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GLOBAL REACH Come (home) rain or shine YOU don’t need Mexicans

for a Mexican Wave. Or Mexican temperatures. Or

even a big sporting occasion. No, a drab, damp wintry Saturday by the Hamoaze is just as good – especially if you need to keep warm while waiting for HMS Sutherland to turn up (pictured below).

The Fighting Clan was the first of

three RN vessels arriving home in a seven-day period leading up to Christmas – and, yes, that seems a long time ago indeed now. (Navy News’

absurdly-early festive pre-

deadline prevented these homecomings featuring in our January edition – just in case you were wondering.)

The wind and rain was something of a shock to the system for Sutherland’s 200 sailors and Royal Marines, who’d been used to temperatures well over 30˚C on anti-piracy and terrorism duties in the Indian Ocean.

We deliberately didn’t write ‘enjoying temperatures well over 30˚C’ – for carrying out boarding operations in such heat is physically and mentally demanding…

…and not just for the boarders.

Temperatures in Sutherland’s Merlin ‘Warlock’, which provided overhead cover on every boarding mission as well as performing a myriad of other duties, topped 40˚C, while the helicopter’s maintainers toiled in heat of 50˚C at times – and 90 per cent humidity – to ensure the aircraft was always ready for sorties.

So wind, rain and 6˚C in Plymouth

were probably welcome – but not as welcome as the sight of 400 loved ones waiting on the blustery jetty. “To come home just in time for Christmas after a really successful deployment was a magical time,” said Sutherland’s Commanding Officer Cdr Al Wilson.

“I am hugely proud of what my team achieved over the six months, whilst remaining cheerful and utterly professional throughout.”

He and his ship departed Devonport on a grey and cool summer’s day back in July to take the Royal Navy’s enduring fight to pirates, drug-runners, smugglers, terrorists and anyone else who might use the sea lanes of the Indian Ocean for criminal purposes. The mission ranged from the Gulf to the shores of Tanzania and, beyond the broad maritime security task, saw exercises with regional navies and other vessels attached to the Combined Maritime Forces. There was time ashore in Dar es Salaam in Tanzania, where the ship’s company helped to revamp an orphanage, in Dubai, where sailors were invited to watch the grand prix down the road in Abu Dhabi, and on the way back to Blighty, some of the crew made the pilgrimage to the

ancient city of Petra, carved out of the Jordanian rock.

AB(CIS) Peter Hodgkin said: “Sutherland’s my first ship and with this being my first deployment – and first time away from the UK – I was nervous, but excited. “There have been some tough times, but overall I have really enjoyed it, especially the team spirit of the ship and all the good work that we have achieved on operations.” Sutherland’s Devonport-based sister HMS Northumberland is continuing where the Fighting Clan left off (see page 21).

of HMS Blyth were drenched, nay, drowned (see the second and third pictures, left).

Loved ones waited in appalling conditions by the shore of Gare Loch as the minehunter completed her duties leading a NATO force around the central and eastern Mediterranean in the second half of 2012.

IF THE Fighting Clansmen and women were damp, the ship’s company

stops in the Turkish ports of Mersin and Aksaz, beginning the 3,000-mile journey home. A Sea King from HMS Gannet –

Britain’s busiest military Search and Rescue unit – showed its appreciation overhead, while Faslane-based tugs squirted their fi re hoses to show their gratitude for Blyth’s deeds although their blasts of water rather merged with the Faslane monsoon. “It is a testament to my team’s

efforts that we have taken the challenges in our stride and performed well throughout the mission,” said Lt Cdr Davey.

“It was with some sadness that we said goodbye to our multi- national colleagues. What this deployment showed was how the Royal Navy helps promote stable and co-operative relationships with friendly and neutral nations around the world. By working and training together we help bring down barriers and promote common understanding.”

Christmas hats – on the upper decks and while a piper provided the appropriate skirl from the forecastle of the Sandown-class ship, the Band of HM Royal Marines Scotland provided the musical accompaniment shoreside as families waited for the 37-strong ship’s company to arrive.

– most wearing Father C the minehunter endured with AB Santa joined shipmates

ONTRAST the foul weather

“It is fantastic to be reunited with our loved-ones in time for Christmas,” said Lt Cdr Davey. “The entire crew have been looking forward to spending the festive season at home and taking a well-deserved break.” Blyth served as the command ship for NATO’s Standing Mine Counter-Measures Group 2, a permanent force whose make-up changes depending on which navies provide vessels; in this instance, it was the UK, Turkey, Germany and Italy.

