SWEAT saves blood. Practice makes perfect. He who is trained in the severest school is best. Fail to prepare, prepare to fail.
All good military maxims. Ok, the last one comes
from football hardman Roy Keane... who nicked it from Benjamin Franklin... But you catch our drift. If you’re fully trained, you’re fully prepared. If you want to, say, safely escort a supertanker
through ‘pirate alley’. Or maybe take down some pirates who’ve hijacked a merchantman. Need to rid the ocean of a giant red inflatable imperilling the sea lanes? Not a problem. Ne’er-do- wells firing missiles at your helicopter? Chuck out a load of flares. Yes, all this – and more – has devoured the time of the men and women of HMS Monmouth. While most of you were tucking into turkey and tuning into Her Majesty, then dragging yourselves wearily back to work post-festive season, the Black Duke has been on patrol in the Gulf. Training. Training. Doing a bit more training. Then some more. A spot of tea. Then a bit more training again. Dinner, followed by a dessert of training.
ANYWAY, we’ll begin with some training. Avoid- that-incoming-heat-seeking-missile training to
● AET ‘Marty’ Pellow reaches for the Black Knight’s winch during aircrew training in the Gulf and (below) ‘I love the taste of the quarterdeck in the morning...’ Atherstone’s AB Chris ‘Hassle’ Hoath is subdued by one of Monmouth’s boarding team during a joint counter-piracy exercise
be precise. And whilst the foe and decoy have changed over the past six decades, the fundamentals of avoiding a ‘fox two’ (air-to-air heat-seeker) or shoulder- launched MANPADS (small hand-held surface-to- air missiles) haven’t. Fire defeats fi re. Infra Red Counter Measures (fl ares to you and me) draw the incoming missile away from the helicopter’s engines on to a much hotter target. A good 100 or so flares can be pumped out by Monouth’s Lynx, Black Knight, as part of the helicopter’s Defensive Aids Suite, making for a wonderful, impromptu fi rework display, with the decoys arcing over the frigate at dusk (see the fi lm strip on the right for proof...). All too often in our articles and features about deployed frigates and destroyers we fail to give the ship’s fl ight their full due. A couple of pictures of the Merlin or Lynx looking Gucci, a passing reference to the helicopter’s importance. That’s about it. So allow us to introduce you to Black Knight, HMS Monmouth’s Lynx, provided by those good eggs at 815 NAS. A ten-strong team – Flight Commander/Observer Lt Ed Barham, pilot Lt Rob Dixon and eight expert technicians and maintainers – keep the Lynx Mk8A ready for fl ying at, in some cases, fi ve minutes’ notice.
When not pumping out fl ares (which is most of the time), Black Knight of 215 Flight, normally based at 815 Naval Air Squadron in Yeovilton, provides Monmouth’s long-range eyes, ears (and claws). Aboard the frigate Team Black Knight are
bolstered by a two-man Royal Marines Maritime Sniper Team from 43 Commando who provide cover for the ship’s green beret/dark blue boarding teams when they’re inspecting merchant vessels, and, to safely launch and recover the helicopter, a team of four fl ight deck offi cers, drawn from the ship’s company – a caterer, senior computer technician, policeman and department co-ordinator. The caterer is PO(CS) ‘H’ Hetherington, who
was also senior fl ight deck offi cer until the newly- appointed RPO Ian Peacock successfully qualifi ed and took on the reins. “Working with the Flight is a great job – you feel part of the team very quickly,” said ‘H’. “It’s a big responsibility. When it’s late at night,
pitch black and the ship is rolling around, you know that the pilot is relying on you to get him back over the spot safely; it’s then down to him to actually put it in the right place!”
At sea Black Knight is always on standby to scramble: search and rescue duties, responding to a pirate attack, casualty evacuation, or the more mundane tasks of ferrying people and kit around. When the frigate’s in the midst of maritime security work, the helicopter’s either up using her sensors sweeping the ocean for ships – she’s fl own many hours conducting surface searches around the Gulf’s vast oil fi elds, using her hi-tech kit to detect and classify shipping beyond the reach of the Black Duke – or she’s ready to pounce in support of the boarding team. The snipers provide top cover or, if needs be, commandos can rapid rope (abseiling without a mountain…) out of the side of Black Knight on to the deck of a suspect vessel.
