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Guess Hu’s coming to dinner

SO WHAT do you do if you’re stuck on a hydrographic survey vessel on a Thursday in February in Bahrain, February 3 to be precise? Well, obviously, you celebrate Chinese New Year. Officers from the Qiandao Hu – a 23,000-tonne supply ship similar to the Royal Fleet Auxiliary’s Forts – joined the ship’s company of HMS Echo to see in the Year of the Golden Rabbit which, apparently, is a good omen.

Next stage of Clyde revamp under way

WORK has begun in Faslane on a £4m indoor range to improve marksmanship of sailors, commandos and MOD police based at the Scottish establishment. Over the next 12 months the

state-of-the-art Firearms Training Centre will arise on the site of old garages, which should have been flattened by the time you read this.

Aside from an excuse to have some top Chinese food for lunch aboard the Qiando Hu, there was a chance for the crews of the respective ships to discuss the concerted international effort against pirates and other ne’er- do-wells operating in the Indian Ocean-Gulf region.

With its merchantmen – like those from other nations – threatened by Somali pirates, the People’s Liberation Army (Navy) has committed naval forces to these waters since the end of 2008.

As for Echo, her efforts to make these waters safe are rather more benign: she’s just arrived in the region for two years of surveying work in the Red Sea, Gulf, Indian Ocean, Middle East and Far East.

Divers deal with detritus

DIVERS were called to East Sussex when a vintage torpedo was found fl oating close to busy shipping lanes. The fishing boat Royal

Sovereign came across the 55-year-old weapon while trawling off Beachy Head. Its skipper took pictures of the device, which were sent to Southern Diving Unit 2 in Portsmouth, before carefully towing the aged torpedo closer to shore – and well away from the Newhaven-Dieppe ferry route. An initial inspection of the

photographs by the RN experts showed that the weapon’s warhead and propeller had rotted away, but to make sure the divers headed to East Sussex. A look at the torpedo ‘in the

flesh’ confirmed that it was safe and that all that was left were the pressure vessel and engine part. A stamp on the weapon

showed that it was last tested back in 1955. Satisfied that the torpedo

was inert, it was brought into Eastbourne’s Sovereign Harbour by the RN team; it’s now due to be picked up by a collector. Anything the SDU can do their

northern counterparts can match. The Faslane-based divers

were on their way to Heysham in Lancashire where there were reports of mortar shells being washed up.

and LD Allan Lofthouse headed down the M6 they received fresh instructions from base: pop into Millom in Cumbria on your way back – there’s a couple of naval shells we want you to take a look at. Having disposed of one of the

As PO Richard ‘Buster’ Brown

Picture: LA(Phot) Martin Carney, FRPU West Call in the chain gang

NOW this is a sight to warm the cockles of British hearts in a cold,

dark winter. We’re not talking about this

wonderfully atmospheric shot of HMS Bulwark putting to sea for the fi rst time in nearly a year in the fading light of a winter’s afternoon. No, we’re talking about the sight of sheer physical man (and woman) power.

Because this new fangled industrial age lark is all very well but sometimes you just need a bit of raw human strength. Actually a lot of raw human strength. Say 300 matelots’ worth for more than five hours. The 18,500-tonne assault ship

was anchored in Weymouth Bay carrying out fl ying trials from her fl ight deck when sailors realised there was something wrong at the bow.

The buffer and his team found

that the anchor simply wouldn’t budge; there was no way of lifting it using mechanical means. “In my 24 years of service, it’s

the fi rst time I have ever witnessed this,” said Bulwark’s buffer CPO ‘George’ Hibbert. “I was reluctant to cut the chain or anchor and let it drop into the sea because they are in limited supply, so we decided to haul it in by hand power alone.” Which is no mean feat.

● 2-6! Heave! Bulwark’s crew toil to lift the anchor chain manually Picture: LA(Phot) Shaun Barlow, HMS Bulwark

The anchor weighs four tonnes (8,800lb – or about the weight of three Ford Focuses... or should that be Foci?).

And the anchor chain weighs 56 tonnes (123,000lb – or about 48 Ford Focuses... or should that be Foci?). It’s also 270 metres (885ft) long – which is 300ft longer than Bulwark herself. The entire ship’s company was split into groups and the process began. Working in teams of 30, they pulled the chain up a small section

at a time before moving forward and repeating the process in excess of a 100 times. Initial estimates suggested

combined effort and enthusiasm (that’s what it says here...) of the Bulwarks, the anchor fi nally lifted clear of the water in 5 hours and 20 minutes. At not much under a metre a minute, this truly was a mammoth achievement. “It was an awesome achievement by the entire ship’s company, who

