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MPs: helo
force under
severe strain
Saints and winners
First for RN
Merlin fl eet
AFTER 14 intense months of
training, a dozen Merlin fl iers
NORMALLY, there’s not a
were awarded their wings at
A SHORTAGE of front-line
Culdrose – including the fi rst
helicopters is having a serious
lot connecting minehunter
female pilot of the sub-hunting
impact on Britain’s ability to wage
HMS Brocklesby and helicopter.
war, a group of MPs warns. frigate HMS St Albans.
Lt Charlie Marjoribanks was
The Defence Select Committee Same customs, to be sure,
one of fi ve pilots, four observers
says Britain’s fleet of battlefield same White Ensign fl uttering over
and three aircrewmen – all
helicopters – which includes the the stern, but when it comes to
students on Merlin Course 1/08
Commando Helicopter Force – is weapons, size, role and the like,
at 824 NAS – to receive the
too small and that the age of the very different.
coveted fl ying badge from Rear
Sea King, backbone of the CHF, But in 2009 the two ships have
Admiral Tony Johnstone-Burt,
is putting an increasing strain spent six months away. Both have
Commander of Joint Helicopter
both on the aircraft itself as well been attached to a NATO task
Command (and a former Sea
as the men and women who fly force. Both have bimbled (with
King, Lynx and Gazelle pilot).
and maintain it. purpose, of course) around the
Not only do we have our fi rst
Committee members visited Med, North Sea and Baltic. Both
female Merlin pilot, but possibly
Middle Wallop, home of the Army took part in Exercise Baltops. And
also the longest name in the Fleet
Air Corps, and RNAS Yeovilton, both made Kiel their fi nal port visit
Air Arm.
to chat to personnel. before returning to Portsmouth.
Among the students passing
They also interviewed In fact, according to the good
out was observer Lt Cdr Fabrice
senior officers and front-line ship St Albans, she’s travelled
Dehandschoewercker, a French
commanders, including Rear to the ‘four corners of Europe’
exchange offi cer undergoing
Admiral Tony Johnstone-Burt, during her wide-ranging six-
Merlin conversion training.
in charge of Joint Helicopter month deployment.
The fi nal challenge for students
Command, and Rear Admiral The north corner? That would
on an already intensive course
Simon Charlier, head of the Fleet be St Petersburg. The west corner?
was an incredibly busy three
Air Arm. Brest. The South? Alexandria
weeks with HMS Illustrious.
The committee focused (hmmm, that’s not in Europe).
First the students were
its attention on support for The East? Haifa (hmmm, ditto).
fortunate enough to partake in
battlefield operations in The Portsmouth-based frigate
the Fly Navy 100 celebrations in
Afghanistan, where ‘Jungly’ and has tackled everything from
Greenwich. Then it was straight
‘Bagger’ Sea Kings are currently tracking shipping off Libya, to
into the latest Joint Warrior war
deployed – the former providing rugby in Israel, minehunting in
games in Scotland, getting down
ground support for Allied troops, the Baltic, a bit more rugby in
to the core business of hunting
the latter conducting surveillance Denmark, some sightseeing in
submarines (Dutch and British),
● Thumbs up from the ship’s company (plus ship’s fl ight) of HMS St Albans as The Saint returns to
patrols. Russia, an act of remembrance in
Portsmouth Picture: LA(Phot) Pete Smith, FRPU East
as well as secondary duties such
Both variants have been Germany.
as search and rescue, load lifting
adapted for the challenging The Saint began the year
weekend of the maritime festival, Brocklesby has devoted 2009 to (who had to move three pieces of and in-fl ight refueling. The last
Afghan environment, fitted with attached to a NATO task force
but before her ship’s company operations with NATO’s Mine historic ordnance from the seabed act was yet more sub chasing,
special rotor blades and provided in the Med (hence the visits to
sampled some of the celebrations, Countermeasures Group 1, before detonating them to prevent this time SMCC 091 – the Dutch
with night-vision goggles. Alexandria and Haifa inter
there was a more solemn sharing her time between ‘modern’ damage to underwater pipelines). ‘perisher’ course around the Isle
But the committee was told alia).
affair to attend. operations such as Baltops and “We’ve made some good friends of Arran.
that the Sea King, celebrating After handing over those
CO Adrian Pierce, a Exercise Loyal Mariner, and over the last six months, operating In recognition of their
its 40th birthday this year, still duties to HMS Cornwall,
ship’s guard and a platoon ‘historic’ operations – dealing successfully from the Baltic to the achievements, the successful
found it “harder work and more the second half of the
of sailors headed to the with the detritus of 20th-Century Mediterranean,” said CO Lt Cdr students and their families
of a challenge” to operate in frigate’s deployment
Nordfriedhof (north confl ict. Tom Tredray. were treated to a display from a
Afghanistan. was concentrated in
cemetery) where Six old bombs/depth charges “We’ve helped to make the seas Jetstream, Merlins (of course)
“We are concerned that cooler northern waters,
more than 900 WW2 were disposed of by the Hunt- around Europe safer for everyone and the Lynx Black Cats display
operational commanders in fi rstly to Jutland and
servicemen, largely class ship, either automatically – especially fi shermen – through team during the Wings ceremony,
the field today are unable to Denmark’s second city,
RAF bomber crews, are using the Seafox system, or by our work to dispose of explosives with music provided by HMS
undertake potentially-valuable Aarhus.
