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A woman is to command a frontline warship for the first time in the history of the Royal Navy, it has emerged.

Lieutenant Commander Sarah West, 39, is taking charge of HMS Portland - a 5,000-ton Type 23-Frigate which is prepared for 'total warfare'.


Women, who were first allowed to go to sea with the Navy in 1990, have until now only commanded small non-fighting ships.


Lt Cdr West is said to have won the role from male officers because of her 'leadership, confidence, moral courage, sound judgment and excellent people skills'.


The Ministry of Defence, who confirmed the appointment to Mail Online, says she will now have to undertake a commanding officer course to prepare for the role.

Originally from Lincolnshire, the 39-year-old - who is single - studied Maths at the University of Herefordshire. She joined Britannia Royal Naval College in 1995 as a Warfare Officer.

Her initial training included stints on HMS Battleaxe, HMS Sandown and HMS Sheffield which was deployed in the Gulf.


She went on to become the Principal Warfare Officer on HMS Cornwall in 2003 after further training and was involved in missions in the eastern Atlantic before moving on to HMS Norfolk a year later.


In 2006, the officer was appointed to the Commander Amphibious Taks Group as the under-water warfare specialist which including planning and carrying out exercises around the world including a NATO Reaction Force.

HMS Portland is a Type-23 Frigate that can be used for 'total warfare'

A year later, Lt Cdr West joined the staff of the Permanent Joint Head Quarters where she co-ordinated the British contribution to operations in the Balkans.


She then joined the Middle East Operations Team with responsibility for co-ordinating the Naval contribution to Operation Telic in Iraq. During this placement, she also gained a degree in Law.

Before commanding HMS Pembroke in 2010, she commanded HMS Ramsey and HMS Penzance. These are smaller-capability minehunters.

She will now command almost 200 crew of mostly men on the warship, where she will have her own cabin and steward.

HMS Portland carries Harpoon and Sea Wolf missile systems, 30mm guns and Stingray anti-submarine torpedoes and can reach a top speed of 30 knots.


It has been involved in missions to counter Somali pirates in the Indian Ocean.

Last year it returned from a seven-month patrol of the South Atlantic, which included four months in the Falklands.

Women can serve in all branches of the Navy except the mine clearance diver section, Submarine Service or Royal Marines Commando because of medical reasons.

However, there is currently a review being undertaken into the submarine exclusion.


In the wider Armed Forces, women are able to serve in every section apart from where the primary duty is to 'close with and kill the enemy'.

This excludes them from the Household Cavalry, Royal Armoured Corps, Infantry and the Royal Air Force Regiment.


The restrictions mean 71 per cent of jobs in the Navy are available to women and they now make up 10 per cent of an average warship crew.

Lt Cdr West is due to take up the position in April next year, according to the MoD.





HMS Portland intercepting an Iraqi ship trying to smuggle contraband diesel oil out of the country

HMS Portland taking on pirates in the Gulf of Aden in 2009



HMS Portland is a Type-23 frigate. These are powerful ships that can operate anywhere in the world.

They are the mainstay of the Navy's modern surface fleet, forming 50 per cent of the total frigate/destroyer force.

The frigates, which carry up to 185 crew, were originally designed primarily for anti-submarine warfare but have evolved into multi-purpose ships.

Their capability includes Harpoon missiles, a 4.5" gun for naval gunfire support and a helicopter deck for Merlin anti-submarine helicopters. They are also fitted with the Sea Worl missile system and Stingray anti-submarine torpedoes.

They are built for stealth, with all vertical surface slopes at a 7 degree angle to reduce radar signature and electric drive motors so that they can run silently when needed.


As well as war, the ship is also used for counter-smuggling and piracy operations, disaster relief work and surveillance.


HMS Portland was first launched in May 1999, accepted into the Royal Navy in December 2000 and actually commission in May 2001.


It was the penultimate of 15 similar ships to be built and set the 30.8 knot record in sea trials in 2000 before it entered active service.


On its first visit to the Island of Portland in 2001, the Earl of Portland gave it his blessing using the family motto 'Craignez Honte' which means 'Fear Dishonour'.


The family crest is also on the flag flown by the ship while it carries out replenishment during sea operations.






August 8, 2011 at 11:47 AM Flag Quote & Reply

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What is your view of a Female 'Skipper'?


August 19, 2011 at 2:02 PM Flag Quote & Reply

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