The 40 men and women of the Royal Navy’s Sandown-class minehunter HMS Shoreham (M112) are ready to go from Gareloch to the Gulf after seven weeks’ intensive training in Scotland.
The Faslane-based minehunter is gearing up for a 6,000-mile journey from Scotland to Bahrain to replace HMS Bangor after her three-year stint in the searing heat of the Middle East.
Before the six-week-long odyssey, followed by the challenges of minehunting in temperatures of 40-50˚C and sand clogging hi-tech machinery, the crew had to prove they could cope with the basics of seafaring and the travails of fire and flooding at sea, to hunting and neutralising mines and finally working in an international task group.
First up was five weeks of Operational Sea Training – roughly the equivalent to ‘pre-season training’ – where the emphasis is mostly on an individual ship’s ability to deal with all eventualities.
The training was carried out in company with fellow minehunter HMS Brocklesby from Portsmouth – which will sail to the Middle East with HMS Shoreham.
Among the highlights of their combined assessment: taking each other in tow (known as a salvage exercise); dealing with a mock riot in a port as the two ships’ gunnery teams fended off fast-attack craft on the water and civilians trying to storm the vessels from the land side; two weeks of continuous minehunting operations, involving frequently ‘bangs’ as the dive team detonated charges; and Leading Diver John Robinson making himself indispensable to almost everything the ship did – ‘if he wasn’t diving, he was driving.’
“Operational Sea Training isn’t something you expect to enjoy, and that’s certainly true when you’re tired, but when the team get it right that’s when you enjoy it,” said HMS Shoreham’s navigator Lt Charlotte Boak.
“I don’t think anyone can say they don’t get a buzz when they’ve been told they’ve done well at their job.”
Marine engineer LET Johnny Sulton said sea training “always means the working days are long, but it really amplifies the cohesion of the team.”
Sub Lt Rachel Humphrey – aboard as a trainee young officer – said all 40 sailors “just had to get on with whatever task you are given. We all endure the hardship and get stuck in to help each other out. Our team spirit was a strength throughout.”
Once sea training was completed, HMS Shoreham and HMS Brocklesby were pitchforked into the Royal Navy’s largest war game of the year, for a fortnight of combined training as part of an Anglo-French task group in the waters of western Scotland.
“Mine warfare crews are unique – each individual is a cog to the wheel of success,” said HMS Shoreham’s Commanding Officer Lt Cdr Adrian Visram.
“Without one component we wouldn’t turn smoothly and the responsibilities given to junior members is much greater than on a frigate, destroyer or capital ship.”