Which is just what they did during a major
exercise testing the abilities of the British and Americans to keep the sea lanes of the Middle East open.
Over fi ve days, the Devonport-based frigate joined forces with the USS Winston S Churchill and American air power for Lucky Mariner – an annual link-up between the military and merchant shipping to show how the two can work together to ensure safe passage on the high seas. The east of Suez theatre includes two of the
world’s great ‘choke points’ – narrow stretches of water which, if blocked, have global ramifi cations. Each day 17 million barrels of oil pass through the Strait of Hormuz, while 3-4 million barrels are moved through the Bab-al-Mandeb Strait, gateway to the Red Sea.
In a typical week, more than 500 ships pass
through Hormuz – three in every fi ve of them energy carriers (including liquefi ed natural gas which is used in the UK).
22 FEBRUARY 2013 : pictures: la(phot) will haigh, hms monmouth
The Black Duke was given the task of providing close-in protection to two behemoth tankers alongside several US Navy and coast guard patrol ships, a USNS supply vessel and the air defence destroyer USS Winston S Churchill (which always has a Royal Navy navigator aboard). At the height of Lucky Mariner, Monmouth was sent in to ‘re-capture’ the Bahamian-registered Arcturus Voyager – 333m (1,092ft) long, displacing 160,000 tonnes, and lumbering along at a little over 5kts (6mph). Black Knight delivered the commando boarding team by rapid rope on to the tanker, while Monmouth’s sea boats delivered the rest of the boarders – demonstrating how the Royal Navy responds should pirates or terrorists try to take over a merchant vessel… exactly as commandos from RFA Fort Victoria did on the Italian MV Montecristo in the autumn of 2011, thereby freeing the crew. “It was great to be able to demonstrate to the tanker captains how we would be able to deal with threats and offer them a level of protection,” explained Lt Chris Hollingworth, one of Monmouth’s principal warfare offi cers. “We were able to neutralise potential threats by both directing support aircraft and using our 4.5in Mk8 gun.”
Monmouth’s Commanding Offi cer Cdr Gordon Ruddock was delighted with the outcome of the exercise.
“It will give confi dence to the merchant marine community that we are ready, willing and able to protect them should they need us,” he said. “With fully-laden cargos of over 150,000 tonnes, it is important that merchant ships such as these are able to transport their cargo around the world without fear of piracy or other attack.” Lucky Mariner provided a welcome break for Black Knight from the routine of scouring the Gulf for suspicious shipping. “Flying the only single-pilot helicopter in the RN is a job that all pilots on 815 Squadron are rightly proud of,” said Lt Dixon. “In this hot environment, it becomes an even greater challenge to get the most out of the aircraft.”
IT’S hot and sticky in the cab. It’s hot and sticky
in the Black Duke’s hangar for the maintainers looking after the Lynx who’ve worked ceaselessly to ensure the helicopter’s always ready to scramble. Well, not ceaselessly to the letter. They did stop for a couple of days. December 25 and 26 to be precise.
Christmas Day was spent at sea where LS(UW) Steve Sheppard was on duty at his console, bracing himself for the obvious festive puns – “While Sheppard watches ops by night” – the bridge team were on the lookout for Santa, the bish led both a Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve and a morning service (accompanied by the smallest nativity scene most people had ever seen) on December 25 itself.
Beyond those on watch, Christmas Day is a
relaxed affair, even on patrol: officers serving the dinner, Secret Santa, opening of presents, satellite phone calls home, and radio interviews with stations in the ship’s native West Country. The biggest surprise to come out of the ether
was reserved for LS ‘Ritchie’ Richardson who was expecting to be questioned on air but didn’t expect the interviewer to be his girlfriend, Rachel Abbol. “I couldn’t really believe it,” said Ritchie, “but it really made the day for me!”
