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20 NAVY NEWS, FEBRUARY 2011


unsung. Why the low profile? Well, for one thing, working underneath the sea in zero visibility doesn’t


of divers at work, few books about them, and no memorable


NAVY divers do some of the most dangerous work in the Service, but much of


it goes unseen and


make for good pictures. There are few photographs


Sink or swim on


film sequences, like the famous wartime footage of the Swordfish attacking the Bismarck, or ships in the Falklands campaign. Then there’s the nature of the


job. Clearance diving is not just a wartime job, with all the publicity that follows. It is a daily tasking, although an equally hazardous one.


carry out mine disposal on MCMs, and underwater engineering on ships and submarines. But they also work closely with civil authorities. Day after day in peacetime,


naval divers defuse explosive ordnance fetched up on beaches or fishing nets, mount search and recovery operations, and support maritime counter terrorism. For all these reasons, divers


The Navy divers’ main job is to


of trees, bounce hard and dust themselves down. “They’re still out there – and standards have not fallen. The ones who pass are just as good as they ever were.”


It also takes strong nerves to deal with bomb disposal. Cdr Russell said: “I think at the beginning you’re imbued with a whole load of courage, because in your late teens and 20s you think you are invincible. “In later life you realise you are not, and then it requires a different sort of courage.” He added: “But there is no


(apart from the mysterious Buster Crabbe) have never had the public profile of pilots or skimmers. Even submariners probably get more publicity than they do. But they don’t keep a modest profile out of choice. “Divers aren’t shrinking


greater buzz than walking up to a large piece of ordnance to try to dispose of it. You don’t know what it is, you don’t know where it is, but you feel alive – really alive! “You have one, single-minded


purpose – to disarm it. Is there an element of thrill seeking? Yes – I have to admit there probably is.” The trainee divers recommended


violets,” said Cdr Tom Russell, Commanding Officer of the (Joint Service) Defence Diving School at Horsea Island, in Portsmouth. He added: “In fact I’ve never seen such a bunch of people who like to be in the limelight.” Over the past year, Navy clearance divers have been taking their place alongside colleagues in


reported in Navy News) working with the Joint Force Explosive Ordnance Disposal Group. But people looking at the pictures of the small team of Navy divers in Helmand Province might not realise which Service they belong to. “We are a very small team and


Afghanistan,


Army (as


we tend to get on with the job and dip under the horizon,” explained Cdr Russell. “Unless a World War 2 bomb shuts down the Mersey,


happened a few years ago, we tend to stay below the radar.” He added: “When we blister


as


ourselves onto other units and work in places like Afghanistan we don’t look like sailors, and so we lose our identity.”


high, but divers are a small and elite team.


spur, there must be a magnet for a young sailor to want to spend his (or her) career under water, particularly in the dark, cold and murky waters in which most Navy divers work – deployments to the sports divers’ playgrounds of clear,


If public recognition isn’t the


at the PEDA go to HMS Raleigh, where they complete Phase One of basic training along with other recruits, before their next hurdle, week one of diving course, Initial Diving Training Selection week. During this initial week they


blue, warm seas are sadly rare, and getting even rarer. It becomes clear, visiting the Defence Diving School, that the magnet is the challenge of joining an exclusive club.


There is no such thing as a half-hearted military diver. Passing all the courses requires huge determination, plus physical fitness similar to a commando’s. “The Able Seaman Diver


course is, without doubt, the most physically and mentally challenging ratings’ course in the Royal Navy,” said Cdr Russell. He explained: “When they first


arrive, everyone sets the highest of standards and we take our training very seriously. “We’re a very small, tight-knit community, so we all work for each other. Our team is something people want to join, when they see it they work doubly hard to try and get in.” The first step for potential Navy


Their public profile may not be


divers is to spend two-and-a-half days at Horsea island on a PEDA – Pre-Entry Diving Assessment, in which they will do one ‘try-dive’ in a freshwater tank, and a second in Horsea Lake – in between series of tough physical training circuits to test their fitness. This gives them a chance to


experience life at the Defence Diving School and find out if they are really suited to the job – and for the school in turn to assess them.


Although the course is not pass


or fail, promising candidates get a recommendation, which allows them to go to the next stage. “What qualities are we looking


for? We’re looking for people who have get-up-and-go, who are self- starters, determined, bright, and focused on what they want to achieve,” said Cdr Russell. He added: “Society’s changed since I joined the Navy. We’re in an age of computers and home entertainment, where fewer kids are getting dirty playing out of doors and falling out of trees. “We tend to get the ones who are still doing that, who fall out


undertake intensive physical training sessions, including wet and dry circuits, a mud run and a night dive. The physical standards required to pass are way above the RN Physical Fitness Test; all divers must successfully pass the Divers Physical Fitness Test (DPFT) which requires a mile-and-a- half run in under 10 minutes 30 seconds; 16 dips, eight heaves and 40 sit-ups, the latter in under a minute.


The mud run is famous among


divers as one of the toughest tests of strength, stamina, and above all a determination to keep going in unpleasant circumstances. Between Horsea Island and Portchester there are, (conveniently) tons of mud when the tide is out.


The hopeful divers on the


PEDA will find themselves doing regular mud runs if they get onto the ABs course, where trainees have to get across from Horsea to Portchester, a distance of half a mile. It may not sound far, but there is no easy way to travel across deep mud – every step saps the strength.


And the distance can be further when an absent-minded instructor finds he’s forgotten something and has to send them back to get it… The infamous mud run is not a punishment, or a test of grit, but a necessary skill. Lots of wartime ordnance gets


washed up on to mud, and a clearance diver has to learn how to reach it, frequently walking through several hundred yards of thick mud with 55lb of equipment on his back.


Only the best ten who


undertake the Initial Diving Training Selection week start the Able Seaman Diver course the following Monday. In this 22-week course the students learn first aid, underwater engineering, sea bed searches, recompression chamber training, and – finally – two intensive weeks of Explosive Ordnance Disposal


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