.

For some inexplicit reason, the naval version of R&R [Rest and Recreation] shows no mention of on-task respite, confirming only that which all of us knew and experienced, namely that ships were stood down into one or more of the three areas 'faith', 'hope' and 'charity' where ships companies were given a break from the boring duties of surveillance of shipping bound for Beira, and in which such well recorded activities like the Beira Bucket competitions were held - in short R&R. Certainly, ships were not known to leave the patrol areas to visit East and South African ports for R&R, although they did this on being relieved on station by other ships new to, or returning to Beira Patrol duties, or before taking up Patrol duties.
However, Hansards, the journal of the daily happenings in the Houses of Parliament and in the House of Lords records the following.

February 1968 Commons Sitting MINISTRY OF DEFENCE

Beira Patrol

HC Deb 14 February 1968 vol 758 cc1339-40

Mr. Moyle

asked the Secretary of State for Defence on which port it is planned to base the Beira patrol after 1971.

 Mr. Healey

H.M. ships, while engaged on the Beira patrol, are not dependent on shore-based facilities.

Mr. Moyle

Will the Secretary of State give a categorical assurance that it will be possible to maintain the Beira patrol for as long as is necessary to maintain sanctions against the illegal Smith régime?

Mr. Healey

I can certainly tell my hon. Friend that the maintenance of the Beira patrol does not depend on the availability of base facilities in the area.

Mr. Sharples

To what extent do ships involved in this patrol make use of South African ports?

Mr. Healey

Without wishing to give a detailed answer without notice of that question, I can say that ships in this part of the world sometimes put into South African ports for rest and recreation—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh]—and also into Mombassa in Kenya.

Mr. Wingfield Digby

Can the right hon. Gentleman say what agreement exists at present about the use of Mombassa, to which he referred?

Mr. Healey

Her Majesty's ships have used Mombassa on several occasions for rest and recreation purposes, but if the hon. Gentleman will table a Question on the subject I will try to answer it in greater detail.

The answer to Mr Sharples question is surely NEVER, and that Mr Healey's answer reflects the navy when East of Suez irrespective of what it is doing!