pictures: la(phots) caroline davies and simmo simpson
Tales of the Arabian knights
OR should that be dames as Her Majesty’s Ships are, of course, female?
The knight in the foreground is HMS Argyll, while turning and evidently wanting to make best speed for Portsmouth after four months in the Gulf is her youngest sister HMS St Albans whom she’s just relieved.
Key to the Saint’s success since arriving in the Middle East region at the beginning of July was the ability to board and search vessels deemed to be suspicious by the international naval forces safeguarding these vast and challenging waters. So to ensure Argyll was at the very top of her game upon superseding St Albans, the Devonport-based frigate made use of one of the best training facilities in the world during a four-day stop in Crete.
● Prince Charles enjoys a joke with a sailor from HMS Argyll in the grounds of the British Embassy in Kuwait
The Mediterranean island is typically the last port of call for any RN vessel heading east of Suez, with the impressive NATO ranges offering the perfect ‘health check’ for any Allied warship in the region.
The NATO base is home to FORACS (FORces sensors and weapons Accuracy Check Site) which tests the myriad of sensors, communications, radars and sonars to ensure they’re in full working order, allowing NATO ships to pass crucial information to each other accurately.
Royal Navy warships have been using the ranges at Souda Bay since 1984 – indeed they couldn’t give a FORACS for any other test site if they’re heading east of Suez… As well as NATO specialists, experts from the Royal Navy’s own Maritime Capability, Trials and Assessment team were on board to check Argyll’s kit.
Which came through, unsurprisingly, with a clean bill of health – the ship is fresh from a £20m 11-month refi t in Rosyth, followed by a year of intensive training.
In the three decades since the Crete facility was established, it’s grown to including a forward logistics site, missile fi ring range, and the NATO Maritime Interdiction Operations Centre for board and search training.
● 211 Flight’s engineer enjoys the view from the side of HMS Argyll’s Lynx during rapid roping drills to hone the skills of the frigate’s boarding team
Indeed, the ship’s company found the latter “the biggest unexpected benefi t” of their four-day visit to the Mediterranean island.
The centre features the Aris, a 2,500-ton former Hellenic Navy training ship which has been turned into a ‘playground’ for board and search teams to practise the art of boarding, searching and securing a vessel of substantial dimensions. Extra realism for the training sessions comes courtesy of ‘simunition’ – simulated ammunition, which possesses the properties of the real thing… minus the lethality (it does, Argyll’s Royals tell us, “smart somewhat” when it hits the body).
“The close quarters battle training using the simunition was extremely useful – Aris is an exceptional environment for realistic training and the standard of instruction was high, giving us useful, objective feedback,” said Capt Sam Burrell RM, heading the frigate’s Royal Marines detachment. “In particular, the lessons we received on boarding a small boat or skiff were very useful.”
● Peek-a-boo... A Pakistani sailor cautiously raises his head above the deck level as he practises boarding HMS St Albans.
Thanks to all the work carried out on the ship during her refi t, his men enjoy better facilities for both their personal kit and weapons and equipment – which means they can respond even more rapidly if called upon to act, 24 hours a day.
The marines have been conducting
training alongside the ship’s ‘dark blue’ Royal Navy boarding team pretty much since the moment the frigate cast off from the Devonport jetty, rapid roping from the frigate’s Lynx helicopter, practising search techniques, honing marksmanship. Overall, Argyll left Crete in even better shape than when she arrived. “The FORACS site provides us with a detailed understanding of our systems and thus that knowledge allows us to best exploit our kit,” said Cdr Paul Stroude, the frigate’s Commanding Offi cer. “In addition the board and search training
is incredibly valuable in allowing the teams to hone their techniques on what is a large ship.
“Whilst the NATO facilities are a key attraction for the visit, the ability to have a run ashore in the city of Chania and relax before an extended period at sea is always welcome.”
103,000-tonne leviathan, which can carry up to 90 jets, propeller-driven aircraft and helicopters, is supporting Operations Enduring Freedom and New Dawn – the codenames for the US missions in Afghanistan and Iraq respectively. As with
Meanwhile in the Arabian Sea... Only a few weeks after joining forces with the George H W Bush, St Albans conducted a ‘passage exercise’ with the USS John C Stennis. The
the meet-up with the Bush,
the encounter with the Stennis allowed a ‘crosspol’ – literally cross pollination – with sailors from the respective ships swapping boots and experiencing life, albeit briefl y, in a different Navy. Of a more warry nature were two exercises the ships carried out: one anti-submarine (St Albans’ core business), one air defence. Barely had the Stennis passed out of sight than an old familiar friend hove into view – and we’re not talking about the Argyll. Before raising the ensign of Pakistan, PNS Shah Jahan was HMS Active, a veteran of the Falklands War which was sold to the Commonwealth nation in the mid-90s.
