A Trip Down Mexeflote Lane

With the impending sale of RFA Largs Bay we had an interesting comment on an old post about mexeflotes from an Australian asking if the mexeflotes would be included in the sale. Of course, we don’t know but he also asked who made them.

Time for a trip down mexeflote lane.

To understand where the mexeflote comes from it is important to understand the role of the Military Engineering Experimental Establishment (MEXE) in Christchurch, Dorset, for it is here where they came from.

Shortly after the First World War in 1919 the Experimental Bridging Company of Royal Engineers was set up at Christchurch, in 1925 this became the Experimental Bridging Establishment (EBE). The Experimental Demolition Establishment  (EDE) moved to Christchurch from Bovington in the same year and much later, in 1946, the Experimental Tunnelling Establishment (ETE) also moved to Christchurch from Yorkshire.

In 1946 the EBE, EDT and ETE were merged to form the Military Engineering Experimental Establishment (MEXE)

MEXE were responsible for all manner of innovative research, logistic and military engineering projects from the MEXE Soil Penetrometer to the Combat Engineering Tractor (CET) to the Christchurch Crib. Its most famous Director was none other than Sir Donald Bailey, of bridge fame, who had joined MEXE in 1928 as a civil engineer designer. Both the Bailey and the Medium Girder Bridge (MGB) hailed from the good offices of MEXE.

The site, on the River Stour, had been used as a barracks since 1793 when a squadron of cavalry were stationed there to deter smuggling.

In 1969, MEXE was awarded the freedom of the Borough of Christchurch but by the early seventies MEXE had been merged with other departments and I think what was left, is now part of DSTL.

So, back to the Mexeflote.

Mexeflote Design and Configuration

The Mexeflote came into service with the British Army in the early 60’s, elegant in its simplicity, they are simply pontoon sections that can be pinned together (much like the Bailey bridge) to form lighterage rafts, jetties and piers.

How much of that design was inspired by the US Rhino Ferry system is open for debate.

When used as a powered pontoon they use what are in effect, large outboard motors.

The Knights class RFA’s would carry two, one on each side. To deploy them the lashings were removed leaving a single quick release fitting holding it until the whole thing was released, the mexeflote falling into the water.

Recovery involves manoeuvring them alongside, removing the engine, winching them up over the fender belt and securing for transit.

Multiple Mexeflotes can be combined and in addition to acting as a powered raft can also be as a jetty, floating transfer platform or other floating structures. The modular construction allows a variety of shapes to be constructed.

When used as a powered raft they are usually commanded by a junior NCO with a crew of 5.

individual pontoons are of welded steel construction with flush sides.

Recessed slots are fitted to the sides of the pontoons into which the pontoon section connectors are fitted.The bow pontoon consists of a forward section, an aft section and a ramp. The sections are articulated to allow movement and this articulator is also mounted in a recess.

The front ramps are hydraulically mounted and the engines/propulsion units are connected at the rear.

Total payload depends on the size of the assembled pontoon

20.12 x 7.32m 60 tonnes

8.41 x 7.32m 120 tonnes

38.41 x 12.2m 180 tonnes

The propulsion units, or outboards to you are me, are rather special.

Modular Z Drive propulsion units from Sykes Hyrdromaster provide the motive force when used as a powered raft and although it might not look particularly seaworthy can be used in 1.5m wave conditions.

In 1994 the Army ordered an additional 50 units and in 2000 upgraded most of them.

I think the Z Drives have now entirely been replaced with OD150N from Thrustmaster.

The pontoon sections are sized to be compatible with ISO containers and although I am not sure who made them, their construction is relatively simple so if Australia did buy Largs Bay and the mexeflotes weren’t included in the optional extras list they should be relatively easy to manufacture.

Alternatively, they could buy them from Jenkins Marine in Poole, Dorset, ironically, not all that far from Christchurch and MEXE.

17 Port and Maritime Regiment RLC

17 Port and Maritime Regiment, Royal Logistic Corps, are the operators of Mexeflotes.

From the Army website

17 Port & Maritime Regiment RLC are based at Marchwood, near Southampton. The unit provides the UK Armed Forces’ only specialist port, maritime and rail capability and deploys regularly in support of operations and exercises around the world. Soldiers serving as a Port Operator, Mariner, Marine Engineer, Railway Operator or Vehicle Support Specialist would predominantly serve with the 17 Port and Maritime Regiment, though almost any RLC trade has the opportunity to serve with the unit.

