HMS Argyll became the first British warship to visit Beirut since HMS York in late November 2006 – and was treated to wonderful hospitality in the ‘Paris of the East’
The Devonport-based frigate spent four days in the Lebanese capital where she trained with the country’s armed forces, hosted dignitaries, enjoyed the sights, and helped promote the 2012 London Olympics.
Pictures: LA(Phot) Caroline Davies, HMS Argyll
YOU’LL probably recognise the silhouette in the foreground – one Type 23 frigate.
But the cityscape in the background? You won’t have seen that in more than five years.
HMS Argyll became the first Royal Navy warship since 2006 to visit the Lebanese capital of Beirut as he made her way home from her tour of duty in the Gulf.
The last time British warships were off the ‘Paris of the East’ they were helping to evacuate civilians as Israeli and Hezbollah forces clashed in a month-long war.
Since then peace has returned to the country, Beirut is once more regarded as one of the world’s best tourist destinations and Britain has re-forged close ties with Lebanon’s armed forces, not least the Navy, many of whose officers are trained at Dartmouth.
The Guard of Honour presents arms during an official reception
As Argyll arrived off the Lebanese coast she was met by the Lebanese ship Tabarga, which embarked the Type 23’s communications officer Lt Roger Skelley as liaison officer.
The two vessels practised ship handling and communication exercises before Argyll entered harbour. After the usual round of official calls on local dignitaries, a lunch was held aboard for senior members of the LAF and the British Ambassador Tom Fletcher.
While they were dining in style, simultaneously 20 sailors and Royal Marines took part in the British Embassy-led Sports Relief mile run alongside local schoolchildren as part of global efforts to publicise the London 2012 Olympics.
Run. Fun. Sun. Some of the ship's company enjoy the Sport Relief Mile around Beirut marina
“It was a great experience to run through Beirut marina and as far as I could tell the children were loving it, although not as much as they enjoyed their tour of the ship afterwards,” said Argyll’s navigator Lt Mark Webster.
The first day of the four-day visit concluded with an official reception held on the frigate’s flight deck attended by the city’s diplomatic community, senior military officers, United Nations Interim Forces in Lebanon, and local dignitaries and businessmen.
The following day gave Argyll another opportunity to show of her full range of capabilities with 60 members of the LAF being given tours of the ship and the chance to chat with her crew.
Meanwhile a team of marine and weapon engineers popped across to the patrol vessel Beirut to help her sailors fix her navigation radar – to the delight of WO ‘Noddy’ Holder: “Without any prior knowledge of the radar it’s pleasing to be able to go back to basic engineering and help our fellow sailors restore their equipment,” he said.
Argyll's Royal Marines detachment demonstrate their board and search prowess
Away from the ship, Argyll’s Royal Marine detachment and Lynx helicopter visited Hamat Air Base, which features a military training area funded by the UK and managed by ex-British Army personnel.
A day of professionally-rewarding training with the Lebanese Air Force and Sea Commando Regiment then followed, culminating in a joint power demonstration of a rapid helicopter insertion and extraction of troops; Argyll’s Lynx aircrew revelled in the opportunity to fly in formation with the iconic Huey helicopter operated by Lebanese.
Later in the day the ship’s company also tested her sporting prowess with a football match against a LAF team. In a hard-fought affair HMS Argyll went behind by two goals, pulled one back before conceding a third to go down 3-1.
The commandos train alongside their Lebanese counterparts at the Hamat range
The final day in Lebanon saw one party from the ship visit the ancient town of Byblos and spectacular caves of Jieta Grotto, while another party enjoyed the unexpected treat of a day’s skiing in a nearby mountain resort, complete with views of the Mediterranean Sea and the ship below.
Meanwhile back aboard the children of British Embassy staff were thrilled to receive guided tours of the ship, with many pronouncing themselves determined to seek a career in the Royal Navy as a result.
And that was Beirut. The visit, said Argyll’s Commanding Officer Cdr Paul Stroude, was “one of the most rewarding and fascinating of my Naval career.
A Lebanese commando and Royal Marine share their expertise
“Such an unusual visit was guaranteed to be high profile, and it was no surprise that it attracted enormous interest across Lebanon, however the warmth of the welcome extended to the British ship was overwhelming, and underlined the high regard with which the Royal Navy is viewed in the country.
“Throughout our stay we have been looked after and hosted superbly well by the Lebanese Armed Forces and the local community. It has been a pleasure to discover what a thriving, friendly and cosmopolitan city Beirut is and my ship’s company have thoroughly enjoyed themselves.
“I sincerely hope that further ship visits are made by the Royal Navy in the near future.”