And the traditions continued into Boxing Day.
Apparently, in warmer climes, December 26 is a day for ‘hands to bathe’ in the RN (news to us as well...).
With the frigate stopped in the water for over two hours and a marksman keeping a lookout for sharks, diving, jumping and the more-than- occasional bellyflop into the Gulf – where even at this time of year the water’s still about 24˚C – were the order of the day.
AND then it was time for more training. With a
bang. There can be few better ways to shake off the festive cobwebs than a spot of gunnery funnery. So just two days after Christmas, the 4,500 tons of battleship grey reverberated and the muzzle of her 4.5in gun fl ashed. Command approve. Four-fi ve ENGAGE. Four-fi ve SHOOT. And with a press of the pedal a 4.5in high- explosive shell was hurled at 868 metres per second (or 1,943 miles an hour) out of the barrel. After the ‘Kryten’ – named after the angular-
headed Red Dwarf character – had successfully fi red its 8,200th round (of its life, not on the day...), the remaining upper deck weapons and their crews were put through their paces. The 30mm cannon provides close-in protection for Monmouth, spewing out up to 650 rounds a minute against targets on the sea (up to 10km/six miles away) or in the sky (up to 2½km/1½ miles away).
In this instance, the foe was the ‘killer tomato’,
a big red infl atable object which quickly defl ates when pierced by shells. As it’s big, red and inanimate, it sounds like a sitting, er, tomato. But wind, spray and a heavy roll actually make it tricky to hit as it rolls in and out of the various weapons’ arcs.
With all these flashes and bangs going off, you might think the Royal Marines detachment aboard were feeling a bit left out. Luckily, they were more than catered for when Monmouth put into Bahrain – and they were let loose in the ‘ship in a box’.
Ship in a box? It’s a apply to a training facil the inner compartment shipping containers – he It’s ideal for board an Mnes Jack Brent and R a night exercise in our m art of ‘room clearance’ means safely entering compartments. To add to the reali
powered air-soft simu in the facility – ranging pistols to claymore min They really pack a Personal Protective Equ magazines are fi tted an “The instructors were
approachable, while th added a level of realis diffi cult to achieve in environment,” said Ca Will Hall RM, in charg of the command detachment aboard th Black Duke. His
men – Roy
Marines Boarding Tea 3 – were looking forwar to putting those skills t use...
it was quit fortunate that som pirates hove into view.
Not any old pirates, mind you. No, the Pirates of Atherstone.
FOR a few
days, the Black Duke and the Crazy A joined forces in the Gul for some mutually-bene training.
The minehunter pu
her normal role to play of a pirate mother shi the Black Duke’s specia party take their skills to Level 2 in fact – an un non-compliant boardin terminology – which pirates won’t shoot, bu surly and awkward. So Atherstone’s cre
to resist the boarder come quietly’, which m exchange between the 43 Commando Fleet Pr the ersatz pirates. With cat-like tread, th pounced on the Hun freshly-honed clear an skill at arms to subdue initial resistance, while o provided cover.
With the minehunter s it was time for Monmo team to climb aboard search its compartment The pirate take-down
a week’s exercise involv only saw the Black Duk but also vice versa. The frigate put her P manoeuvrable and with to test Atherstone’s u art of fending off fast a use ‘live assets’ to trai benefi t to the Crazy As. On the fi nal day of th was a chance for the vessels and experience ships.
“The transfer of perso is a brilliant way to allow working practices,” sa Offi cer Lt Peter Davi enduring ethos – all of long underwritten the N to deal with ever-chan sea.”
For Monmouth’s CO,
what life aboard Atherst the minehunter on two t “As a commanding o
sense of pride and own something which never said. “It was particula closely with my old ship Typically the mine w on their own or with opportunity to ‘play’ wi not to be missed.
“Operating with M fantastic opportunity show their profession mine countermeasures working with a Type the operational enviro Atherstone’s Comman Vickery. And then it was time company. In Monmout doing a bit more training
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