The Regiment has three Port Squadrons, a Port Enabling Squadron, a REME Workshop and a Headquarters Squadron. It operates a wide variety of vehicles, plant, railway equipment and vessels, including Ramp Craft Logistic (RCL), Workboats, Landing Craft Vehicle and Personnel (LCVP), MEXEFLOTE rafts and Rigid Raider Craft. It also has the only military Dive Team in the RLC; they are responsible for a range of tasks including port clearance and vessel maintenance.

17 P&M have a faceboook page with loads of images, click here to have a look, including this one which I have shamelessly nicked because I thought it rather amusing.

17 P&M are relatively new, being formed in 1949 as a Corps of Royal Engineers unit, tasked with operating ports and beaches in support of the armed forces. In 1965 the Royal Corps of Transport was formed and assumed the port operations role from the Royal Engineers.

After a number of organisational changes it is now part of the RLC.

17 P&M also run the Marchwood Sea Mounting Centre on the south coast.

The US Army Logistician Journal had a good article on the role of 17 P&M, especially how they fit into an amphibious operations, in 2005. Click here to read it.

The Falklands

Mexeflotes really came into their own during Operation Corporate, a hugely challenging logistic effort. The lines of communication stretched 8,000 miles or 21 sailing days from the UK and there were no plans for an operation of this scale outside of Europe.

Each of the Knights Class LSL’s had a detachment from 17 P&M and a Mexeflote or two although they were carried on the deck for the voyage south after Ascension because it was thought the severe south Atlantic weather would rip them from their side mounts.

Operating around Green Beach in San Carlos Water, mexeflotes landed a significant amount of vehicles and stores including 63 Battery RAF Regiment. After initial operations on the 20-21 May, they continued for a couple of weeks. It is estimated that the Mexeflotes offloaded some 75% of the stores and due to the weights being carried, especially ammunition pallets, the pontoons were often underwater, as the picture above.

The LSL’s were used to transfer equipment from the larger RORO vessels offshore and it is during this operation that a Mexeflote was used for at sea ship to ship transfer. Connecting the LSL and a larger ship the Mexeflote would form a floating causeway and fork lift trucks like the Fiat Allis would trundle between the two. In the sea conditions encountered this must have been a very hairy operation.

LSL’s and mexeflotes continued to be used at Teal Inlet and the ill fated Bluff Cove

Sergeant Derrick Sidney Boultby of the Royal Corps of Transport was awarded the Military Medal for his actions and his citation was as follows;

Sergeant Boultby of 17 Port Regiment, RCT, was the NCO in charge of MEXEFLOTE rafts throughout the Falkland Islands operations. At Ascension Island, during a massive re-stow operation he worked all hours under difficult conditions to move cargo quickly. In San Carlos Water, the MEXEFLOTE rafts played a major part in the logistic landing of equipment to ensure the success of the fighting troops. From the exposed position which such a raft offers, Sergeant Boultby worked continuously throughout daylight hours and in extreme weather conditions.

The vulnerability of his position to constant enemy air attack did not deter him from his task and he was an inspiration to his crew and other RCT personnel. He was coxswain of the MEXEFLOTE present at Fitzroy during the bombing of RFA SIR GALAHAD and RFA SIR TRISTRAM, and repeatedly returned to the area of the stricken ships to rescue survivors and, with complete disregard for his own safety, dived into the sea to rescue a Chinese crewman. Sergeant Boultby’s dedication to his tasks in dangerous conditions was outstanding.

Highlighting a deficiency in ship to shore fuel transfer the mexeflotes were used to move podded fuel vehicles, these would be driven off the beach, used to fill jerrycans and returned to the ship for refilling, hardly efficient but the best that was available.

After hostilities finished, mexeflotes continued to provide an essential ship to shore transfer service until more permanent facilities could be established, FIPASS for example.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CrFBHCyr7wQ

Haiti

In the aftermath of the earthquake in Haiti, DFiD and the armed forces supplied a number of locations with much needed food and other supplies.

