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● HMS Atherstone is silhouetted against the Gulf sky as she scours these waters for mines

Picture: LA(Phot) Stu Hill

Another fi n

voice and visual communications to guide the divers on to the contact which they can see on their sonar screens. There is a slurping sound as the


“THERE is nothing better than getting your head wet on an early morning mine-hunting dive,” says

Lt Trev Orton.

Of course, the fact that the water temperature rarely drops below 24˚C and his colleagues back in the UK are diving “with undersuits up to the hilt” makes that early morning dip all the more pleasant...

Our round-up of all things RN east of Suez begins with the sun slowly breaking the perfect line of the horizon and one object disturbing the glassy waters of the Arabian Gulf.

That ‘object’ is


Atherstone’s sea boat, carefully being lowered into the calm waters and yet another search for a mine.

So it’s down the ladder once more for Lt Orton, the Crazy A’s XO, and his fellow frogmen.

Their ops room comrades have picked up something out of place on the sea bed.

This is not a drill. This is not an exercise. It’s a genuine contact of interest.

It’s the warm-water experience of Britain’s mine counter-measures vessels – HM Ships Atherstone, Chiddingfold,

Grimsby and

● Not a cloud in the sky for HMS St Albans’ Merlin, Lola, as she practises winching drills

Picture: LA(Phot) Steve Johncock

Pembroke are currently based in Bahrain – which has made their presence in the Gulf a crucial part of the continued safety of merchant shipping in the region. Atherstone’s ship’s company (Mine Counter-Measures Squadron 2 Crew 8 under the rotation system used to sustain operations in the Gulf) is one of the more experienced mine- warfare teams, ‘enjoying’


second tour of duty in Bahrain in less than a year.

Although much of the kit may have changed down the years, the core tasks of a Royal Navy diver have not: to go underwater and tinker with high explosives – to place little bombs on bigger bombs to make one huge bomb that will hopefully do less damage in the long-run.

● HMS Lancaster’s boarding team inspects a dhow in the Gulf of Ade


Picture: LA(Phot) Tel Boughton

The team in the boat slowly make their way towards the target. The sonar operators back in Atherstone’s operations room use a simple, but effective, system of


STAFF College Sea Days

typically mean a grey fug somewhere off Plymouth or Portsmouth, a few bangs from the 4.5in gun, some jinking to avoid an attack from low-flying Hawks, that sort of thing.

there are not. Unless you’re HMS Monmouth in Kuwait... The Kuwait Joint Command

diver enters the water and leaves the surface, descending until his shipmates lose sight of him a few seconds later, heading towards the unknown target. He indicates that the contact has been found and this is relayed to the ship from the boat. Shortly afterwards the diver

team showed how to fend off air attack when two Kuwaiti F18s were sent against the ship. Blackbird, the frigate’s Merlin helicopter, showed her panoply of skills, while Kuwaiti Pumas carried out winching drills on to Monmouth. “I thoroughly enjoyed the hospitality that Monmouth extended to us,” one of the Kuwaiti students told the Black Duke’s CO Cdr Tony Long. “Coming from an Army

returns to the surface and the boat returns to the ship: the contact had been identifi ed successfully – a fi shing trap. It may not have been dangerous

but once again the system had been proved and another sub- surface contact can be classifi ed as safe...

Disregard, search on...

background I have never been on a warship before and after this experience I have a better understanding of how the Navy operates and the capabilities it can offer.”

Mission accomplished, then. While the Kuwaiti students were enjoying life aboard the Black Duke, the frigate’s Royal Marines boarding party were enjoying life with the Kuwaiti Coast Guard.

“This was a highly-valuable 48 hours – the Royal Navy extended a warm welcome to key nations and introduced

their colleagues from Monmouth, the ship’s company hit the sports fi elds of Bahrain. There were defeats for the netball and football sides (the latter went down 1-4 to a local side), but the rugby squad ensured there was no Bahraini clean sweep. Two tries from ET(ME) ‘Knocker’ White ensured a 10-5 victory for the matelots.

23’s runners headed on to the streets of Bahrain not once but twice, joining local hash house athletes. Buoyed by the races, the runners plan more ‘hashing’ during future port visits. Which will be some time off,

for St Albans is now back at sea and patrolling those platforms. To ensure she does so to the very highest standards expected of her, mobile FOSTies sailed north from Bahrain with the ship. The Commander Mobile Sea

The commandos from FPGRM spent 48 hours training and

carrying out simulated boardings with their hosts.

them to the fl exibility of maritime power, its relevance to the joint environment and the support that air and land units can expect from a frigate such as Monmouth,” said Cdr Long. After another stint around the Iraqi platforms which the Black Duke has been helping to guard during the winter, it was on to Bahrain for the final time this deployment...

Clear skies, calm seas, F18s

Staff College is regarded as the pre-eminent centre of military learning in the region. It’s modelled on its British equivalent at Shrivenham... which organises the annual Sea Days to give Army and Air Force offi cers a greater understanding of the RN’s business. So it’s not entirely surprising that the Kuwaitis mimic the British sea days – although they don’t usually have a Type 23 frigate to play with.

really did have it all as 90 students – most of whom had never been to sea before – joined the Black Duke to witness 48 hours of non-stop action. Monmouth’s boarding team carried out, er, boardings, with the ship’s clubz, LPT Howard Peplow, playing the role of an awkward dhow skipper with aplomb, while the ops room

The two-day demonstration

Training and his team regularly leave the UK behind to ‘drop in’ on deployed RN vessels and do what FOSTies do best: put a ship’s company through very rigorous paces.

Not to be outdone, the Type


IN HER relatively short life so

far RFA Lyme Bay has grown

used to the sight and sound of marines in full kit stomping up and down her wide passageways or stairwells.


WAITING for Monmouth in the Gulf port was her relief, HMS

St Albans,

Just not marines from the United Arab Emirates. But a good 125 UAE naval infantry joined their British counterparts on the amphibious support ship for Exercise Sea Khanjar (Dagger) IV. Green berets from the Fleet

‘pleasures’ of a Gulf spring and summer ahead of her. After a fairly rapid passage through the Med with brief stops in Gib and Souda Bay, Crete, the Saint passed through Suez and briefly joined the international anti-piracy mission in the Gulf of Aden before slipping through the Strait of Hormuz and into the Arabian Gulf. While the Saint’s command team discussed impending operations around the Iraqi oil terminals with

which has the

Protection Group and RMR units in Scotland, Bristol, Merseyside and London provided the British element of the training, aimed at fostering a closer understanding of the two nation’s elite amphibious forces – and their kit.

The UAE Marines are a considerably smaller force than the Royals (one battalion with around two dozen landing craft). So they were understandably

chuffed (technical term – Ed) to

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