The challenging deployment saw the small ships operate in all parts of the Mediterranean and the Black Sea, conducting numerous exercises in mine hunting, surveillance, maritime security operations, and generally providing a NATO force at high- readiness to respond to global events. Arriving in the region at the end of July, Blyth passed through the Bosphorus and into the Black Sea to work with the forces of Romania and Bulgaria, before taking her place in the task group.

The ships were soon involved in Exercise Poseidon, where they conducted

mine hunting serials

and, at the same time, came under simulated attack from fast-attack craft, helicopters and Romanian MiG 21 jets. Blyth bid a fond farewell to her

NATO task group colleagues at the beginning of December after brief

the unseasonably fine winter’s morn on the Solent 24 hours later as HMS Diamond’s inaugural deployment came to an end with a massive turn- out – and a bit of a surprise for 21-year- old Emma Davies from Weymouth. She was on the receiving end of a proposal of marriage from AET George Halsall, who’s spent the past six months maintaining Diamond’s Lynx. And you’ll be delighted to know she said ‘yes’ (see the photograph bottom left).

Many of George’s colleagues in 208 Flight disembarked the previous day, as Diamond made her way up the Channel, and fl ew into their home: 815 Naval Air Squadron based at RNAS Yeovilton.

The fl ight comprised two aircrew, eight maintainers, a controller and two Royal Marines commandos to support their green and dark blue comrades in Diamond’s sea boats during board and search operations.

“To keep the helicopter serviceable in the Gulf made this my toughest deployment yet,” said LAET Gav Daniels from Weymouth.

“Working with the US Navy was the highlight – especially seeing the jets launch from USS Enterprise, the star of Top Gun.”

Flight Commander Lt Tim Elliott added: “We had an extremely busy deployment and I cannot thank my team enough for all their hard work. “During our time in the Middle East

we fl ew well over 100 sorties, ranging from carrying out air intercepts to casualty evacuations and sorties to maintain regional stability.

“My Flight worked in some

extremely challenging conditions with temperatures continually exceeding

45°C, so we were looking forward to some proper British weather. After the heat of the Middle East what we all wanted was some rain!”

Which is exactly what they got fl ying into their Somerset base… Portsmouth for Diamond’s entry

was as sunny and dry as Yeovilton was wet (see the fourth photograph down on the left).

The last time the third of Britain’s

six Type 45 destroyers saw home, the ship and the nation were still basking in Diamond Jubilee celebrations. Six months on and the ‘jewel in the RN crown’ had clocked up more than 31,000 miles on security and counter- piracy patrols in the Indian Ocean, Gulf of Oman and Gulf.

The ship worked with the FS Charles de Gaulle carrier group in the Mediterranean on the way out and three United States Carrier Strike Groups in the Middle East, including the escort of the US carriers through the Strait of Hormuz. Diamond’s

fi ghter

controllers exercised with the US Navy’s F18 Hornets and

controlled F22 Raptor and F15 Strike Eagle aircraft from the United States Air Force.

Diamond also exercised with the navies of Australia, Canada, France, Kuwait, and the United Arab Emirates. While carrying out the counter- piracy part of her mission, the ship’s specialist boarding team carried out assurance visits to local fi shermen and traders and held boarding training with regional allies. “We achieved a tremendous amount on this deployment and I pay tribute to my fantastic ship’s company,” said Diamond’s CO Cdr Ian Clarke. “We provided reassurance in the Middle East, under the Combined Maritime Forces, worked closely with regional allies and three US carrier groups and really pushed the air defence capability of these fantastic new destroyers.”

Diamond worked alongside other Royal Navy units in the region – minehunters based in Bahrain and their support ship RFA Cardigan Bay, plus the fi rst link-up between an eye- in-the-sky Sea King Mk7, from 854 NAS, and the new breed of destroyers. As well as time at sea in the region, Diamond visited Bahrain, Jordan, Kuwait, Oman and the United Arab Emirates, plus Gibraltar and Crete and the cities of Athens and Barcelona while on transit to and from the Middle East. “It was a busy few months but working with the other navies was enjoyable – as were all the fascinating places we visited,” said PO David Turner.

“Although what we achieved was immensely rewarding, after six months away it was good to know that we’d be back in time to be reunited with loved ones for Christmas.”



pictures: cpo(phot) tam mcdonald, frpu north, la(phot) vicki benwell, frpu west, and la(phot) guy pool, frpu east

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