Bay Class Royal Fleet Auxiliary (RFA) vessel Largs Bay, with members of 17 Port and Maritime Regiment, Royal Logistic Corps, and other members of her embarked military force delivered essential supplies at Haiti’s capital Port-au-Prince, the ship and her crew continued to work, redistributing World Food Programme (WFP) food and commodities to Haitian communities who were logistically cut off from the rest of the island in the aftermath of the quake.

Since the disaster, the population of Anse-à-Veau, in Nippes province on Haiti’s southern peninsula, was swollen by refugees from Port-au-Prince. With the roads impassable due to mudslides and flooding, the only way to get aid through to the the area has been by occasional air drops.

RFA Largs Bay and its crew were tasked by the WFP to deliver Anse-à-Veau’s first major relief package since the earthquake.

During the four-day relief operation at the village, RFA Largs Bay’s Mexeflote raft shuttled 275,000 ready meals, 30 tonnes of rice, six tonnes of beans, more than 200 boxes of corn soya blend, 100-plus boxes of vegetable oil, and 13 bags of salt to the shore at Anse-à-Veau.

For a great gallery of RFA Largs Bay and the Mexeflote in and around Haiti, click here

Shame we are selling here.

Afghanistan

No, I haven’t been on the sherry,

Mexeflotes have been used for transferring vehicles from the Points class RORO vehicles to facilities at RAF Akrotiri as part of the ‘sail to fly’ movements programme.

The Joint Movements Squadron (JMS) is made up of RAF and Army personnel from 17 Port and Maritime Regiment (Royal Logistic Corps)

Read more here

The Mexeflote is an unglamorous but essential and innovative system, and its a metal box with an ISO container on the top

What’s not to like!

27 Comments
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Marcase
Marcase
April 4, 2011 1:10 am

Another excellent article, must read. Well done.

Anixtu
Anixtu
April 4, 2011 10:10 am

Good article! I like Mexeflotes. ;-)

“The Knights class RFA’s would carry two, one on each side. To deploy them the lashings were removed leaving a single quick release fitting holding it until the whole thing was released, the mexeflote falling into the water.”

You don’t just let several tens of tonnes of raft fall into the water! :-) The lashings back up several cleats along the length of the raft. Release the lashings, then the cleats, then lower gently on the winches. The arrangements on the older LSLs was a bit of a guddle, with wires running across the full width of the ship’s deck. Sir Galahad and Sir Bedivere were better adapted to Mexe operations and everything was on the shade decks or immediate vicinity.

The “fender belt” is known as the Mexe bar and includes small cut out sections with bars onto which “T-bars” engage. T-bars are the raft/ship interface and bolt onto the raft for lifting and securing. The cleats mentioned above are a part of the T-bar. You can use different bars for different types of ship, and in fact each ship carries its own set of T-bars or the Bay class equivalent which is in two parts and isn’t T-shaped. One set for the outboard side of the raft to engage the Mexe-bar and one set for the inboard side to engage the cleats.

The most common variations encountered on amphibious ops are 1) the full-length powered raft and 2) the Ramp Support Pontoon (RSP). The RSP configuration was used to support the stern ramp of an LSL or LPH for vehicle transfers to landing craft whilst at anchor. LSLs would typically carry one of each.

Conning a Mexeflote is an interesting exercise. The coxswain stands towards the front of the raft and if it’s laden a second man stands on the wendy hut (the cabin), or on the cargo towards the rear of the raft, signalling to the engine operators with his arms. You can see the coxswain and repeater standing on cargo and relaying arm signals in many of the photographs.

Euan
Euan
April 4, 2011 2:27 pm

More excellent stuff on the typically obscure parts of the military and the land of Mexeflote in particular. With something so simple that works so well I’m surprised it hasn’t yet been replaced with something in the typical MoD fashion that’s big and noisy costing a fortune. A question though, you said it’s compatible with ISO containers does that mean you can stack them together with twistlocks and load them onto containers ships including even stacking containers on them up to the normal stack limit.

Looking at the World Food Program Pictures it really does bring it home how crazy they were to sell one to the Australians when an argument could have been made to get DFID to pay for her. Also the Sail to Fly movements program, I guess we didn’t use Limassol for some political reason as it looks like it would have been a simple drive to the Airbase.

“can’t see anyone arguing for 17 P&M to become part of the RM or RN for example!”