however, with the

managed to lift 270 metres of cable from 25 metres below the sea allowing us to continue with our busy trials,” said Bulwark’s CO Capt Alex Burton. So that’s one ‘little’ issue ironed out following L15’s eight-month overhaul in the hands of Babcock in Devonport. Bulwark has spent the past month at sea undergoing thorough tests and trials to check if what had been done during her refi t worked (and to blow away a few cobwebs among the ship’s company). In the eight months in dry dock and inner basin at Devonport, some £32m was spent revamping the ship’s machinery spaces, magazines,

propulsion system,

her high voltage advanced

that it could take up to 24 hours to recover;

communication sensors, computer and IT network, and upgrades to her defensive weapons systems. Another signifi cant improve- ment has been Bulwark’s conver- sion to full tactical night vision for her landing craft and helicopters; the overhaul means that she will now be able to operate two Chi- nooks simultaneously from her fl ight deck. Bulwark will spend the rest of

the year working up, culminating in Operational Sea Training, after which she’ll assume amphibious flagship duties from her older sister HMS Albion which is leading this year’s major task force deployment (see page 10).

Block capital (ship)

two mortars at Heysham (the other one was devoured by the tide), the pair headed to the small Cumbrian coastal town just 23 miles away.

There they found a pair of 7.5in shells from late WW1 specifically designed for sinking U-boats.

test firings,” said Buster. “We just collected them and returned them to their rightful owners.” The Northern Diving Group

“The steel shells were from

team was called out to 93 incidents in 2010 – including 77 times to conventional munitions such as the detritus of two world wars, but on six occasions the bomb disposal experts were called to deal with improvised explosive devices – home-made bombs.

IF YOU want an idea of the scale of Britain’s future carriers, this photograph should provide a few clues. This is one gigantic section of HMS Queen Elizabeth being manoeuvred into the ship hall at BAE Systems’ Govan yard on the Clyde... ...where it was attached to another section to form Lower Block 03 – the mid-section – of the 65,000-tonne leviathan. It took just an hour to move this segment from one part of the

yard to the shed using a series of remote-controlled transporters and a team of 20 workers.

When complete the joined block will weigh more than 9,300

tonnes. It stands 23 metres tall (75ft) and is 40 metres wide (131ft). And big though this section is, it only goes up to the hangar deck.

“Seeing the mid-section of the carrier come together

brings into sharp focus the sheer scale and complexity of this engineering feat,” said Steven Carroll, in charge of the carrier project at BAE Systems. “It’s one of the biggest engineering projects in the UK today – second only to the 2012 Olympics – and we’re all very proud to be a part of it.” Six yards across the UK and 8,000 shipwrights, technicians and engineers are building sections of the two carriers, with thousands more people employed in the enormous supply chain providing kit for the ships. Fitting out of Lower Block 03 is now being carried out before the block is fl oated around to Rosyth where the Queen Elizabeth is being assembled later this year.

Picture: BAE Systems

The new simulator building is the second stage of a mightily- ambitious £380m transformation of Faslane over the coming decade as the base eventually becomes the sole home of the Silent Service – the official term is the ‘Submarine Centre of Specialisation’. To meet the requirements not only of the new Astute boats but also of the hundreds of sailors who’ll be based on the Clyde as a result of the transfer of the remaining Trafalgar-class submarines from Devonport – as announced under the 2009 shake-up of base porting vessel – around 30 building projects are in the pipeline, the culmination of five years of planning.

A new incident command and control centre is already being built.

providing an extra 510 ‘single living accommodation’ rooms for Royal Navy/Royal Marines personnel stationed at Faslane, new outdoor sports facilities and providing new engineering and waterfront facilities.

Thank-you to Chid and Mid

THE senior British sailor east of Suez praised the efforts of HMS Chiddingfold and Middleton as their crews’ six-month stint in the Gulf came to an end. From his headquarters in Bahrain Cdre Tim Fraser and his staff on the UK Maritime Component Command choreograph the activities of RN and RFA vessels in the Indian Ocean and Gulf region. The number of ships – and personnel – ebbs and flows, but there are never fewer than four minehunters, two Hunts and two Sandowns. Their crews are rotated with comrades back home every six or so months.

In this instance, the ship’s companies of Middleton and the Cheery Chid are returning to Portsmouth to take over other Hunts. Visiting the two ships at Mina Salman port, Cdre Fraser told the assembled sailors: “You have done a splendid job, often in very challenging climatic conditions.

region and your presence here has helped to protect British interests and provide support to the local region.”

NATO role for Brocklesby

MINEHUNTER HMS Brocklesby has taken her place alongside NATO allies as she spends six months in the Mediterranean and beyond. The Portsmouth-based Hunt is attached to Mine Countermeasures Group 1, currently led by the Polish ship ORP Kontradmiral Xawery Czerniki and comprising vessels from Germany, the Netherlands and Belgium (although the changing nature of the group means that ships from Canada and Italy will also join the force during 2011). The task group will carry out

“This is a vitally-strategic Future projects include

exercises and active mine disposal work in the Med, waters off North Africa and western Europe before Brocklesby returns to her home port in July.

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