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7 (months) up for Middleton

ARRIVING in the UK just about now are the 40-plus men and women of HMS Middleton. But if you’re expecting to catch sight of M34 gliding past Round Tower, you’ve got a long wait – the ship herself is staying put in the Gulf. In the latest turnaround of minehunter crews in the Gulf, Crew 7’s time is up aboard the Hunt-class warship, Crew 2’s stint is just beginning. Crew 7 have been in charge of Middleton since last May – 216 days in all. In that time the ship’s mine clearance divers have carried out 102 exercises and spent more than 25 hours under water. Their shipmates launched

Seafox, the robot submarine which neutralises mines and explosive devices, more than 150 times as Middleton added 5,220 nautical miles (6,000 statute miles) to her odometer. And all this in the ever- challenging weather conditions of the Gulf; in high summer, temperatures topped 55˚C with 99 per cent humidity and 36˚C sea water temperature... which is not a lot of fun to work in. But work the Middletons

did. The ship took part in a succession of exercises during the summer and autumn with local and international navies, often in company with the RN’s other assets in the region – HMS Grimsby, Pembroke and Chiddingfold and mine warfare mother ship RFA Lyme Bay. That force has ranged up and

Different year same tempo

BY THE time 2011 was one week old, two Royal Navy vessels had already slipped their moorings for lengthy deployments.

Both HMS Echo and HMS Richmond are bound east of Suez. You won’t see the latter till high summer. As for Echo, well Britain will be gearing up for the Olympics by the time she’s back. The survey ship will be

● Coats and Cardigan... A couple of well-cloaked early-risers on Round Tower watch RFA Cardigan Bay enter Portsmouth Harbour

Picture: LA(Phot) Claire Jones, FRPU

down the Gulf; in Middleton’s case, she spent suffi cient time operating off Iraq for her crew to earn the Operation Telic medal (which will be presented when they’re back in the UK). By November, three months of constant exercising in the harsh environment had taken its toll – the searing heat, sand and salt had all left their mark on the 26-year-old warship. That prompted a fi ve-week maintenance spell in Bahrain, assisted by the engineers of the Forward Support Unit. By the time that was fi nished,

Cardigan wraps it up

MISSION accomplished. That has a very satisfying ring

to it. After three years and two dozen

patrols in the northern Gulf, RFA Cardigan Bay fi nished her extended stint in the region and sailed into Portsmouth Harbour. Sadly, she didn’t bring the Gulf

weather with her: it was a cold, drizzly dawn as the amphibious support ship passed Round Tower.

In doing so she brought the

it was almost Christmas, but that didn’t stop M34 heading to sea again, this time for Dubai where she spent the New Year with a sizeable proportion of the RN forces east of Suez (see pages 4-5). After another period of mine

warfare exercises in the southern Gulf it was time to return to Bahrain and exchange places with Crew 2, fresh from HMS Ledbury (which will be Crew 7’s home once they’ve enjoyed some well-deserved leave). “The past seven months in the Arabian Gulf have provided a unique operational challenge for the ship and crew,” said CO Lt Cdr Phil Dennis.

“I am immensely proud of the resolve and commitment my crew have displayed maintaining a high operational tempo in the unforgiving environment. They should be very proud of all they have achieved.”

Pier review for Type 45s

WORK has begun on a new ammunition facility in Portsmouth Harbour to support the 21st-Century Fleet. The existing pontoon/pier

structure used by frigates and destroyers to load and offl oad missiles, shells and other ammo dates from the 1920s. The pier, which extends from the munitions depot at Bridgemary in Gosport, was originally used for coaling, before being converted to ammunition submarines and small warships. It was overhauled 30 years ago to accommodate larger vessels, but years of exposure to the elements have taken their toll. With a new facility required to

support the Type 45 destroyers and their Aster missiles, builders VolkerStevin are erecting a replacement to the south-east of the existing structure, which will remain in use until 2012.

curtain down not merely on her lengthy deployment, but one of the Royal Fleet Auxiliary’s core missions for much of the past decade.