Oh erm Hello :) RFA maybe?

Really though the way things are it works fine and the Royal Marines operate their own landing craft and are generally more concerned with getting somewhere to say hello and give folk a slap if that is what HMG desires. So essentially it is just a legacy of history that seems to work so by some miracle has been left alone by those further up the command chain probably because as you said it’s mundane and low profile.

Gareth Jones
Gareth Jones
April 4, 2011 2:38 pm
Jed
Jed
April 4, 2011 3:28 pm

LOL – you just had to say it didn’t you: “can’t see anyone arguing for 17 P&M to become part of the RM or RN for example!”

Of course they should be part of the RM…. :-)

Only joking, nice to see you gave them a mention, be an ex-Matelot when I joined the TA 17 P & M nearly became my unit, just turned out Psyops was way closer to home (and ended being WAY more interesting).

x
x
April 4, 2011 8:23 pm

@ TD re 17PM

It is always good to see the blue ensign of the RLC!

@ All

During WW2 one of the main tasks of the LST was to carry LCT in theatre as deck cargo. At the point of delivery they were pushed over the side.
In the rather cheesy film D-Day the Sixth of June there is some stock footage of this evolution. One of the advantages of modern telly-boxes is that you can rewind stuff and watch in slow-mo. I think I spent a good 15 minutes or so re-watching that sequence. Um. I didn’t actually watch the film I just fast forwarded to the LST bit…..

Mike
Mike
April 4, 2011 11:52 pm

“More excellent stuff on the typically obscure parts of the military”

Indeed, great read on a seldom seen/read part of our military, Some good kit :)

Peter Arundel
Peter Arundel
April 5, 2011 11:08 pm

With regard to Anixtu’s comment about conning a Mexeflote, I wonder if it would be possible to fit a remote control unit like modern hydraulic cranes use?

http://www.simbal.net/products/radio-remote-control-systems/1/m550-hydraulic-radio/9/

Stand where you like aboard your pontoon and make the treasury happy by making 66% of the crew redundant . . .

leesea
leesea
April 6, 2011 10:51 pm

Some USN observations. The old Navy Lighterage (NL) sections we had on the USS Newport were relics from WW2. Their lifting gear took up much of main deck amidships.
The old NL were indeed an erector set of pontoons. The JMLS tried and failed to build a better box (literally the TEU dimensioned pontoons were not built as true rectangles by poor contractor). The new INLS have proven to be a good system.
Unfortunately the INLS are ONLY lifted on MSC’s MPS ships since the USN has given up on side loading pontoons. A shame because with modern cranes it would be even easier than the RFA lift & lock in system.
I would be interested to know if the RN/RLC use their Mexeflotes as does the USN configured in RRDF -Roll-on/Roll-off Discharge Facilies?
MSC has just last year connected an HSV, LSD and several landing craft to an RRDF off Africa.
I should also mention the US Army’s Trident pier system which is similar.

bernster
bernster
May 10, 2011 1:15 pm

in response to Peter Arundel the Mexe now has an electronic remote system fitted to control speed and prop direction.

tweckyspat
tweckyspat
January 9, 2012 4:38 pm

great article. Ex 17 P&M myself. Sad to say that the mexe development really hasn’t kept pace with technology. AFAIK there are no twistlocks for ISO lockdown – indeed one of the “safety features” was that cargo should slip gently overboard in the event of excessive sea states.

tweckyspat
tweckyspat
January 10, 2012 8:45 am

what UK should have done of course is developed the Ramp support Platform concept into a portable linkspan so that any RoRo could be made operable in any port

dave
dave
February 3, 2012 10:16 pm

Would love to have got some pictures of the haulermatics falling off the mexe raft in stanley harbour, anyone out there have any. brings back good memories, very cold and very wet ones,I remember thinking at the time what the heck am I doing in this back end of who knows where place freezing,cold wet and hungry,but they were good times really.

Paul
Paul
March 18, 2012 8:56 pm

Interesting but a shame some of the facts are wrong. Prior to Mexeflote there was Uniflote then a prototype Mexe with Tirfor Jacks to winch up the bow ramps.Mexe could be lowered or dropped from the side of an LSL and to my mind the last double drop was done on the buys at Marchwood on what I think was called Ex Arbortheeny? not sure of the spelling. Mexe has been used as helicopter & hovercraft landing stages, powered and dumb causeways and many other applications.
as stated it was built as a simple modular system which stood the test of time until the inevitable, replacement parts and ancillaries were not to the same standard or quality so there have been compatibility problems.