buried, to lay a wreath hand using the clearance divers left over from World War 2.” Seahawk’s band.
operations because of the lack of The visit to Denmark
and pay their respects.
helicopters,” the report states. was the chance for the
The visit to the German
The MPs are also concerned sailors to get their heads around
port was the fi nal act of the
by plans to extend the Sea King’s Baltops 2009, very comprehensive,
Type 23 frigate’s deployment. She
life. large-scale war games in the
returned to Portsmouth in the
The venerable aircraft is due eastern Baltic.
middle of the summer heatwave
to be replaced by the Future It also gave the ship’s company
with Cdr Pierce chuffed with his
Medium Helicopter around the chance to fl ex their sporting
sailors’ accomplishments.
2017, but keeping Sea King in muscles. Clubz organised the
“It’s been a delight to lead such
service that long would neither annual fi tness test on the quayside,
a well-trained group,” he enthused.
give the troops on the ground the golfers joined Danish
“They have acted as ambassadors
what they need, nor provide the counterparts for a round or two,
for the Royal Navy – and Great
taxpayer with value for money the and the rugby union team hit the
Britain – while continuing to
committee says. pitch once again.
strengthen maritime security and
And it shares the concerns of Previous teams to boast of their
allowing mariners to sail the seas
senior commanders that focus rugby prowess have fallen foul of
in safety.
on operations in Afghanistan was St Albans. Aarhus XV were led by
“A tremendously-varied six
hitting other commitments. a New Zealander who declared
months has seen St Albans and
Rear Admiral Johnstone- boastfully “We don’t lose to British
her great ship’s company achieve
Burt told the committee that ships here.”
an enormous amount in all four
amphibious training – ferrying Or rather they do. Fairly
corners of Europe – and beyond.”
marines from ship to shore, comprehensively. The sailors
HMS Brocklesby, like St Albans,
CHF’s raison d’être – had taken a dispatched the cocksure Danes
paid her respects to British dead in
back seat. 44-27 to cement their position as
Kiel, but her ship’s company could
“We are just keeping the flame one of the best ship sides in the
also be found across Kieler Bucht
alive,” he said. “We need to work RN.
in the small town of Laboe.
at it.” The Baltops force mustered in
There at the entrance to the
The report does praise the Karlskrona in Sweden (permitting
harbour stands a towering red-
MOD and industry for working yet another rugby triumph
brick memorial to Germany’s
together to improve serviceability ashore, this time against HMS
naval dead from two world wars
– “something of a success story”. Brocklesby).
(th(think: Britain’s three naval
And above all it applauds the As for things warlike,e,
war memorials merged into
Service personnel who fly and St Albans found herself elf
maintain the force, doing “a fending off attacks beneath h
The vast majority of
superb job”. the waves (courtesy of
those honoured by the
But the committee warns: Polish diesel boats),
imposing monument
“We are convinced that the lack above them (courtesy
died at the hands of
of helicopters is having adverse of German Tornados),
the Royal Navy –
consequences for operations and on them (courtesy
something which
today and, in the longer term, of German fast-attack
will be featured, no
will severely impede the ability of craft) during ten days of
doubt, in an impending
the UK Armed Forces to deploy.” intense training.
Defence Secretary Bob At the beginning of her
The BBC’s Masters of the
Ainsworth said the MOD career some six years ago, the
Sea, due to air this September,
was doing all in its power to then nearly-new St Albans paid
explains how the Royal Navy put
bolster the helicopter force in one of her fi rst overseas visits
the ‘great’ into ‘Great Britain’.
Afghanistan. to the Russian metropolis of St
Presenter Dan Snow and his team
“We have almost doubled Petersburg.
joined Brocklesby both at work
helicopter hours, together And in the summer of 2009,
and at play during the visit to
with increasing the number of the Saint returned to the one-
Kiel (the fi lm crew have also been
helicopters for operations. time city of the tsars and ‘cradle of
aboard Iron Duke – see page 2).
“The deployment of the Bolshevism’.
These days there’s amity, not
Merlins to Afghanistan will The warship was in town as
enmity between Britain and
mean a further 25 per cent rise Britain’s representative at the
Germany, except perhaps on the
in helicopter hours from the Fourth International Naval Salon
football pitch where it’s always a
end of the year. We are investing – not a convention for nautical
tense affair.
£6bn over the next decade in barbers, but a gathering of defence Among the various sporting
our helicopter capability. But I fi rms from across the globe activities lined up while the
will make sure that we will keep showcasing their wares. international naval force was in
looking to see what more we can From St Petersburg to another Kiel was a football match against
possibly do. great northern European city, Kiel, FGS Sulzbach-Rosenberg.
“However it is not just about one of the homes of the German A fellow minehunter, she has
buying helicopters. It is also fl eet and home of an international three more sailors to call upon
about investing in the training regatta of sailing vessels and tall than Brocklesby when she needs
of pilots and ground crews and ships, the world famous Kieler to fi eld a team… but to no avail as
increasing the availability of spare Woche (Kiel Week). the Brits triumphed 6-5.
parts to maintain them.” St Albans arrived for the opening The Baltic exercise aside,
005_NN_August.indd 1 20/7/09 14:20:32
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