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Submarine teacher reveals glimpse of future Captains' training

The Dutch frigate Van Amstel
27 April 2016
Two would-be submarine commanders joined a Dutch boat in the Norwegian fjords to test their handling abilities.

Lieutenant Commanders Ian Shropshall and James Collie dived and manoeuvred the Bruinvis in the narrow waters as she sought out – and then avoided – a Dutch frigate and patrol ship.

Seen through the unmistakeable cross-hairs of a periscope, this is Lt Cdr Ian Shropshall’s view of the Dutch frigate Van Amstel as he undergoes the submariner’s ultimate test: Perisher.

Two Britons eager to take charge of one of the Royal Navy’s nuclear submarine tried handling a nimble Dutch boat in the Norwegian fjords – just one stage of the fearsome Submarine Command Course, SMCC in the world of military acronyms, or simply Perisher to every submariner.

Part of that extensive and unforgiving course – failure means an end to your career in the Silent Service – can involve time with an Allied navy’s submarine.

The Royal Navy’s submarine flotilla is all nuclear-powered. Not so the Dutch or Norwegians, who run traditional diesel engines and frequently host would-be British and American boat ‘drivers’ as part of their instruction.

Understanding how other nations’ navies and types of submarine work makes Royal Navy warfare officers better submarine captains

Commander Justin Codd RN, Perisher’s ‘teacher’ (instructor)

This spring it fell to the Royal Netherlands Navy and their HNLMS Bruinvis (Dutch for porpoise) to do the hosting with Lt Cdrs Shropshall and James Collie accepting the invitation.

The 22-year-old diesel boat is about one third of the size of our Astute-class or half the size of older Trafalgar-class hunter killers – which makes her much better suited to operating in the confined waters of the Norwegian fjords.

“Understanding how other nations’ navies and types of submarine work makes Royal Navy warfare officers better submarine captains,” said Commander Justin Codd, Perisher’s ‘teacher’ (instructor) and former Commanding Officer of brand-new HMS Ambush.

“Conducting visual safety drills is pretty much the same on all classes of submarine and requires our commanders to have exceptional mental arithmetic and spatial awareness abilities as they look to avoid up to four warships that are aggressively trying to hunt them down.”

And aggressively trying to hunt down Lt Cdr Shropshall were the Dutch frigate Van Amstel and patrol ship Groningen during the ‘eyes only’ assessment as he had to successfully locate and evade the fast-moving warships charging towards Bruinvis.

“Although the drills were conducted in English, I quickly learned that issuing the Dutch command of ‘vek targen’ – to dive away – worked best as we looked to remain at periscope depth for as long as possible before diving under a 5,000-tonne warship coming at us at more than 30 knots!” said Lt Cdr Shropshall.

He and his fellow hopeful Lt Cdr Collie have now completed their time with the Bruinvis – she’s continuing the Dutch element of the command course with officers from the Netherlands – and are gearing up for the fourth and last phase of Perisher, a final tactical assessment at sea in a British boat in June, alongside other British students.

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