Cardigan Bay, and before her

RFAs Sir Bedivere and Diligence, served as the hub for training Iraqi sailors and marines. She’s also served as a ‘lily

pad’ for Allied operations at the tip of the Gulf – offering fuel, sustenance, support to warships in

these waters and a fl ight deck for helicopters operating between the ships and Bahrain, the main naval base in the region. The key role, however, was to prepare Iraqi marines and sailors for the challenging task of defending their territorial waters and their country’s two oil platforms (see below). Training is provided by a US-UK team in Iraq’s main naval base, Umm Qasr,


hours’ sailing up the Khawr abd Allah. To cut down on that sailing

time, Britain has stationed an RFA vessel at the head of the Gulf to maximise training opportunities for the Iraqis and their patrol boats.

shores by landing craft and helicopter. That was put on the backburner for this mission; the ship served as a base for Iraqi boats, their crews and their tutors and instructors, as well as US Navy fast patrol craft covering the waters around the platforms.

Thanks to her special

Cardigan Bay was designed to support Royal Marines’ amphibious operations, disgorging men and matériel on to foreign

features, Cardigan Bay was also able to offer some unique training, such as fl ooding her loading dock to teach the Iraqis sea-survival techniques. Although the mission for the past three years has been constant, the Bay-class ship’s position has not; she’s clocked up more than 71,000 miles since she sailed from the UK back in 2008, stopping off in Cyprus on the way home to pick up various military vehicles and ferry them to the mother country. No RFA is taking her place

in the Gulf; naval leaders have decided that it’s one task which has now been completed (although the Umm Qasr team will remain in situ until next year). Cardigan Bay’s Commanding

Offi cer Capt Paul Minter RFA said his ship had “secured her place in the history of Operation Telic and the history of the fl edgling Iraqi Navy.

“It has been a demanding but

rewarding role to provide support to such an important task, and has demonstrated the versatility of these capable ships.”

After a spot of maintenance in

Falmouth following her lengthy exertions in the harsh Gulf environment, the ship will return to the fold of the UK’s amphibious forces taking part in exercises later this year. She’s due to return to Falmouth

in August for a major refi t similar to the one completed on her sister Mounts Bay last year.

away from her home port of Devonport for at least two years as she updates charts and gathers hydrographic data in the Red Sea, Gulf, Indian Ocean, Middle East and the Far East. To that end she spent the tail end of the old year undergoing extensive training, six weeks of bespoke operational sea training for survey ships, and, just before the festive season, a fortnight of top-up training (which included battle training in addition to testing typical hydrographic and seafaring duties). In the intervening periods when not under training the ship has been carrying out surveys of UK waters, including a spell in Cardigan Bay. “2010 was been an extremely challenging – and rewarding year – for Echo,” said her XO Lt Cdr Trefor Fox. “Everyone pulled together to complete the preparations required for such a long and wide ranging deployment.” Thanks to crew rotation, one third of the ship’s company will always be home in the UK, either on training courses or on leave, allowing Echo to be away from the mother country for so long. As for the families of Richmond’s sailors, they ‘only’ have to wait seven months to see the frigate again. The Type 23 sailed on probably the plum tour-of-duty today’s Surface Fleet enjoys: the Far East deployment.

Before she gets there, however,

there’s the small matter of pirates to deal with. The deployment begins in

earnest off the Horn of Africa supporting the international effort to stamp out brigandage in the Somali basin and aid the delivery of food to Somalia under the World Food Programme. Once counter-piracy work is

done, Richmond heads to the Far East in support of UK military commitments such as the Five Powers Defence Agreement (FPDA), which will see her visiting Indonesia, Brunei and Singapore.

NO, IT’S not one of ours, though it is now prowling familiar waters. This is Swift Patrol Boat P-301 of the Iraqi Navy, pictured here on trials but which has now carried out its first mission in territorial waters around the Al Basrah Oil Terminal (ABOT), the old stamping ground of many a Royal Navy warship in recent years.

Fast forward for Iraqis

The inaugural patrol will have gladdened the hearts of the Royal Navy personnel who have been training Iraqi sailors in Umm Qasr as part of a coalition team since 2004, most recently specifically geared to the new patrol boat. A joint Iraqi/Coalition team conducted the crew’s final sea assessment, which the men of P-301 passed with flying colours before setting out on their first patrol.

And just to emphasise the significance of the event, it was scheduled for Iraqi National Army Day, January 7.

P-301 will be joined by a further 14 of the 35-metre Swiftship-built boats over the coming year. Capt Gary Sutton, Commanding

Officer ITAM Navy (Umm Qasr), said: “Today the Iraqi Navy has made a huge step forward with the first Swiftship patrol of ABOT. “I am proud of their accomplishment, but I would also like to acknowledge the achievements of the highly- professional training and advisory coalition team in ITAM-N whose training of the Iraqi Navy made this possible.”

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