In the hands of the Pakistanis,
she’s undergone some changes, not least the Wasp and Lynx she used to operate have been replaced by an Alouette III which, until this day, the aircrew had never set down on the back of a Type 23 frigate. Well, that’s a bridge now crossed as the
French-built aircraft touched down, picked up St Albans’ Commanding Officer Cdr Tom Sharpe, and carried him across to the Shah Jahan on a short flight described as “highly memorable”. While the Alouette was picking up the
Saint’s CO, the frigate’s sea boats were racing across to the Pakistani warship to collect its boarding team. They returned and carried out several hours of training aboard the Type 23 with expert instruction from St Albans’ own well- honed Royal Navy/Royal Marines boarders. As the sun set over the Gulf of Oman, the Pakistanis returned to the Shah Jahan and the Saint turned west, ready to hand the baton of Gulf duties over to Argyll. The handover saw relevant material, information and kit passed on to the new arrival from the old hands before the two ships conducted a light-hearted steam past – squirting fi re hoses and hurling mock missiles at each other.
The Saints unveiled a series of posters and banners, not least a giant picture of a Christmas tree to helpfully remind
the 200-plus souls on Argyll about what they’re missing while on their six-month deployment…
Not that the Gulf is all sand, sand and yet
more sand. No, the grounds of the British Embassy in Kuwait are really quite lush – as Argyll’s ship’s company found as they helped Kuwaitis celebrate two key anniversaries in the emirate’s recent history.
It is 50 years since the small state celebrated independence from the United Kingdom – and 20 since it was liberated from the short but brutal rule of Saddam Hussein after his 1990 invasion. Those anniversaries were marked by a
visit from the heir to the British throne – a visit which coincided with Argyll taking a break from her initial Gulf patrols. It was Argyll’s task to provide a Royal
Guard for a joint parade with the Amiri National Guard at the Bayan Palace – home of the Emir of Kuwait – drawing personnel from all departments: engineers, chefs, writers and seamen specialists. Having been at sea for the preceding
three weeks, they needed a few days of intensive practice once alongside in Kuwait, but on the day, operations offi cer Lt Cdr James Blythe was delighted by the turnout from his men and women. “To attend a parade alongside our Coalition partners with the Prince Of Wales here to inspect the Guard is a tremendous honour – a truly proud moment for the ship,” he said.
“Indeed, it’s a fi tting occasion for such an important year in Kuwait’s history and it’s a real privilege to be the Guard Commander on such a wonderful day.”
Following the parade, Argyll’s Commanding Offi cer Cdr Paul Stroude attended a state lunch at the Bayan Palace after which he joined 30 of his sailors at a Royal Garden Party in the grounds of the British Embassy, hosted by Her Majesty’s Ambassador to Kuwait, Frank Baker. On arrival, the Royal Sovereign was raised to signify the presence of the Prince, and the assembled members of the ship’s company, who lined the path through the Embassy garden, had the opportunity to chat with Prince Charles. The Royal Garden Party was a
busy affair with local school children and scout groups lined up alongside leading fi gures from both the Kuwaiti and British communities.
“The Prince seemed delighted to be in Kuwait for such an important occasion and as an ex-offi cer in the Royal Navy, seemed quite at home talking to the other sailors and me,” said POET(ME) Stephen Rudd. Cdr Stroude added: “It’s been a huge privilege for HMS Argyll to be invited to Kuwait
to help celebrate such historic
anniversaries that have a very deep and emotional signifi cance for the people of Kuwait.
“The fact that Royal Navy warships
routinely operate under the authority of, and in close co-operation with, Kuwaiti Naval and Coastguard forces is a further tangible sign of the enduring close alliance and mutual trust between our two nations. Since arriving we have been overwhelmed by the warmth of our welcome.” His ship is currently operating as part of the international maritime Coalition Task Force 152 – which, fi ttingly, is currently led by the Kuwaitis. It’s the task force’s mission to provide maritime security, counter terrorism and improve regional co-operation and stability throughout the Gulf.
| Page 2
| Page 3
| Page 4
| Page 5
| Page 6
| Page 7
| Page 8
| Page 9
| Page 10
| Page 11
| Page 12
| Page 13
| Page 14
| Page 15
| Page 16
| Page 17
| Page 18
| Page 19
| Page 20
| Page 21
| Page 22
| Page 23
| Page 24
| Page 25
| Page 26
| Page 27
| Page 28
| Page 29
| Page 30
| Page 31
| Page 32
| Page 33
| Page 34
| Page 35
| Page 36
| Page 37
| Page 38
| Page 39
| Page 40
| Page 41
| Page 42
| Page 43
| Page 44
| Page 45
| Page 46
| Page 47
| Page 48