Ponda
Ponda
March 19, 2012 2:57 pm

During my time with Mexe, several interested parties descended from on-high with good ideas of making Mexe better. Including one to round the stern cells, so that they would go half a knot faster! So a 5 1/2 knots top speed instead of 5?
Mexe is 50 years old and very nearly unchanged. Something rare in any branch of any service. The gear is rugged, reliable and ‘squaddie-proof’. Ok its a bit exposed, but carries everything, pretty much in any climate, just slowly.
Oh and didn’t RFA Sir Percival ‘free-drop’ a raft in the 80’s that jumped through the ship’s hull, thus suspending any more free drops?

DERRICK PARKIN
DERRICK PARKIN
June 20, 2013 3:09 pm

Spent a wonderful year at 17 port ,417 mexi troop,Saff Sgt under Wo2
Ron Gaudion 1971/2 ,unfortunately was only posted there for my football
prows but loved every minute of my time there

Bill Homer
Bill Homer
April 11, 2014 9:41 am

The MEXEFLOTE was indeed designed to free drop ANIXTU. The wires that ran across the main deck of the LSL were obstructive and reduced the deck space available to carry cargo. The idea was to side lift the rafts and secure by lashings and Quick Releases. The remainder of the kit was then stowed and the deck filled with cargo. The problem came of course when the ship was backloaded by raft as the wires were need to lift them after the cargo was loaded. The practice ceased and the RFA in particular became very nervous with free dropping following an incident which saw RFA SIR LANCELOT holed during such an event. The “T Bars” should have been tied to the ship side, not to the raft, which allows the raft to fall before it reaches the horizontal, the force of hitting the water then throws the raft clear of the ship, mooring lines preventing it from floating away. They were however attached to the raft and the “T Bars” remained engaged in the H Blocks until the raft was horizontal. In the case with SIR LANCELOT the forward end of the raft did not disengage and the after “T Bar” holed her beneath the lifting rail.

MEXEFLOTE can be configured in a multitude of ways, Tug units (4 Stern cells) Ro Ro (126 foot raft with stern cells replaced with bow cells and the engines mounted on stern cells as outriggers attached to the side of the raft) 46, 66, 86, 106 and 126 foot rafts and causeways as long as you like, so long as they are articulated every 126 foot, steered by further outrigger at the forward end. There were all sorts of configurations used, the most complex I’m aware of is the Ramp Support Platform for ATLANTIC CONVEYOR 2 with several loading areas.

The Original concept was of course well thought out with the mission and flexibility being the aim. Subsequent upgrades of course missed the diversity and flexibility point and use is pretty much limited to 126 foot rafts.

Chris
Chris
May 9, 2014 7:26 pm

Hi everyone, I’ve just been posted to Mexe Tp and the main improvements that are needed are the equipment to maintain the cells and ancillaries. We are currently grinding the cells at slow speed (3 grinders and 8 wire brushes). We are loving the trips we getting around the world and I know that it was a lot harder in the day . When getting DLP computer course and other job that take priority ‘Important jobs ‘It can take morale down. The remote doesn’t work all of the time and people have lost faith in it.
Sorry if this is negitive, I love my job and can’t wait to get out on the water, RM, RFA or RN it would give the lads and lasses a vision for the future as our main vessel as gone ( RCL ) and are unsure if we have a future in the Army maritime trade.

Gloomy Northern Boy
Gloomy Northern Boy
May 9, 2014 9:46 pm

– Good luck with the posting…enjoy the work, try to let the future look out for itself. And look out for TD – when he spots your current job he’ll be stalking you demanding articles…or at least photos!

GNB

Chris Goodrum
Chris Goodrum
May 11, 2014 5:29 pm

Iserved at marchwood for 13 yrs,when i started it was Unifloats, then up graded to mexifloat what a revalation.best kit the army ever invented.Iwas in 52 Port Sqn

Mark Evans
Mark Evans
July 30, 2014 7:30 pm

Made many of these very heavy pieces of kit, even made them in South Georgia and the Falkland Islands.