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pictures: la(phot) ‘simmo’ simpson, frpu east



the face of God’s creation. The small(ish) lump of black and grey on the left of this stunning image is Her Majesty’s Ship Portland, 5,000 tons of cutting-edge naval hardware and firepower.

HOW puny and insignifi cant we are in

And the blue-white mass dominating the top of the picture is the ‘tongue’ of the Nordenskjöld Glacier – two miles wide and at least four long at the south-eastern end of East Cumberland Bay in South Georgia. Not too long after this photograph was taken by LA(Phot) ‘Simmo’ Simpson, the men and women aboard Portland were reminded of the sheer force of the elements.

It is the depths of the austral winter right now in South Georgia where, if you’re lucky, the daytime temperature might make it above freezing... and the nighttime one won’t fall below -5˚C.

Chadwick. “The scenery was an impressive reward for those who did. “Huge mountains rose straight out of the deep blue, narrow fjord. At one point a small piece of iceberg floated past with penguins sat on top.” There are some things that money can’t


before ice thwarted her progress, Portland turned about and made for Cumberland Bay – the huge natural harbour which served as the shelter for whaling fleets until the 1960s. The great bay is split into west and east. West, where there’s not much, save for a huge glacier spilling into the ocean. And east, where there’s slightly more... and a huge glacier spilling into the ocean. The waters around the imposing

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After a couple of months at East Cove Military Port in the Falklands (where it’s bleak and cold in the winter), the Type 23 frigate made the three-day passage to the distant British dependency (where it’s not so bleak but cold).

Six members of the island’s Roulement Infantry Company (RIC) and a couple of Crabs (one flight lieutenant, one warrant officer) joined the ship’s company for the crossing, a passage requiring an iceberg watch posted on the bridge as soon as a ship enters the Antarctic Convergence Zone – where the warmer waters of the Atlantic meet those of the frozen continent. The first berg drew a sizeable number of goofers to the starboard bridge wing... ...although come the following morning with South Georgia in sight, there were rather fewer sightseers; a 35kt Antarctic wind whistled past the frigate as she entered Drygalski Fjord at the south-eastern tip of the island. “Only the hardy managed to stay on the upper deck,” says logistics officer Lt Cdr Kara

Nordenskjöld Glacier haven’t been charted for two decades, so it was with some caution that Portland approached the phenomenon of nature, lookouts keeping a close, er, lookout, for ‘bergy bits’ (chunks of iceberg) and growlers (smaller chunks of iceberg, barely visible above the surface). The approach to the glacier afforded all aboard a stunning photo opportunity – especially so for the frigate’s Lynx which was airborne to witness a sight “that will never be forgotten”.


And so to King Edward’s Point for the ‘meat’ of the visit: three days at anchor off Grytviken.

Enough ship’s company got ashore to visit the few sights of the settlement: the abandoned whaling stations, the church (where deputy weapon engineer officer Lt Paul Greason acted as ‘bish’ and officer of the watch Lt Cdr Judith Zeug provided the music on the foot- pump-operated organ), the grave of legendary explorer Ernest Shackleton, and the beaches

Having sailed up the fjord as far as she could

inhabited by all manner of wildlife – fur seals, elephant seals, albatrosses. And if that wasn’t enough, there was always sledging. Or yomping. Navigator and keen runner Lt Rob Garner and chief gunner CPO Burton determined to yomp with the RIC soldiers across the peaks around Grytviken to Maiviken Cove at the tip the peninsula separating the two sides of Cumberland Bay. The ship’s 42-man mess (the clue’s in the title...) were determined to keep spirits up if temperatures were down by staging a barbecue. On the flight deck. Under the stars.

Having frozen their proverbials off collecting their burgers and sausages, the ship’s company shuffled into the hangar for a spot of penguin racing (horse racing but with pingus) organised by the WO and CPOs’ mess (again the clue’s in the title...).

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Things were all fine and dandy until a spot of wind (not caused by the BBQ). Portland was suddenly gripped by an icy katabatic blast. For the uninitiated, a katabatic wind is air cooled by a glacier and funnelled down a glacial valley or fjord – reaching quite a speed (God bless Wikipedia...). It reached such a speed in the narrow confines of Cumberland Bay that Portland began to drag her anchor.

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So, up anchor and skedaddle. The ship spent the night patrolling open waters before returning to King Edward Point for the final day of her visit.

“On a long deployment, some port visits tend to blur into one another and be forgotten, some will be remembered for all the right reasons for a long time to come,” says Commanding Officer Cdr Mike Knott. “South Georgia was one of these. “It’s certainly been the highlight of the

deployment so far and will remain etched in everyone’s memory.”

And now back to East Cove and some war fighting.

Every few weeks, units in the Falklands converge for a major exercise – Purple Strike – to test the ability of land, sea and air to work together to defend the islands.

The last act of Purple Strike witnessed Portland arriving in a ‘hostile’ port (which bore a striking resemblance to East Cove…) with RFA Black Rover to deliver fuel and other supplies.

And as it was a hostile port, hostiles tried to infiltrate their way aboard the warship during a ‘Quickdraw’ exercise (the ship’s company have to be quick on the draw to deal with the threat); in this instance, two attackers bore down on the quartermaster’s position. The week-long exercise opened with Portland and HMS Clyde, the Falklands’ constant guardship, embarking troops from the Roulement Infantry Company (provided by the Welsh Guards and elements of the Light Dragoons).

Ships and soldiers crossed Falkland Sound bound for West Falkland, which is more sparsely populated than the eastern island, after reports of enemy troops. As the week wore on Portland flexed her anti-submarine warfare skills by hunting for an enemy boat which had been ‘sighted’ around the Falklands. The ship’s Lynx helicopter also provided support to the troops ashore, conducting reconnaissance missions. She came under fire from the foe and had to conduct an emergency landing on Portland’s flight deck.

And then back to East Cove Military Port

where a shore patrol was sent ahead to set up a security cordon and vehicle check point on the edge of the port so Portland and Black Rover could come alongside and the latter could deliver her supplies.

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